Does Compulsive Shopping Control You? How to Break Free
Shopping has long been one of America’s favorite pastimes. But that desire to spend has created a big problem for the nation.
U.S. households owed nearly $900 billion in credit card debt alone at the end of 2018. Add mortgages, student loans, and medical bills to the mix, and it’s no wonder so many people live paycheck to paycheck.
For some of the population, their debt problem is their own doing. Controlled by a need to spend, they rack up credit card debt, destroy relationships and create a never-ending cycle by paying only the minimum on all the debt they’ve amassed. To break out of the debt cycle, some opt for bankruptcy, which ruins their credit for years to come. Others face a worse fate. Reckless spending ends marriages, kills friendships, and can do a number on a job or career.
If you suspect you may be a compulsive shopper, read on to find out for sure and learn ways to break free.
What Is Compulsive Shopping?
The reasons for compulsive shopping vary. Some people are driven by a desire to keep up with the Joneses. Some seek to fill a void. And some shop in response to a trigger, such as an argument with a spouse.
According to Psychology Today, about 6% of the U.S. population suffers from compulsive shopping, and 80% of them are female. While it’s not considered a textbook addiction, people who suffer from it have the same characteristics as those with other forms of addiction.
To be considered a compulsive shopper, you must meet specific criteria. For starters, your purchases aren’t driven by a need but by an impulse. Compulsive shoppers get a rush of excitement from making a purchase. That feeling of euphoria is often followed by guilt, and many hide their purchases from family or loved ones.
Another telltale sign you have a problem is if you’re driven to shop because of your emotions. For example, you shop when you’re lonely, you get in a fight with a friend, or you experience some other unpleasant life event. Similar to those who turn to food when they’re stressed, compulsive shoppers spend money.
If this sounds familiar, chances are you have a shopping problem that has gotten out of control. The good news is that there are ways to conquer a compulsive shopping habit.
How to Break Free from Compulsive Shopping
To get your problem under control, you first must admit you have one. Look at your purchasing habits and the items you’ve amassed. If you have a lot of things with tags still on them, products you never use, and unopened boxes lying around your home, it’s a clear sign your shopping may be out of control.
Another red flag is your credit card debt. If you’re in a lot of debt and pay only the minimum on your credit cards, yet you continue to shop recklessly, that tells you there’s a problem.
1. Know Your Triggers
Once you admit you have a compulsive shopping problem, you next have to identify the reasons for it. For most people, it’s enough to keep a log of when they shop, what was happening in their life at that moment, and how it made them feel. Doing that for a while helps them pinpoint where the problem lies.
Others may need to seek professional help to identify what triggers their compulsive shopping. Sometimes, it’s tied to childhood trauma buried deep in their brains. A professional can help find the root cause for the need to shop compulsively.
Armed with the knowledge of why you feel the need to shop, you can work on avoiding the triggers. For example, if seeing an old college friend who is more successful than you triggers your need to shop, avoid that person until those urges are in check. If you don’t think you’ll be able to control yourself, enlist a trusted friend or family member to help you reign in your impulses. For example, they can remind you that having lunch with a particular person is not healthy for you or your wallet.
You can apply the same strategy to your digital life. Opt-out of your favorite retailers’ mailing lists and stop following them on social media. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a tried and tested strategy that can help compulsive shoppers. If you don’t know about the latest Nike high tops just released, you won’t feel an uncontrollable need to purchase them.
The same goes for your Web surfing habits. Digital tools enable retailers to track what you’re searching for online and then offer up ads relevant to your interests. As a result, wherever you go on the Internet, you see ads for items you may want to purchase. This temptation may be too hard for you to risk. To overcome it, shop in incognito mode or consider using a virtual private network (VPN). When you arm yourself with these tools, retailers won’t be able to stalk you online or send you deals for items you don’t need.
There are some triggers you can’t avoid entirely. For those, it’s important to recognize them for what they are and either try not to react or react in a healthier way. For example, if your boss stresses you out and your normal reaction is to shop, take a walk or grab a cup of coffee instead.
2. Find New Hobbies
For lots of people with a compulsive shopping problem, purchases are a way to try to fill a void. For example, they may be lonely, which makes them feel bad about themselves, and shopping is a way to temporarily makes themselves feel better.
To overcome feelings of loneliness that lead to excessive shopping, seek out experiences that can replace trips to the mall or retailer websites. That could mean taking part in a book club, taking classes, or joining a gym. For many people with out-of-control shopping habits, shopping becomes their pastime. If they swap out shopping with social activities, they have other options to pass the time besides spending money.
3. Only Carry Cash
A powerful way to reign in compulsive shopping is to leave your credit cards at home. The worst thing for a compulsive shopper is a wallet full of credit cards they can use on a whim.
Cash is finite; credit cards aren’t. With a card, you can charge something now and worry about it later. But if you only have cash, you’ll have to stop spending at some point.
4. Create a Buffer Before Purchasing
For compulsive shoppers, the item they buy isn’t as important as the feeling they get from buying it. But that feeling is short-lived, as is the desire for a particular product or service. Take advantage of that by creating a buffer between the desire for something and the action of purchasing it.
If you find yourself in a store, ask yourself why you are there, how it makes you feel, and if you really need whatever you’re about to purchase. Also, ask yourself what would happen if you waited a week to make the purchase, and consider the ramifications of paying for it with a credit card or cash.
Ask yourself questions like, “If I buy this item, will I have little money left for food or to cover bills?” and “Will I pay high interest in the months to come?” Putting yourself through a mental Q&A could give you pause and even stop you from making the purchase.
Another strategy is to wait at least 24 hours before pulling the trigger on a purchase. If you see a pair of fall boots you love but can’t afford, wait a day or two. Chances are, the desire for those boots will fade. To get the impulse out of your system, go through the motions online, placing everything you want in your shopping cart but refraining from checking out.
Compulsive shopping can cause a lot of pain for the person suffering from it, as well as for their loved ones. It results in everything from bankruptcies to divorces to the end of friendships.
Getting a hold of the problem can be impossible for some people to do alone, and that’s where help comes in. There is a bevy of in-person and online help from support groups, such as Spenders Anonymous, as well as informal forums, such as the Shopping Addiction Support Group. There are also professionals trained to help compulsive shoppers break the habit. Suffering in silence is never an effective strategy. If you can’t stop compulsive shopping on your own, seek help. Your mind, loved ones, and bank account will thank you for it.
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