To Buy or Not to Buy: Why Are We Shopaholics and How to Stop?

Picture showing group of happy shopaholics shopping in store
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The proliferation of online shopping has made the Internet a fertile environment for the shopaholics.

You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.

Meet Lauren, a 25-year-old single female. She recently started as an assistant account executive at a prominent advertising agency in New York City. The position is high-status but with a low pay scale. Lauren is intelligent, attractive; but, is also one of many shopaholics.

Lauren recently started dating John, and as the relationship is becoming more serious, she is nervous about telling John about her $11,000 credit card debt. Most of this debt is the result of her compulsive shopping on clothes and jewelry, which she views as a necessary part of being a young ad executive. But, if Lauren were to take an objective view of her financial situation, she would find her consistent overspending beyond her means for quite some time.

Lauren grew up in a relatively affluent family and became accustomed to getting whatever she desired.

Picture showing a shopaholic woman shopping for shoes.

Both of her parents frequently went on business trips and would bring home expensive gifts for Lauren. Her mother exhibited traits of a shopaholic since Lauren was a young girl.

Recently Lauren decided to give financial therapy a try after an argument she had with John about cheap tickets he purchased to a concert she had been looking forward to. The tickets were a surprise gift for Lauren’s birthday and she was disappointed and hurt by what she perceived to be his lack of caring. When she voiced this, he became angry and defensive stating that she was unappreciative. Lauren was completely shocked and confused by the intensity of the argument that ensued. After the argument, she went on a shopping spuree, bought a brand new pair of designer shoes, three pair of jeans, and $300 worth of makeup on her credit card, which she periodically does to make herself feel better.

After her first virtual financial therapy session, it was obvious that part of Lauren’s shopping addiction can be explored by using humanistic financial therapy.

For the humanist, financial therapy entails self-exploration, self-expression, and self-mastery and seeks to enable individuals to move towards independence, greater self-trust, and greater trust in one’s relationship to others and the environment. And within the “family” of humanistic psychology are several specific approaches: Person-centered Therapy originally developed by Carl Rogers, Gestalt Therapy, Experiential and Emotional-focused Therapy…etc. and each of these approaches can be adapted for use in financial therapy. The heart of humanistic therapy is providing an environment that is defined by having empathy, authenticity, and positive regard for the client. And these are the necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change and growth.

In American culture, one of “competitive consumption”, in which the acquisition of consumer goods and services is associated with the attainment of happiness.

Credit Cards. Young woman holding wallet with credit cards on color background, closeup

The majority of shopaholics turn to their credit cards for “unlimited” assistance: for example, women are taught that a flattering dress or the perfect hair-care product will make them irresistible to men, while men come to believe that purchasing a sports car attests to their masculinity and their success. The false belief that goods are transformative agents becomes toxic when combined with the over-availability of credit cards. In 2005 to 2007, nearly 6 billion credit card offers went out to the American population — that means more than 20 offers per year went out to each American citizen (Synovate 2007). In 2012, the total US credit card debt was $793.1 billion; average credit card debt per family reached nearly US$16,000, 76% of college students were in possession of at least one credit card, and 56% ran an unpaid balance in the past 12 months (Credit Card Debt Statistics 2012).

As for Lauren, at her 5-session point, she had only made one small compulsive purchase; and her previous shopaholic’s “adrenalin rush” has dramatically decreased after working with her financial therapist. One of the many financial therapy techniques she learned to use is the mindful pause, it asks before she purchase an item, to ask herself six questions.

  • Why am I here?
  • How do I feel?
  • Do I need this?
  • What if I wait?
  • How will I pay for it?
  • Where will I put it?

Although this can take shopaholics some restraint, asking questions such as these along with financial therapy sessions successfully breaks Lauren’s automatic buying impulse. This can also help shopaholics realize that they have a choice to buy it, to put the item down and walk away, or to think it through even longer before buying.

And to reinforce this mindful behavior, shopaholics are encouraged to acknowledge and affirm their progress, and then reward themselves with a free or an affordable activity, which functions as both an act of self-care and a tailor-made alternative to shopping. Next. Read about What is Your “Money Script” ? and take a FREE Money Belief Quiz to find out about your relationship with money.

Book a Financial Therapy session now.

Resource: Klontz, B. T., Britt, S. L., & Archuleta, K. L. (2015). Financial Therapy Theory, Research, and Practice. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

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