Whether it's a new fashion item or the latest gadget that you just have to have, most of us feel the urge to splurge.
This is no surprise as we are continuously inundated with ads trying to convince us that our lives will be infinitely better if we buy what they are trying to sell. Treating ourselves to what we desire isn't a bad thing when done in moderation and when it isn't detrimental to your finances.
However, if your compulsion to spend money becomes uncontrollable and you're continually spending more than you make on things that you don't need, a shopping addiction can be as harmful as alcoholism or drug addiction. It's estimated that 1 in 20 people or 5 per cent of the population have an issue with compulsive spending.
Clinicians call it Compulsive Buying Disorder, which is an impulse-control issue – similar to binge eating, drug & sex addiction, or gambling. And unless you are incredibly rich (and even then), a shopping addiction has the risk of causing an emotional and financial crisis. We now have a society that wants it all, and wants it now. Sadly, people get into financial holes that are difficult to climb out of.
Are you, or someone you care about a shopaholic? Here are seven red flags that shopping may be a problem:
1. You feel a rush when you buy something
Shopping addicts get a "hit" or a "high", from buying something, not from owning it. Shopaholics release dopamine and endorphins, neurotransmitters connected with pleasure and reward, when they see something they want and think about buying it. This rush can become addictive if we keep giving in to it.
2. You want to shop when you are upset or unhappy
Does shopping make you feel better? Compulsive spending can be an attempt to satisfy an unmet need or numb an emotion, such as feeling worthy, longing for love and affection, attention, or lack of self-confidence. Shopping addicts also tend to experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other addictions.
3. You have lots of things that are unopened or with their tags still on
If you have more than a couple of items (that aren't gifts for other people) sitting unopened or with their tags on, you may be buying things just for the fun of it. A certain family member of mine had a five-bedroom house with every closet filled to the brim with clothes that a large majority of - still had the tags attached. She vehemently denied she had a problem ...
4. You frequently buy things you don't need or didn't intend to purchase
Are you easily enticed to buy things that you don't need? Shoes, clothes, accessories, cosmetics, fitness equipment, kids gear, homewares and gadgets are common ways we waste our money. Upgrading items that you already own - that don’t need to be replaced. Buying things we don't need to make ourselves feel a certain way. Another warning sign is having an obsession with things like shoes, handbags, makeup, cosmetic enhancements or plastic surgery.
5. You hide your spending habits or purchases
Do you have secret accounts, cards or are skimming money from other areas? One of the most significant causes of conflict in relationships - is about money. If you hide what you buy or change the screen from others when your shopping online, this is an indication that you're spending money at the cost of your relationship, family, or possibly your job.
6. You start to go through withdrawals if you don't shop
If you start to get edgy if you haven't bought anything that day, it's time to sort it out. Many shopaholics describe feeling "out of sorts" if they don't get their shopping fix and confessed to shopping online or engaging in other addictive behaviours to cope with their feelings.
7. Feelings of guilt or remorse develop after you make your purchases
Do you go from absolutely needing the item to realising your spending is getting out of control? Buyers remorse isn't limited to large purchases; shopaholics may only shop at second-hand stores or are bargain hunting online. Regardless of any remorse that follows, spendaholics are masters at justifying any acquisition when questioned.
For a more in-depth assessment, take this Shopping Addiction Test.
Luckily, there are many helpful methods to heal this addiction.
If it feels too scary to admit you have a problem, know that figuring out why you're always spending money and learning how to change will be a huge relief – for both your happiness and your budget.
1. You may be low in dopamine
Dopamine is the motivating neurotransmitter that makes you feel focused, energised and excited. When you are low in dopamine, you tend to feel distracted, sluggish, prone to procrastination and find it hard to take pleasure in life. You make lack self-control and have an addictive personality.
Every time you buy something, you get a hit of dopamine. The more primitive part of your brain doesn't realise that your spending is causing you financial issues - it just knows it feels better when you buy things so it encourages you to keep doing it. Helping your body boost your dopamine levels, helps stop the brain from looking for unhealthy ways to increase it. These are some of the things you can crave when you are low in dopamine: sugar, caffeine, spending money, cigarettes and sex.
How to boost dopamine:
Supplements – L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that is the building block for dopamine. It's also a precursor to thyroid hormones, so therefore useful to increase impulse control, overcome addictions, reduces sugar cravings, boosts thyroid function and is an appetite suppressant.
L-Phenylalanine is also a precursor to dopamine as well as many other important neurotransmitters. It's a natural mood booster and antidepressant, curbs sugar and stimulant cravings, helps in controlling addictive behaviour.
L-Phenylalanine also helps forms another energising brain chemical called PEA (phenylethylamine), (also found in chocolate) which is believed to be the chemical most responsible for feelings of euphoria.
2. Identify what triggers you to spend money
Think about what happens right before you have the urge to shop. Are you feeling bored, lonely, frustrated, insecure, avoiding getting something done or do you do it after a fight with your partner, or family? Identifying what feeling you are trying to avoid gives you the awareness of what emotions you need to learn to deal with in a healthier way. When these feelings overwhelm you, resist the impulse to shop at all costs and find alternatives methods to cope with what emotions you are trying to avoid.
3. Ask yourself if you feel like you are good enough, just as you are?
A lot of the time we are buying things to make us feel better about ourselves. Believing the things we buy will help us to feel more confident and help to gain the acceptance of other people. The problem is, believing that things will make you feel worthy is like taping sandwiches to your body and expecting it to satisfy your hunger.
Self-love and acceptance are an inside job, and the things you buy will never fill the hole inside of you. Money spent on a good therapist is one of the few ways that spending can help you heal. Your mental health is one of your most important assets and should be a priority.
4. Find new activities to substitute your shopping habit
Unnecessary shopping doesn't serve a practical purpose – it may be serving a subconscious purpose by satisfying an unmet need. What do you get from shopping that you are not getting elsewhere or need more of? Ask yourself how you can meet those needs in other ways.
Exercising, doing something creative, learning something new, decluttering your home, volunteering – are all activities that could replace time spent shopping and are less of a drain on your finances. The goal is to swap the negative and harmful addiction for one that is positive and healthy.
5. Learn to manage your money
Start paying cash to buy what you need. Leave your cards at home or give them to some you trust only to use when needed. If you don't have the money in your account (after all your bills are paid), you cannot afford it!
Create a budget and stick to it. Sorted is a great website with lots of free resources. Create a plan to get out of debt and stick to it. I highly recommend Enable Me to kick your finances into shape. There is nothing more empowering than being in control of your finances and having a plan for the future. Most of us were not taught how to manage our money, so we need to educate ourselves for a better future.
I highly recommend the books:
- Spent: Break the Buying Obsession and Discover Your True Worth by Sally Palaian
- To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop by April Lane Benson, PhD
For group support:
Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz.
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