Experts reveal top ‘resolutions’ to avoid impulse spending this year and increase happiness during 2021

19 January 2021

  • Survey says 75% of Brits believe that saving £1,000 would make them happier than spending £1,000
  • Survey shows 69% of self-confessed ‘spenders’ have experienced post-spending guilt
  • Experiment shows a brisk walk can give same psychological high as a shopping spree

A survey of more than 2,000 people¹ by Atom bank found that over half of Brits have used shopping as a mechanism to cheer themselves up or reward themselves, yet 69% of self-confessed ‘spenders’ have experienced post-spending guilt.

The app-based bank also conducted a physical experiment² to determine if shopping really can make humans happy, both mentally and biologically, revealing that post-shopping happiness is largely a psychological concept, with self-reported happiness levels increasing by 29% through shopping.

If the pandemic has taught us one financial lesson, it’s the importance of being prepared for ‘unprecedented times’ and the need to be in control of our money. As we enter a third lockdown, this has definitely taken a toll on our mental health. Money experts, Atom bank and Behavioural Psychologist at Durham University, Mario Weick, share their top tips to spending wisely this lockdown, getting your finances in order and above all, increasing happiness.

1. Focus on a future goal

If you struggle to avoid temptation, one of the best ways to control your urges is to focus on a future goal that saving your money could lead to, whether that’s saving up for driving lessons or taking a step onto the property ladder.

Mario comments: “The benefits of saving money materialise over time, so focusing on a future goal can make it easier to save money, whereas focusing on the here and now may encourage spending.”

2. Avoid shopping when tired or under the influence of alcohol

Mario warns: ‘Impulsive behaviour can be triggered by things such as tiredness, alcohol, or information overload.”

Browsing your favourite online sites when you’re super tired at the end of a stressful week of work, or after a couple of glasses of wine, can lead you to make purchases without fully thinking them through.

Be mindful of only shopping when you feel fully alert and rested and for added benefit, get into the habit of taking the time to mull a purchase over for at least a few hours before heading to the virtual checkout.

3. Reduce your exposure to temptation

Mario comments: “It may sound simplistic, but one way to alleviate the pressure is to reduce one’s exposure and avoid the situation, if possible. Something like going for a walk could be a good idea.”

This is further backed up by Atom’s experiment, which found that shoppers got the same physical ‘high’ from taking a brisk walk, as they did from hitting the checkout button.

If you’re tempted to make a large purchase, just a 5 minute walk in the fresh air or a ten minute workout video could curb your spending. If you’re still keen on making the purchase when your heart rate returns to neutral, then it’s unlikely that your body is just craving the endorphins that shopping can bring.

4. Drop the ‘all or nothing’ attitude

When you’re trying to limit your spending, you can feel like going cold-turkey is the only answer, especially in January after spending at Christmas. However, evidence suggests that this ‘all or nothing’ attitude is actually harder to maintain than a split-budget approach.

Mario adds: “Saving some income, while giving oneself a spending allowance really does appear to be the golden formula.”

“A healthy balance between restraint and allowing oneself some pleasure and spontaneity is an optimal strategy to boost happiness.”

5. Spend for long-term happiness

Mario comments: “The purchasing experience is designed to give us a quick kick, with products to match that often emphasise fleeting pleasures.

“Spending money is more likely to promote happiness when the purchase is intrinsically rewarding, e.g. life experiences, personal development or on gifts that nurture meaningful relationships, rather than those driven by superficial motives.”

Take January as a time to work out what you want to gain from your purchases. Although treating yourself can give you a little boost of joy, make sure you’re not only shopping for the sake of it, or to experience the excitement of grabbing a ‘bargain’.

This chance to reflect on whether your purchase will bring you long-term happiness will give the brain time to digest properly and lower the risk of spending on things that only have a short-term impact.

Edward Twiddy, Chief Customer Officer at Atom bank comments:

“With the huge changes we’ve seen in the financial climate as a result of Covid 19, it’s more crucial than ever before for people to understand their finances and how to get the most out of their earnings.

“Through our research we want to highlight the value and importance of spending money on things that will bring long term happiness. Trips away, being together, experiencing something new and shared fun are crucial for each of us, but their cost can sometimes make them appear beyond reach.

“A new year means new savings goals, so we wanted to show that these life affirming moments are possible, whatever you might be able to afford. With products such as our Instant Saver account you can open a savings account with £0, get the same great rate no matter how much you save, and not face any limits or penalties on withdrawals. With the benefits of saving for something special really clear, we’re aiming to make the whole process easy, accessible and rewarding for everyone.”


Note to Editors



The research was conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Atom Bank, with 2,007 participants from a nationally representative sample of UK adults aged 16+ across the UK between 09.10.2020 - 12.10.2020.


All data based on the following: A 15 participant experiment of 8 men and 7 women between the ages of 18-63 conducted independently on behalf of Atom Bank. Each participant was given a £100 voucher for a favourite online store of their choice and equipped with a heart rate monitor. Participants resting heart rates were taken just before the shopping experiment, during the 1 hour online shopping period and during a 5 minute brisk walk for comparison purposes. Participants also self-reported their happiness levels before, during the experiment (at the point of checkout), and 1 hour post-experiment to compare these psychological metrics to the heart rate data. Participants were also asked to identify themselves as a ‘spender’ and ‘saver’ with data gathered according to these two groups.

About Atom

After securing its banking license in June 2015, Atom bank launched operations in April 2016, offering market-leading Fixed Saver accounts and secured business lending for small and medium-sized enterprises (‘SMEs’). Atom launched its first mobile mortgage product in December 2016 and has taken £1.8bn in deposits and lent over £2.4bn to small businesses and homeowners to date. Atom are a mobile only and customer first bank. Based in the North East of England with a team of over 400 people, they’re here to do the right thing by their customers. To stand up against the big banks, to save customers time, offer the best products and to offer them genuine value, empowering them to take control of their finances. At the heart of the bank is the app, with an award-winning customer support team on hand to help with any queries through phone, chat, email and social media.

Atom is an engaged and active part of the North East Community and in 2017 announced a four year STEM partnership with the Prince’s Trust in North East England.

The Atom executive team are highly experienced, having built and run some of the most well-respected banks in the UK. CEO Mark Mullen has 30 years’ experience in the sector and was previously CEO at the multi- award-winning telephone and internet bank first direct. The team are supported by a strong non-exec board, chaired by Bridget Rosewell CBE.