Many people come to therapy concerned that they are wasting too much time and money on things that don’t mean enough. You can ask questions like:
- Am I addicted to shopping?
- Why do I have to buy things to feel better?
- Why do I always feel like I need more?
The answers to these questions are not easy. In psychotherapy it often takes a long time to understand the root of the problem.
However, you can quickly assess whether you have a shopping problem by asking yourself if most of the statements below apply to you.
- You shop compulsively
- You shop to ease feelings of emptiness
- You buy despite negative financial consequences
- They shop in secret to avoid judgment from others
- You feel ashamed or guilty for not being able to stop buying
If these statements describe you, you are not alone. A 2015 meta-analysis showed that about five percent of Americans were addicted shoppers.
With social media marketing, targeted ads, and an influencer culture driving more people to buy things, that percentage is likely to increase.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three strategies to help you break your shopping addiction.
#1. Follow the 24 hour rule
Let’s say you’ve decided to buy expensive new shoes and all that’s left to do is pay the money and wear them home.
Here’s what you could do: Postpone the purchase by exactly twenty-four hours.
If you do, you’ll have to endure a full day of challenges, joys, sorrows, and expenses without the new item. In other words, it’s no longer an impulse buy. After 24 hours, you can use better judgment to decide whether the item is worth the cost or not.
#2. Don’t buy, just browse
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical released in our brains during pleasurable activities like eating, sex, and, yes, shopping.
A classic paper published in Reviews of brain research argues that dopamine has more to do with seeking rewards than with the satisfaction that rewards bring.
Similarly, Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, suggests that our brain gets its dopamine hits from the anticipation of a reward rather than the reward itself.
That could explain why window shopping always feels good and actually owning the object of desire loses its appeal quite quickly.
You can extend these insights to your own shopping behavior. Set aside a few hours each week to 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 to connect with
When shopping, the following rule of thumb applies: buy little and high quality.
It might seem necessary to buy things that are trendy to keep up with the Joneses, but it’s wiser to buy things that you don’t need to replace often — either because they’re always in fashion or because you have a personal bond build up to them.
Such items (e.g. a high quality watch) are generally designed to last and hold their value much better than cheaper items.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that making purchases 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 feel happier.
Here’s a related bonus tip. Save on your purchases and choose debit cards over credit cards. This will ensure that you are more involved in the purchase due to the expectation of owning it. It also keeps you from spending money you don’t already have.
Engaging in problem behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean you have an addiction. However, if you think your behavior is indicative of addiction, one way to find out is to speak to a board-certified psychologist. In the meantime, use these simple strategies to reduce the negative impact of your shopping behavior.