Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Psychology of Consumer Spending: Is Your Shopping Spinning Out of Control?

The Psychology of Consumer Spending: Is Your Shopping Spinning Out of Control?

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Are you a compulsive shopper? How do you know?

Signs of compulsive shopping include being preoccupied with thoughts of purchases; buying items you don’t need; hoping you’ll feel happier when you return from your shopping trip; experiencing something like a ‘high’ during the purchase; and perhaps feeling guilty afterwards. If your shopping causes marital and/or financial problems but you continue to shop anyway, then you are a compulsive shopper. 

The infographic below, The Psychology of Consumer Spending, provides a brief overview of consumer spending, with an emphasis on compulsive purchasing. The infographic is heavy on statistics: who buys too much, what they purchase, whether they pay by cash or card, and impulse buying statistics. While all that is interesting, what can we learn?

The most interesting parts of the infographic may be the sections about the reasons for compulsive shopping and how our brains react to it. Psychologists think that compulsive buying results from a void in an individual’s life, perhaps stemming from childhood, or the need for approval or excitement or, the simplest explanation yet, a real lack of impulse control. 

Regardless of the reason(s), when we shop, we feel good. The reward part of our brain lights up, dopamine floods our system, and we are happy – at least for a while. The problem comes when a person is truly ‘addicted’ to shopping. That’s when the brain craves more shopping, just like a drug addict’s brain cries out for more opioids or alcohol. It is important to understand that a shopping high is only temporary and will not provide what you really need in the long run.

Christine Wright, a behavioural change expert coach and owner of Habit Breaker, explains: ‘People with shopping addiction often spend beyond their means. Although it may appear less harmful than other forms of addiction, such as drug or alcohol abuse, shopping addiction can and does create serious problems. Financial problems are the most obvious problems associated with compulsive shopping. People with compulsive shopping disorder may resort to borrowing money from family and friends in order to fuel their addiction and they won’t be fully telling the truth as to why they require surplus funds that they are asking for, due to the shame and stigma which is attached.’

Final thoughts

If you believe that you are a ‘shopaholic’, is there anything you can do to stop the behaviour? The first step is to identify the reasons for your compulsive shopping; you may already have an idea, or you may need to seek the help of a psychologist to sort through your issues. Knowing what triggers your compulsive shopping (e.g., depression, negativity, loneliness or anxiety) makes it easier to stop. Feeling lonely? Call a friend. Anxious? Take a walk to calm down. For more deep-seated problems or chronic depression, please consult a professional. 

One solution that seems to help many people is a simple one: Tear up your credit cards. Using cash for all or some of your purchases can reduce spending. When you pay with cold, hard cash straight from your wallet, you’re more aware of how much you’re really spending. And when your pile of cash goes down, you must stop spending. It really does work! Another solution is to plan ahead. Make a shopping list and stick to it; you’ll be surprised at how few impulse purchases you make. 


Image credit: Freepik

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg. He interviews people within psychology, mental health, and well-being on his YouTube channel, The DRH Show.


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