Shopping is more than simply going to the grocery store and throwing food and other necessities in your cart. For many people, it can be an enjoyable and even therapeutic experience.
For such folks, shopping is a way to express personal style, treat themselves, or indulge in some retail therapy. However, what starts as a fun activity can evolve into a full-blown obsession.
Shopping addiction — sometimes known as compulsive buying disorder — can have significant negative consequences on your life.
Following are some common signs you may have crossed the line from a pesky habit to a true problem. By learning these signs, you can avoid wasting money and restore your ability to shop wisely.
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You are constantly preoccupied with shopping
One of the earliest signs of shopping addiction is an excessive and intense preoccupation with buying stuff. You may constantly think about your next purchase, plan trips to the mall, or browse online for new stuff.
You may even find that you're consumed by shopping-related thoughts, which can eat into other important aspects of your life. This can include other activities that you used to enjoy but now push to the side.
Recognizing this can be the first step to keeping more money in your bank account and breaking the need to shop.
You shop to alleviate bad feelings
Negative feelings can arise if you have a stressful job, get into a disagreement with a loved one, or struggle with mental health issues. It’s important to honor those feelings and deal with them in a healthy way.
For some people, shopping is a way to cope with bad feelings. So, if you rely on shopping to escape, it might be a sign that your habits are becoming problematic.
You make a lot of impulse purchases
Everyone makes an impulse buy once in a while, such as purchasing a food you have never tried or grabbing a cute item of clothing that catches your eye. Most often, this is harmless and fun but it can lead to frequent impulse purchases.
If you’re constantly giving in to these impulses, it can be a sign that you’re dealing with a shopping addiction. Often, this is a result of fear of missing out (FOMO) instead of considering what you already have and what you actually need.
Your finances are suffering
One of the biggest red flags of a shopping addiction is the financial toll it can take. For example, you may spend money budgeted for other items or rely on credit card balances to fuel your shopping habits.
As a result, you end up accumulating debt, struggling to pay your bills, or opening new lines of credit you don’t need.
The consequences of this overspending can be severe and long-lasting. It is important to address overspending if you want to make sure you don’t come up short at the end of the month.
You feel high after shopping
A hallmark of shopping addiction is feeling euphoric when buying new things, especially when you think you’re getting a good deal or finding a rare item.
This is due to dopamine – the "feel good" brain chemical — flooding your system during the browsing and buying experience.
This exhilarating feeling has the potential to escalate into an addictive pattern, however, as you may feel the need to continually chase that high.
Your shopping high is short-lived
A defining feature of any addiction is the requirement to do more of something just to achieve the desired effect.
With shopping addiction, the temporary pleasure you feel after spending fades more quickly with successive purchases, leading to a cycle of seeking that same emotional high.
For example, in the beginning, the excitement may last through the purchase and into the next day when you wear the item. But over time, your high might be short-lived. You might even come down off your high by the time you get home from the store.
You feel guilt or regret after shopping
Once that shopping high wears off, you might feel guilty about making a purchase. Whether it’s a clearance shirt or an expensive necklace, regret can linger if you didn’t need or can’t afford the item.
This can lead to a pattern of buying and then returning purchases once the guilt rears its head, sometimes referred to as “bulimia shopping.” In some cases, shoppers may damage the item or come up with an excuse in order to get a refund.
You're lying, hiding, and/or hoarding purchases
To avoid judgment or confrontation, you might start hiding purchases from loved ones or feel the need to downplay how much you're really spending. This secretive behavior can lead to lying and even hoarding.
It might be that you’re a bargain hunter who simply can’t pass up a good deal, or you feel compelled to buy every piece of a collection or multiple items in the same color. Still, the principle is the same.
Pro tip: If you find yourself struggling with purchases you may want to compare your financial fitness to the average American and see how far you have to go to get your finances back on track.
You're neglecting responsibilities and relationships
As shopping addiction takes hold, you might find yourself neglecting important responsibilities and relationships in your life in favor of planning your next purchase. Your obsession may lead to missed deadlines at work, bad grades at school, or avoiding household tasks.
Your personal relationships may also suffer — in some cases, permanently — as you prioritize shopping over spending quality time with loved ones or fulfilling social obligations.
You can't stop shopping
Recognizing that your shopping habits have become problematic, you might attempt to cut back or quit altogether. However, shopping addiction is characterized by an inability to control or stop shopping despite negative consequences.
You might make promises to yourself or loved ones about curbing your spending, only to find yourself falling back into old habits shortly after.
This is when it’s time to seek help so you can boost your financial fitness and get your life back on track.
Shopping addiction is a real and potentially debilitating condition that can significantly impact your life. By recognizing the signs, you can assess whether your shopping habits have crossed a dangerous line.
If you find these signs, it may be time to get professional help to regain control over your life. Remember, seeking help is an act of strength and recovery is possible. Once you cut back on shopping, you can begin to crush your debts and restore your financial health.