Many people come to therapy afraid of spending too much time and money on things that don’t mean much. They can ask questions such as:
- Am I addicted to shopping?
- Why do I need to buy things to feel better about myself?
- Why do I always feel like I need more?
The answers to these questions are not simple. It often takes a long time in psychotherapy to understand the root of the problem.
However, a quick way to assess whether you might have a buying problem is to ask yourself if most of the statements below apply to you.
- You shop compulsively
- You shop to ease feelings of emptiness
- You shop despite the negative financial consequences
- You shop in secret to avoid judgment from others
- You feel ashamed or guilty about your inability to stop buying things
If these statements describe you, you are not alone. A 2015 meta-analysis showed that about five percent of Americans were compulsive shoppers.
With social media marketing, targeted ads, and influencer culture getting more people to buy things for each other, that percentage is likely to increase.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three strategies to help you overcome your shopping addiction.
#1. Follow the twenty-four hour rule
Let’s say you’ve decided to buy some expensive new shoes and all you have to do is shell out the cash and wear them home.
Here’s what you could do: Delay the purchase for exactly twenty-four hours.
Doing this will force you through an entire day of challenges, joys, sorrows, and expenses without the new item. In other words, it’s no longer an impulse buy. Once twenty-four hours have passed, you can use better judgment to decide if the item is worth it or not.
#2. Don’t buy, just browse
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that is released in our brains during pleasurable activities such as eating, having sex, and yes, shopping.
A classic paper Posted in Brain research journals argues that dopamine has more to do with seeking rewards rather than the satisfaction the reward brings.
Similarly, Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, suggests that our brains get their dopamine shots from the anticipation of a reward more than from the reward itself.
This might explain why window shopping is always enjoyable and why owning the object of desire tends to lose its charm pretty quickly.
Here’s how you can extend these findings to your own buying behavior. Set aside a few hours each week where you can browse the things you want to own. This way, you can enjoy all the positive benefits of shopping while avoiding its negative consequences.
#3. Buy things you can connect with
When shopping, a good rule to follow is: buy low volume and high quality.
Buying trendy things may seem necessary to keep up with the Joneses, but it’s wiser to buy things that you won’t need to replace often, either because they’re always in style or because that you develop a personal connection with them.
Such items (a high-end wristwatch, for example) are usually designed to last and hold their value much better than cheaper items.
A 2014 study published in the consumer psychology journal found that shopping based on who you are as a person can increase your sense of control over your life. This, in turn, can reduce your reliance on buying more to experience more happiness.
Here’s a related bonus tip. Save for your purchases and choose debit cards over credit cards. This will ensure that you are more connected to the purchase due to the anticipation of owning it. It will also save you from spending money you don’t already have.
Engaging in problematic behaviors does not necessarily mean that you have an addiction. However, if you think your behaviors indicate addiction, one way to determine this is to speak to a certified mental health professional. In the meantime, apply these simple strategies to reduce the harmful effects of your buying behaviors.