Why You Feel That Way
First of all, let's leave need out of it. There are things that you need—no doubt about it. There are other things that you think about wanting, make a decision to buy and then go out and purchase. That's not the sort of shopping we're talking about here. We are talking about unconscious shopping—the sort of shopping that can get you into trouble if you do too much of it.
You've probably heard the term compulsive shopping. It's the name of a psychological disorder that affects between 2 and 5 percent of the population. But there is a much bigger slice of the population—15 to 18 percent, according to researchers at the University of Richmond—that shops "excessively." Like compulsive shoppers, people who shop excessively spend more than they would like to spend and buy more than is good for their financial well-being, but they do it less often. Even more than that 15 to 18 percent engage in occasional "retail therapy."
Knowing what prompts you to shop can help you channel your energies into more productive pursuits. So...why do you shop? Is it because you're feeling blue? Because you want to feel powerful? Do you want to be someone else, or maybe you just don't want to be you? Is it because you think you deserve it? You'd rather shop than, say, go to the movies? Did you have a fight with a spouse and now you want to show him that no one can tell you what to do? Do you feel like you need a friend, or at the very least, a compliment from a salesperson? Are you on autopilot? Did it just look good at the time? Or can you honestly just not stop?
How to Get Over It
The good news is that understanding why you're shopping may be all it takes to keep you from the stores. But you may need a little more ammunition. Start by asking yourself five crucial questions:
What am I doing here?
If you're at a store or website because you have a reason to shop—you're out of paper towels or a friend's birthday is next week—fine. But if you're shopping just because, it's time to do something else instead.
What was the trigger that sent me here?
If you're shopping for emotional reasons, your wallet will reward you for getting a grip on what they are.
How do I feel?
A shopping excursion shouldn't feel frantic, fraught, pressured or manic. If it does, even in the least, it's time to go home and put your feet up, watch bad cable or take a bath.
Is the thing I'm about to reach for something I need?
What happens if I don't buy it? Wants are optional. If you don't end up with them in your possession, your health will not fail, you won't go hungry, you will not end up running down the street naked. Needs are the opposite: heat, food, shelter, love. If you don't have them, something bad will happen to you: frostbite, starvation, illness, severe loneliness.
What happens if I do buy it?
Research has shown that most purchases never make us as happy as we think they will for as long as we think they will.
What else can you do quickly, cheaply and easily?
- Give yourself nonshopping options. I suggest exercise. Like shopping, it makes you feel good. Unlike shopping, it's good for you.
- Break the habit. Figure out what happens to get you to the point of purchase, then find two things you could do instead. Fall back on those options every day for three weeks. By that point, your new habit will become your default, and you'll be home free.
- Steer clear of the dressing rooms. Despite the notoriously bad lighting, research has shown that if you actually try on the clothing, you're more likely to buy it.
Next: "I'd love to start saving, but I don't know how."