Here’s What Will Happen If You Keep Doom Spending

written by ALYSSA DAVIS
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

The gap between wages and the cost of living has remained high since its record-breaking peak in 2022; the job market is so competitive that it feels hopeless—and there seems to be a new national or global crisis every week. Having spent our entire lifetime experiencing the steady decline of our socio-economic and political landscape, it’s no wonder millennials and Gen Zers feel overwhelmed, severely anxious, and despairingly powerless in the face of what feels like guaranteed, inevitable doom. The world is not the only thing metaphorically on fire—our hopes for financial freedom are going up in flames, too.

In the name of a “f*ck it all” mindset, millennials and Zers (myself included) are “doom spending” as a way of getting a desperately needed hit of dopamine in an increasingly dark world. If everything is in shambles anyway, why not ~ live a little ~? When you can’t afford to buy a house because your student loan payment is equivalent to a mortgage, you should at least be able to purchase the latest SKIMS drop and the newest iPhone, right?

As thrilling as it feels to drop some cash on life’s little things when the big things feel desperately out of reach, doom spending may not be the “treat yourself” moment we all think it is as a method to de-stress and cope. I’m guilty of caving to the idea that we might as well spend what we can to get a minuscule amount of joy from a life that feels wallet-draining at best and soul-sucking at worse—but the reality is that doom spending is detrimental to our financial health in the long run. Ahead, we’re breaking down the nuances of doom spending and offering ways to kick the habit.

What is doom spending?

If, despite your concerns about the economy, you’re spending an excess of money on purchases outside of bills and necessities to cope with stress, you’re doom spending. The fatalistic phenomenon is a cumulation of people feeling like their financial goals are unattainable and there’s no point in saving. Their theory: Live in the moment because the forecast for a prosperous future is grim.

If you’ve engaged in doom spending, rest assured you’re far from alone. According to a report by Credit Karma, 96 percent of Americans shared they’re worried about the state of the economy. Despite the nearly unanimous apprehension, 27 percent of people were participating in doom spending to cope with concerns about inflation, increases in the cost of living, decreasing wages, and unaffordable housing, among other frightening problems the nation is currently facing.

The same study revealed that 42 percent of people are struggling to afford enough food for their household, and 56 percent are living paycheck to paycheck. But still, 27 percent of Americans admitted their spending had increased over the previous six months. Notably, millennial and Gen Z numbers were the highest among these individuals. I don’t know about you, but if those stats were applied to a game of “Put a Finger Down If…” I’d admittedly have quite a few fingers down.

Why is doom spending primarily a Millenial and Gen Z problem?

Despite 71 percent of millennials and Gen Z reporting feelings of financial anxiety, 43 percent of millennials and 35 percent of Zers are engaging in doom spending. And it’s no wonder why—peer pressure is running rampant from social media-induced FOMO. Plus, online shopping is more accessible than ever. I know I can’t be the only one to have thrown caution to the wind. I’ve ordered my favorite influencer’s latest product drop or a haul of items from my favorite store’s newest range, even if it meant I had to use Afterpay. When instant gratification and temporary stress relief are available at the mindless tap of a button, why not? We can just ignore the fact that we’ll be more stressed later from the added financial burden—but at least we have nice things that make us feel good for a minute, right?

The digital age alone has made younger generations more susceptible to the extreme version of retail therapy. With the ever-worsening state of the economy factored into the equation, it’s easy to understand why millennials and Gen Z are turning to consumerism to self-soothe despite being in a disadvantageous financial position. A cute matching sweat set, the latest trending headphones, a luxury throw blanket—though these items are still objectively expensive, buying them feels like a revenge tactic for being unable to afford a much-needed vacation or a starter home, among other out-of-reach purchases.

Frivolously spending out of spite is only making it more difficult to reach financial freedom.

This doesn’t even touch on the disparity between what our parents and grandparents could afford and how the American dream of their day is becoming less achievable. In @firstgenliving’s viral TikTok video, she eloquently states, “When older people ask me how young people are affording nice things that they wouldn’t even buy for themselves, I tell them it’s because we can’t afford anything else.” She continued, “Homeownership or starting a family is so out of reach that we’re using that down payment or kid money on whatever it is we can afford that’ll bring us a semblance of the kind of adulthood we were promised.”

Instead of buying a house or allocating money for kids, millennials and Gen Z are out here purchasing premier espresso machines and year-long boutique fitness memberships to feel like adults—because the bigger stuff just doesn’t feel attainable, even with a strict savings plan that strips away the little joys we can afford (I’m pointedly staring at that daily iced coffee). The reality is that the economic landscape has evolved so drastically that many millennials and Zers can’t afford the traditional hallmarks that signal a successful ascendancy to adulthood. Doom spending has become an outlet for pseudo-comfort and control.

What effect can doom spending have on your future?

Buy now, pay later schemes and credit cards are frequently used forms of payment for doom spenders. Credit Karma’s survey found that 38 percent of millennials and 35 percent of Zers experienced an increase in debt over the same six-month period during which their spending increased. This makes it clear that doom spending directly correlates with increased debt levels.

Because of the epidemic of financial instability, many Americans have little to nothing in a savings account. More than half of the survey respondents shared they have less than $2,000 saved. 22 percent reported they have no savings at all. While low wages and a high cost of living make it challenging to save money, debt makes saving nearly impossible. Credit Karma found that 74 percent of Americans are in debt, but again: There’s such a sense of hopelessness that our financial situation will never improve that people are doubling down on the doom by spending even more out of spite.

With dismal prospects of liveable wage increases and inflation showing no signs of slowing, many people are on a hamster wheel of trying to keep up with their debt. This leaves no money for a down payment on a house, a nicer vehicle, annual vacations, special events like concerts, restaurant meals, or material items like clothing, tech devices, beauty products, and home decor. Forget the allocation of retirement and investment funds. As upsetting as it is to feel like you can’t afford little joys like ordering DoorDash or upgrading to the newest iPhone (trust me, I’ve been there and am still there), frivolously spending out of spite is only making it more difficult to reach financial freedom.

How can you kick a doom spending habit?

Though the world at large is in a scary, turbulent state, doom spending (sadly) isn’t going to make our lives better. The first step to regaining power over your financial situation is to stop doom spending, no matter how invigorating the instant gratification of a splurge feels. But how? With these strategies, you can kick the habit and reprioritize your financial and mental well-being.

Delete shopping apps and stored card information

Putting a stop to doom spending (and mindless spending in general) can be really challenging. But it’s even harder if you have shopping apps on your phone and your payment information stored. The fix is simple: Delete the apps from your phone. Then, disable the feature that auto-populates your card information in online order forms. Without them readily available, you’ll have to be more conscious about navigating to stores and filling out the billing section. Plus, you’ll have time to process whether or not the purchase is a sound decision. It won’t be so easy to ignore that feeling of guilt when tapping the order confirmation button takes more effort.

Mute, unfollow, and unsubscribe

If social media is a major contributing factor to your propensity for doom spending, mute or unfollow accounts that elicit feelings of FOMO. I love following some of my favorite influencers, but the truth is that the more time I spend on their page, the more money I’m spending on products they promote. This simply isn’t realistic for my budget. If you can’t follow along without spending, it may be helpful to mute such accounts or unfollow them altogether. If that’s not enough to help you avoid checking up on certain accounts, consider temporarily deleting apps you struggle with. Additionally, you may find it helpful to unsubscribe from retail emails and marketing texts that push tempting sales—I know I did.

Use cash as often as possible

The act of swiping a card, inserting a chip, or waving a plastic rectangle over a transaction terminal is so disjointed from the concept of spending money. It’s too easy and thoughtless of a process, and it creates a major disconnect between your financial awareness and the funds in your bank account. When you have to actually count your money using bills and coins and you can see the physical representation of your budget dwindling as you spend it, you’re much more conscious of the amount of money you’re parting with. Consider giving yourself an allowance of spending money from each of your paychecks. Withdraw that amount in cash to spend on whatever you choose. Then, once the cash is gone, adhere to the promise that you won’t splurge further.

Distract yourself with other activities

If you literally cannot concentrate on anything other than the itchy feeling of wanting to browse a shopping site, come up with a list of alternative activities you can turn to. You might find it most helpful to do things that get you outside and away from your phone. Try going for a walk or gardening! Additionally, activities you can do with your hands, like coloring, crocheting, or jigsaw puzzles, will help you stay away from digital storefronts. Having hobbies isn’t just a healthy strategy for avoiding spending—hobbies also serve as an outlet for stressors that weigh on us due to the current state of the world, which is where doom spending originated, to begin with.