|IN BRIEF: We often joke about being a "shopaholic" or that there is nothing like a little "retail therapy". But shopping until you drop is no laughing matter. Compulsive shopping or "shopping addiction" can devastate lives. See whether your urge to splurge has reached dangerous levels.|
For many people (researchers estimate between 2 and 8 per cent), the urge to shop is uncontrollable and often at the expensive of their relationships, family, finances, and even their jobs. In fact, impulsive shopping is such a serious and devastating problem that it has been included in the impulse control disorder classification and is treated much as an addiction.
According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, the following indicates a possible shopping impulse control problem:
- Shopping or spending money as a result of feeling disappointed, angry or scared
- Shopping or spending habits causing emotional distress in your life
- Having arguments with loved ones about your shopping or spending habits
- Feeling lost without credit cards
- Buying items on credit that would not be bought with cash
- Feeling a rush of euphoria and anxiety when spending money
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused after shopping or spending money
- Lying to others about purchases made or how much money was spent
- Thinking excessively about money
- Spending a lot of time juggling accounts or bills to accommodate spending
In a recent study, researcher Helga Dittmar, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K., pinpointed two "vulnerability factors" that appear to raise risks for compulsive buying.
"The first is a materialistic value system, the importance that a person attaches to material goods as a way of achieving major life goals, such as satisfaction and happiness," according to Dittmar. "In essence", she says, "materialists try to fix problems with things, so they shop whenever they encounter a problem."
The second factor "concerns the self-concept, where a person who feels that they are far away from their 'ideal' self is more vulnerable to psychological problems," Dittmar said. In this type of situation, people spend in order to "fix" themselves or to "medicate" the negative feelings they experience because of the discrepancy between who they want to be and who they are.
But because we are constantly bombarded with advertising aimed at tempting us into spending money on things we "want" rather than things we really "need", very few people consider impulsive shopping a debilitating disorder until the debt or marital strife forces them to admit they have a problem.
There are very few studies on this subject and, as a result, there is no real treatment. If impulse buying is a problem for you, it's probably best to consult a psychologist before you're knee-deep in debt.
If the problem is not out of hand yet, you could try to control your spending by carrying an index card in your wallet. When you see something you want to buy, write it on the card. Force yourself to wait two weeks (or at least a week) before spending the money on this item.
During this cooling off period, if you see something else you want, add it to the card. However, you can never have more than three items on the card at any one time, so to add a fourth item, you have to remove one of the other items from the list. If you're an impulse spender, you'll find that you're frequently crossing items off to make room for the newest "must have" thing.
Another good rule to adopt is to pay cash whenever possible. When you go shopping, leave your credit cards at home. Most impulse spenders use credit cards more often than not.
When you use credit cards, the reality of the amount of money you're spending and how you're going to pay it back is suppressed. When you pay with cash, it feels like you're spending "real" money. And if that doesn't work, take someone with you to prevent you from going overboard.
If you often come home with things you didn't plan on buying, you may suffer from impulsive spending. Don't let your impulses get the better of you and sacrifice your financial wellbeing.