High off the buy – Spotting Shopaholics

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When you need to reduce stress, or to relax, do you ever find yourself wandering off to buy something to bring about that much needed sense of release? If the answer is yes, pat yourself on the back because you’re a bonafide shopaholic. Like any other addiction, the differentiating factor that separates the shopaholics from the average, excessive consumerists is just that – the motivation behind the purchase.

Some people walk a very thin line between the two. I don’t consider myself a shopaholic, but I will admit that I sometimes have shopaholic tendencies, which usually account for the purchases that I really cannot justify, explain or put to good use. A few weekends ago, I attended an intensive two-day workshop. It was an emotionally taxing seminar, and after the first day, I was drained. I found myself driving from Port of Spain all the way to Trincity Mall (in traffic mind you), and then wandering into a store where I purchased a $400 bottle of perfume (the new DKNY summer scent, Bloom). In hindsight, I realised that I had no real need or cause to venture to the mall, nor can I justify exactly why I need yet another bottle of perfume to add to my limitless collection of at least 30 other scents (not including the sets with the matching creams, body scrubs and other unnecessary emollients in which perfumed oils could be transmitted). I can honestly say, as almost a third-party observer of myself, that I felt I needed to make that purchase to re-energize myself to counter the post-workshop exhaustion

Then in recounting the experience, I found myself feeling immense shopper’s guilt. Couldn’t I have given that $400 to some sort of Haiti fund? I probably could have fed a family with it. Couldn’t I have given it to the lady with the six kids who doesn’t have much or couldn’t I have given it to my grandmother to help her pay a bill? So many ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’s’! All I can say is thank God for that social conscience because it keeps me (and the wallet) in check most of the time, but why didn’t that conscience kick in pre-purchase? How do we know when we simply want too much and want things for the wrong reasons?

I think anyone can list the outcomes of overspending – with the inability to save (probably topping the list of worst outcomes), and an accumulation of a variety of items that remain unused (which leads to a lack of space in which to store those items) topping the list. Unearthing the psychology behind such behaviour is a bit more complicated. At first glance, many of us would excuse ourselves by claiming that we are products of our capitalist environment, but have we really figured out what that really means?

We are nurtured to be consumers. The world would have us think that every human life on the planet is in fact a consumer. We are certainly conditioned and programmed to behave like consumers. Everything we want and need is packaged and awaiting our consumption.  Countries and cultures are packaged for consumption in the form of tourism. People are packaged for consumption in the form of online dating sites. Health is packaged in pills. Intelligence is packaged for consumption in books, ‘techie gadgets’ and broad, black rimmed spectacles (to create an illusion of intelligence). Beauty is packaged for consumption in the form of clothes, shoes, makeup, and worse yet, acceptance to the realm of ‘beautiful’. I could go on.

Chronic, legitimate shopaholics sometimes have deeper psychological issues that are manifested in their behaviour, such as feelings of inadequacy, abandonment and so on.  Self-proclaimed pedestrian psychologists like myself know how to spot them, but we would not dare attempt to treat these cases. The truth is that items we purchase are really pawns in our quest to acquire and attain qualities and experiences. My advice to any shopaholic or anyone with shopaholic tendencies would be to observe yourself, and try to figure out what you’re trying to attain through material gain. Ask yourself a few questions before making a random purchase:

* Is this something I need to make me feel better about myself?  How often do I buy for this reason?

* What are the emotions I experience before and after making an impulse buy?

* Do I use the things that I buy? How did I feel when I purchased the things I use now?  How did I feel when I purchased the things I barely or rarely used?

* How is this affecting me?

On a more practical level, here is some additional advice to help us all stay on track:

* Plan your strategy to avoid overshopping.

* Prepare a budget and list. Stick to the items on the list and do your best not to stray.

* If you can afford it, use your Linx card or pay cash, and keep credit cards for emergency use only. The point here is that you should only spend what you have the finances to do so. Credit cards give us the illusion that everything is within our financial reach, but we all know that otherwise.

* With an imaginary indelible marker, write down on your brain’s notepad your long term and short term financial goals (e.g. saving for a downpayment on a home by the age of 32) and let these motivate you to stay on track.

Overspending isn’t an easily broken habit, but by keeping tabs on your emotions, and keeping sight of your goals, you can find a way to manage your spending, and improve your finances.


Karel Mc Intosh

Karel Mc Intosh is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Outlish Magazine. She's also the Lead Communications Trainer at Livewired Group, where she conducts workshops in business writing, social media, and other communications areas. A real online junkie, when she isn't surfing the Internet, she's thinking about surfing the Internet. Find out more about her here or tweet her @outlishmagazine.

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