Retail therapy: momentary stress relief with financial consequences

It might be difficult to fight off the impulse to go on a shopping spree when we are angry, sad or just bored. But are we able to keep track of our spending when it's so easy to pay by card or shop online? How can a budgeting app help?

Can I really get addicted to shopping?

In a word, yes. 

It’s not uncommon to feel a dopamine rush while shopping. The thrill of a sale and the allure of having something new will activate the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. 

This is one of the reasons why we are prone to impulse purchase, whether it is at the grocery store, the mall, online or at home shopping.

And truly, who among us doesn’t love a bit of retail therapy? After a long period of feeling stressed or bored, a bit of shopping can provide a much needed thrill and sense of satisfaction.

But what happens when we become a bit too dependent on the emotional boost from buying something new, and too eager to pull out a credit card to secure it? 

If you are not careful, excessive shopping sprees can lead to a tolerance for the psychological rewards. So you will need to shop more to get the same effect. This can set off a dangerous addictive cycle that leaves you more prone to compulsive buying, less satisfied and possibly in crippling debt.

Am I impulse buying? 

If you’re worried that you are impulse buying—buying things without planning to and on a whim—and treating yourself to retail therapy too often, it is time to take a step back and evaluate your situation. 

To understand the extent of a compulsive buying disorder, use an app like Money Dashboard to track your spending. The app will categorise your purchases into groups like food, clothes, homeware, bills, transport and more. Look at your breakdown. Is it more than you expect? And are you spending more than you can afford? 

And check your credit score. It’s possible that any unpaid debt or under-payed bills from shopping have damaged it. (Read how to check and improve your score here).

You can also combine this data with other considerations – are you feeling unfulfilled on days when you don’t shop? Do you feel guilty after buying impulse items? Can you remember what you bought? Do you feel unable to control your emotions? 

Together, these financial and emotional checks help you understand the extent of any shopping problems and help you establish new goals for yourself.

Breaking the addictive cycle

Your goal should be moderation. You should be allowed to shop but stay within a reasonable budget. You do not want to rely on shopping for the thrill. Instead, find satisfaction in every small victory against spending spree impulses. 

Here are some tips offered up by experts on how to stop impulse buying:

Make it harder to spend

  • Cut up your credit cards and carry cash
  • Avoid temptations: Don’t hang out in stores and avoid flash sales
  • Unsubscribe from all retailer emails

Make a plan and track every penny

  • Create a strict shopping budget – Money Dashboard can help!
  • Return or sell any unused items and put that money aside to pay off any shopping debt

Shop more systematically

  • Make a list of items you need and stick to it – hold yourself accountable
  • Sleep on it – if you want something unplanned, take a day to think about it. And check if other sellers have cheaper options

Take stock of what you already have and maximise it

Get professional help

  • There is no shame in asking for support. Therapy, or simply talking to friends and family can help you with breaking the cycle of compulsive shopping
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