Are You a Compulsive Shopper? How to Live with the Urge to Buy

Are You a Compulsive Shopper?

There’s a big difference between loving to shop and living to shop. A compulsive shopping habit is most identifiable by its impact on your lifestyle. Is shopping interfering with your ability to maintain a healthy and productive life? Do you spend more time shopping or even thinking about shopping than you have downtime in your day? Do you spend more than you know you can afford in order to fill an emotional need? You could even be a compulsive shopper if you spend an exorbitant amount of time shopping.

According to Dr. Brad Klontz, author of Mind Over Money, compulsive shopping “afflicts one in twenty people in the United States and over 75% of compulsive shoppers are women.” Chances are that you already know if your shopping habits are out of control. You probably feel the stress of its effects weighing on you every day, but you know that addressing the problem can be a monumental task in itself. How can you even start to tackle something that feels so big and defeating? How can you give up something that comforts you when you need comfort the most?

How to Curb Your Spending

There are a few things you can do to help curb your spending when you’re coping with the mind of a compulsive shopper. Here are a few:

Know Your Triggers

The first key to dealing with your compulsive shopping habit is to understand what triggers it. Do you reach for your credit card when you’ve had a bad day? Do you shop because you think it will make you more desirable as a person? Some of these issues may be deep rooted and require the help of a therapist to truly get to the bottom of them. In the meantime, here’s an exercise you can do on your own. Every time you have the urge to shop or spend, write down when and where you were, who you were with, and how you were feeling. Do any patterns emerge when you sit back and review a month of your notes?

Find Emotional Outlets

Now that you have a better idea of what may be triggering your spending, it’s time to look for other outlets. Sit down and brainstorm other ways that you could get the same emotional effect as shopping, without the spending and regret that inevitably follows. If it’s an emotional release you need, let yourself cry it out or spend time with a friend drinking wine and watching a show you both enjoy. If you need to feel better about yourself, head to the gym and let the endorphins do the rest. Really put some thought into what makes YOU feel better and pursue that avenue before taking the “easy” way out and buying yourself a pair of shoes you will regret by the end of the week.

Experiment with Delayed Gratification

This is always a challenge, especially when your mind is wired for a fix and wants that fix immediately. Compulsive shopping is like craving dessert after dinner. We think we need it, but if we wait an hour that craving dulls and we eventually forget all about it. When you are first triggered you are going to want to spend ASAP. Whatever you can do to make those bad feelings you’re having go away feels completely reasonable.

I challenge you to wait. This may feel incredibly painful at first. For some people it may help to keep a tally of the hours that have gone by since you were first triggered to celebrate every hour that you went without spending. Allow yourself that mini-celebration and try to find a distraction to delay that gratification even longer. Track those hours and next time you're triggered you can look back and say, “I made it 24 hours last time. Let’s try for 48 this time.”

Limit Your Spending Ability

Cash feels different than credit. In fact most studies show that we tend to spend 30% less in cash than we do on credit cards. If you are struggling with in-store shopping, leave the credit cards behind and take a set amount of cash with you. If you can’t curb the spending entirely, at least having a backstop can limit the extent of the damage.

Let Money Goals Get You High

Ironically a lot of the same feelings you get from spending, you can also get from saving towards a goal. I often find that selling items on eBay can have the same emotional impact due to the instant gratification of knowing money is coming in to accomplish your money goals. In order to feel this impact you must first know what your money goals are. Use our template to list your greatest financial hopes and use these as a reminder of why saving can be more fun than spending.

Celebrate Your Progress

Always remember that this compulsive need you feel is real. There is a deep emotional connection between you and this spending that is often more powerful than anyone else can understand. Be kind to yourself and know that you cannot solve this problem overnight. You don’t need to quit shopping entirely and you don’t need to take extreme measures right away. Any progress is forward progress. Don’t forget to celebrate your small wins, because those will ultimately add up to much bigger ones.

Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook

Lindsay Dell Cook is an accountant, turned writer and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband, and enjoys taking their adorable mutt for walks or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.