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Impulsive vs Compulsive shopping – How to cope

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Shopping can be a great activity, especially if it involves a tempting sale! It can be a way to relax for some and a social bonding experience for others. But what can be a fun and enjoyable experience for individuals can also creep into a real issue.

Impulsive and compulsive shopping can be a serious financial challenge for people who develop these behaviours.  

Typically the reasons why someone can form an addiction to either impulsive or compulsive spending is primarily to relieve stress and to feel satisfied. Making the purchase - especially if it’s in the sale or discounted - can give a sense of accomplishment.

Although the two shopping behaviours can share some of the same characteristics they are different. We’ve outlined what impulsive and compulsive shopping is and the key characteristics, as well as tips on how to squash these habits and feel more in control of your finances.

Causes of impulsive and compulsive shopping

The act of shopping can release chemicals in the brain that causes us to feel pleasure, such as endorphins and dopamine. If those happy chemicals are strong it can make someone engage in the behaviours that causes them over and over again.

What is impulsive shopping?

Impulsive shopping is when an individual purchases something unplanned, a spur of the moment item, such as a hard to pass sale. Spending in this way is a reaction from an external trigger and from momentary temptation.

This practice can often be harmless, however if a person is continuously impulsively spending and this isn’t within their budget, stretching their outgoings beyond their means, then financial difficulties can arise.

Signs of impulsive shopping

  • Instant feelings of satisfaction and gratification
  • When in a shop they are triggered to buy immediately
  • Spending more than originally planned
  • Due to feelings of regret they return the items purchased

What is compulsive shopping?

Compulsive shopping is more than just spending money; it’s the constant need to buy items that most of the time are not necessary. Compulsive spending is an inwardly motivated behaviour which hopes to replace feelings of stress with feelings of pleasure.

Individuals who compulsively spend do so to improve their mood, to seek social support or to portray their ideal self-image. Those who engage in compulsive shopping are more than likely to lead to negative consequences with intense feelings of guilt, financial hardships, arguments with loved ones and experience issues at work.  

Signs of compulsive shopping

  • High amounts of credit card debt and decreasing financial stability
  • Shopping to feel pleasure but after the spending spree come feelings of guilt
  • Distressed relationships from overspending
  • Spending beyond their means and hiding the items purchased

How to reduce impulsive and compulsive shopping

Review your spending habits

Track your budget and analyse your bank statement. If you identify you’re buying too many specific items, spending in a specific store or engaging in too much impulsive shopping, take action to cut back on spending.

Set a budget

Create a budget and plan how you will spend your money. Importantly, commit to the agreement you’ve made with yourself. Setting aside a ‘fun pot’ every month can help reduce impulsive shopping.

Pay with cash

Using your debit or credit card can mean you easily overspend as you don’t see the money disappearing straight away. Paying with cash means you can see how your spending is immediately affecting your bank account.

Reduce temptation

If you have certain stores you know you’re likely to overspend in, avoid them as best you can or bring a shopping buddy along to hold you accountable. Make a list and ensure you stick to it and go out shopping with a clear plan and which shops you only need to go to.

Allow patience

If you have the temptation to buy certain non-essential items, give yourself a waiting time-frame. You may find the urge to buy this item fades away and you no longer think about it.

It can be fairly common amongst everyone to impulsively spend to some extent, but compulsively shopping can be more serious and to help with this issue further support may be required, such as counselling, medication, help from friends and family or speaking to a financial advisor.

People who engage in these behaviours can gain a sense of control and improve their financial health and relationships with multidisciplinary actions and coping skills.

Maintaining progress when working on improving your approach to spending is essential as temptation is all around us.

We recognise that our financial wellbeing can sometimes have an impact on our mental wellbeing. If you have any concerns about your own mental health, then we would recommend you seeking support from a professional organisation. The mental health charity, Mind provides information and advice to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

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