Let’s face it—shopping can be fun. And I’m not talking about grocery shopping or taking the kids out to buy school supplies. I’m talking about shopping for one’s self when you simply feel like it. Right?
But at what point does shopping on a whim become a habit that needs to be broken?
Think about this for a moment.
Have you ever purchased something—whether online or at the mall—that you didn’t need? Have you surfed through ecommerce websites like Amazon or AliExpress gleefully filling your online shopping cart and found great satisfaction in hitting the BUY NOW button?
Or have you ever had your partner or friend ask why you bought x-y-z and not have a valid answer for them, because even you don’t know why you bought it?
Even worse, have you received parcels in the mail and opened them up forgetting that you even bought them in the first place?
Consequences of Impulse Shopping
Although shopping can be fun, buying something you don’t need or want is wasteful. So when reality bites, you are left feeling embarrassed, or maybe a little bit guilty, or ashamed for having done it.
Truth be told, that’s the just the tip of the iceberg. Because what happens when you don’t have the financial resources to fund your impulse purchases? Are you relying on your credit card and falling into debt to fund your habit?
So why do you do it?
The first step in stopping your shopping habit—or any other habit—is to acknowledge that you want to stop and then understand where the habit stems from.
Why do you do it? Simply put, it’s because you have trained yourself to do it.
Do you find that you turn to shopping to either satisfy an urge or pacify a feeling?
Impulse shopping is a habit you have formed. It is a learned response for dealing with or avoiding upsets, boredom, anger, or simply wanting to feel like you belong.
You have trained your brain to release dopamine—a kind of natural messenger, essential to the normal functioning of the brain—which has a role in your ability to experience pleasure or pain when you buy something.
As humans, it is in our nature to move towards comfort and happiness, keeping away from emotions and experiences that make us feel uncomfortable or sad.
Your urge to shop is a comforting mechanism that you have unconsciously trained your mind to create whenever you feel lonely, depressed, bored, or in a situation of discomfort.
When you buy something you don’t need—you aren’t buying it because you want it. Rather, you buy it to satisfy an urge—the need to feel happy, to feel like you belong, or are special and valuable; or even the satisfaction of getting one up on someone who has annoyed you.
In other words, you aren’t buying the item for itself. Instead, you are buying it for the feeling that you experience when you make a purchase, or how imagine you will feel once you have it.
This habit could be a long-standing behaviour that started in childhood. Perhaps, as a young child, going shopping with your parents was a happy activity that you did together as a family; and so you associate shopping with happiness. Or this could be a recent thing that has developed in your life in response to an event you didn’t want, e.g. the loss of a loved one, a relationship breakup, or redundancy at work.
Train In/Train Out
Understanding that your impulse shopping is a deeply rooted habit—rather than a moral failure or financial inexperience—is really good news. The reason I say this is good news is that, if you trained yourself into this behaviour—no matter how young you were when you started—you can train yourself out of it.
Let’s consider this example.
Let’s say you had a disagreement with your partner or colleague. And afterwards, you find yourself browsing online, looking at shoes or clothing—even if you don’t need either one. It’s important to remember that you are doing this because your internal subconscious programming has directed you to do something comforting. To soothe yourself, it has created the urge to shop. The act of shopping is an attempt to either satisfy the urge to detract you from the disagreement with your partner or colleague. The training you have given yourself is:
However, as you know, this cycle has an unwanted end which is the consequence.
In this instance, the consequence is what is left after the item has been purchased and the urge has been satisfied.
Consequences can take many forms— increased debt, a wardrobe full of clothes you never wear, a frustrated partner, and an emotional need that remains unfulfilled.
When you understand why you are shopping in these scenarios, you have a significantly higher chance of changing your behaviour and breaking this pattern in your life.
The good news is that when you understand how you got to this place, and can identify the habit cycle in operation, you can re-train yourself into a new learned behaviour and create a new happier, healthier and cheaper way of living without the shopping.
A fundamental change in your behaviour is possible.
Ishani Noble is a Chartered Accountant and Mindset coach that helps individuals whose shopping habits impacting their finances and relationships to understand why they overshop and how to stop.
If you are ready to change and want an experienced guide to show you how to stop and change this in your life, reach out for a FREE strategy session for us to discuss your particular situation.