Although we need food, clothes and transport some people find that their buying habits get out of control. Sometimes this is called being a “shopaholic” or indulging in “retail therapy” and is often quite harmless if the person doing the buying can afford to do so and it doesn’t take over their life.
However, sometimes it can get out of control if the goods feed a psychological urge which relates to identity, values and image. In other words, buying some things can offer a sort of psychological crutch to some of us. If must-have items include excessive buying of labelled products, things that the person might not even wear or use, then there’s usually a problem.
This can start if people wants to feel better about themselves or it can be a weapon to express anger in some way. It might be an attempt to hold onto someone else’s love by buying their affection. Equally, it might be a way of trying to fit into a society which seems to be more and more obsessed with appearances. Sometimes it can be a distraction to help avoid other issues in their lives – it’s not always simple…..
Some television programmes have endeavoured to help the issue of compulsive buying more easily understood and one of the things to come out of such programmes is that the frantic purchasing often starts after there’s been a trauma in someone’s life. This could be a severe illness (“life’s too short to start counting every penny”), or they’ve lost someone close to them, either through death or the end of a relationship. Instead of eating compulsively, they start buying things to fill that empty space they feel inside.
Compulsive buyers come from all sorts of social backgrounds and for some it can be a way of saying “look, I’m successful. I have all these lovely things and I feel a better person for it”. Added to this, there’s now so much to buy and a huge amount of advertising which reach nearly everyone, whatever their circumstances. If someone is materialistic and believes that possessions are the key to happiness, they will also define themselves and others by what they wear and obtain (car, house, holidays).
A person with non-materialistic values will find happiness in other ways, not connected to obtaining goods and things.
On a short-term basis, buying things does improve self-image and perception but this soon wears off and then the cycle has to begin again to get that ‘feel good’ factor.
However, going on the occasional shopping spree doesn’t mean that you’re a compulsive shopper who definitely has problems but if you find things are getting out of hand and that you shop whenever you’re feeling low and stressed, it may be time to think about it a bit harder.
Compulsive shoppers usually fall into one of the following categories:
- Those people who shop when they’re feeling emotionally distressed.
- Those who want to cultivate the image of being a big spender
- Bargain-seekers who buy things, even if they don’t need them, because they’re in a sale or on special offer.
- People who are always searching for the perfect item.
- Those collectors who don’t feel they’re complete until they have one item in every colour in a set.
- What is known as ‘bulimic shoppers’ who are caught in a cycle of buying and then returning goods each time.
So how can you stop these binges before they get out of control and you end up in serious debt:
- Make a list and only buy what’s on the list (sounds easy but it’s often hard to do!).
- Use cash more, credit and debit cards less – it’s too easy to feel you’re hardly spending anything if you use cards.
- Avoid special offers, discount warehouses and anything that seems ‘too good to resist’. If you do visit discount centres only take a certain amount of cash with you.
- Don’t watch TV shopping channels and don’t order goods online.
- If you feel the urge to shop, go out for a walk, exercise or use some other distraction to avoid it.
- Although you want to treat your family and friends, set a limit to the amount you’ll spend and stick to it, however difficult that might be.
- Try to destroy all your credit cards except one that you can use for emergencies only.
If you feel that your shopping is getting out of control, consider counselling to look at this and develop strategies to control it.