Compulsiveness is Usually Too Costly

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

There is enough encouragement out there for shopping. The slogan, "Shop till you drop, " appears innocent and cute. The good old axiom "Live within your means is drowned out by the noise of the new commercial inducement, "Buy now, pay later." 

The earlier cautions which controlled people's impulsive and out-of temptation buying behavior are thrown to the wind by the popularity and ease of plastic currency. According to a 1991 article in the New York Times, an estimated six percent of the U.S. population has a problem with shopping and spending behavior. 

Are you a problem shopper? The answer is "yes", if you or someone else thinks that you occasionally get carried away with shopping? In other words, do you or someone else think you do excessive shopping? If people regret later about their shopping or, have an "out-of control" feeling about the quantities they buy or amount of credit they borrow, they may be considered as problem shoppers. 

Does one spend too much money on buying discretionary items? Some financial advisers say that carrying a credit of more than 20 percent of one's take-home pay for discretionary items indicates a problem. How much time does one spend on in shopping? "How much" is "too much"? These are subjective criteria and depend on each person's individual circumstances. Granted that some buying is grossly excessive. 

Imelda Marcos may not have spent a very high percentage of her money or time on her three thousand pairs of shoes, but every one saw that she had a "thing" about shoes. 

Excessive shopping can lead to a more serious problem, compulsive shopping. Compulsive shoppers feel driven by the desire to shop and spend money. They experience tremendous tension which drives them to buying and spending and they feel a "rush" while they engage in the buying activity. 

Some researchers believe that compulsive addiction is like any other form of addiction. However, it is a "smiled upon" addiction, so the addicts and others around them can laugh about it and take it lightly. But the financial impact of such an addiction and the feeling of loss of personal control over one's behavior can be devastating. They may feel hopelessly guilty. They may hide their purchases and shopping trips from their loved ones.  The act of buying is more important to them than the items they actually buy. 

Excessive or compulsive shopping may result from persistent feeling of anxiety, pain, shame or other negative feelings. Basically, we feel bad on the inside and then we do something to feel better. In this case, we buy to feel better. 

A few shop to treat their boredom and/ or feeling of emptiness. For some it is a quest for status, power, beauty, or success. Some love to shop as it makes them feel valued in the eyes of the salespersons and the warm, VIP welcome they receive from the persons attending them. Some simply shop because it makes them forget, at least temporarily, the tension, fear, or unhappiness of their life.

Education about how marketing operates to promote buying and borrowing, and the
understanding of the psychological-emotional reasons for which one buys excessively or compulsively are the most effective ways of getting a handle on this problem. Malls are designed to encourage prolonged shopping. Malls, generally, do not have time clocks displaying time because they don't want you to become too conscious of the time you spend in there. 

Food courts, coffee shops, and restrooms are provided so you don't have to leave the mall because of your physical needs. Stores selling the same items are scattered far apart, and on different levels of the mall, so bargain hunters are exposed to stores selling other commodities. 

Certain kinds of items are displayed near the cash counters, known as, "Impulse Counter" because we are more likely to buy those items on impulse. 

There is a "shelf war" going for every inch and every corner to compete for your attention. Once you become aware of how the market forces work, you can devise an appropriate strategy to control your buying behavior. 

For example, decide before you enter the mall, how much time you will spend there and which areas you will visit. Keep a written account of what items you buy and how much you spend. Such a "tracking" is vital for gaining control. Understanding the complexities of interest, spending, and your financial health does help. If you shop for recreational purposes, check to see if some other type of recreation is cheaper and healthier. For those who shop because of tension, unhappiness, pain and conflict, counseling may be a wiser alternative.  Plan what you are going to do instead when you feel the urge for shopping, and stick to it.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor