Click. Add to cart. Confirmation.
It’s so easy. Just how do they know what you need?
Because it’s big business for companies to know everything they can about you. And you leave a trail every time you make a choice.
Entire businesses have sprung up to track our every move — not only purchases, but preferences. What do you read? What kind of car do you drive? What are your favorite brands?
So who could blame you for jumping on board?
There’s even a series of books and a movie, “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” that highlight this behavior.
And, while we tend to make light of it, the condition is actually a psychological disorder. Compulsive Buying Disorder, or Oniomania, falls under the same classification as other impulse-control issues like binge eating and gambling.
Do you buy things you want, whether or not you can afford them?
Do you buy things to cheer yourself up?
When you put off buying something you really want, do you feel deprived, angry or upset?
These are some of the questions asked by authors Olivia Mellan and Sherry Christie, recovering shopaholics and the authors of “Overcoming Overspending: A Winning Plan for Spenders and Their Partners.”
Here’s a clue. You may be a compulsive shopper if your monthly credit card statement runs into multiple pages. Mystery company names show up, and you can’t even remember what you bought from them.
“But it’s only three easy payments.” There you go again, playing right into their hands. Even if operators are standing by.
“I can get rush delivery and have it tomorrow,” you may say.
I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is exactly what you’ve been looking for, and you need it right away. Chances are, that’s not the case most of the time, though.
All kidding aside, you may be a shopaholic if you exhibit the following traits. For a more complete analysis, you can access the Compulsive Buying Scale, developed by psychologist Gilles Valence.
Here are eight warning signs, pointed out by Renee Morad of MoneyTalksNews:
- You often purchase things you didn’t plan to buy. Do you really need another sweater, exercise DVD or tool? Even if it’s on sale?
- You have unopened or tagged items in your closet. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, although your once-new item has never seen the light of day. The thrill is gone.
- An argument or frustration sparks an urge to shop. Compulsive shopping is an attempt to fill an emotional void like loneliness, lack of control or lack of self-esteem. Shopaholics also have a tendency to suffer from mood disorders.
- You get a rush of excitement when you buy. Shopaholics experience an adrenaline rush when they buy. Experts say dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, is often released in waves as shoppers see a desirable item. This burst of excitement can become addictive.
- You feel guilty after a buying binge. Despite the remorse, though, shopaholics are good at rationalizing just about any purchase if challenged.
- You try to conceal your shopping habits. If you’re hiding shopping bags, this is a sign you’re spending money unnecessarily — possibly to the detriment of your family.
- You feel anxious on the days you don’t shop. Shopaholics have reported feeling out of sorts if they haven’t had their shopping fix.
- You shop beyond your means. Do you open new credit cards to keep buying? This is a major red flag.
You may not have these full-blown tendencies. However, if some of these items hit home, it may be time to curb your enthusiasm.
Lots of purchases are emotional choices, made in the moment. Here are a few tips for coping:
- Stop. You don’t have to click right now. Bookmark the offer, and set it aside. Sleep on it, or wait 48 hours to see if you really want or need the product.
- Think about the tradeoffs, even if it is three easy monthly payments. By the time you get to the second or third month, you’ve likely obligated yourself to other payments. Then, it’s just a slippery slope of continuous budget busters, and it gets harder and harder to dig yourself out.
- Is the momentary rush really worth it? Your initial high goes away. And the cycle repeats — the compulsion, the excitement, the get, the intense anxiety and the self-loathing.
- Is it ever enough? I was visiting a friend recently, and she had one delivery arrive while I was there. She explained that another one was coming “before 8 p.m.” Experienced shoppers will know that’s a familiar guarantee of Amazon.com.
- Start carrying more cash and buy things directly rather than relying on credit cards and online shopping. Write down everything you buy for a month.
- Know your triggers. Do you feel angry after a business meeting or a bout with your significant other and find yourself scrolling through online sites for comfort? Find another activity. Read something inspirational, listen to your favorite music or watch a movie. Flip your attention from that familiar self-soother. Your wallet will thank you.
Help is on the way
The more you believe happiness comes from material things, the more likely you are to be distressed and anxious — and the less well-being you’re likely to experience.
Dr. April Lane Benson, author of “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop,” asks her clients to answer a series of questions before they buy something: How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?
Just pausing to ask these questions creates some space between the impulse and the action. And it may help you realize the why behind your impulse.
Your behavior could be rooted in emotional deprivation during childhood, for example, and a therapist could help you work through these issues.
Shopaholics Anonymous is a website that offers interactive quizzes and helpful information to download. Its founder, Terrence Shulman, provides the following observation:
“We all shop for many reasons, but the addict buys to relieve anxiety,” Shulman explains. “Over time, this buying creates a dysfunctional lifestyle, and more and more of the focus is on shopping — sometimes the cover up, too.”
Shop until you drop may not be so funny anymore.