Easy hints to help you stop your runaway urge to shop

December 12, 2014

Compulsive or impulsive buying can lead to debt problems. Is it time to get worried? Here are some easy hints to help you stop your runaway urge to shop.
Did you go shopping for a pair of headphones and come home with the latest in televisions? We all succumb occasionally to an “impulse purchase” that leaves us struggling to make ends meet. But when it’s a frequent occurrence, compulsive or impulsive buying and debt problems typically go hand in hand.

Impulsive or compulsive?

Compulsions usually arise as a response to emotional distress or as a strategy to avoid dreaded events or obligations.

  • Impulsive buying is done on a last-minute whim, without thinking things through. It’s a decision that’s made upon seeing an item and buying it without any regard for your budget or actual need.
  • Compulsive buying is driven by a seemingly uncontrollable urge, a compelling need to shop and buy things whether they’re needed or not and whether you can afford them or not.


Compulsive and impulsive buying often results in a sense of euphoria, which fades quickly after the purchase. The item purchased is rarely, or never, used and ends up at the back of a closet or in the garbage. It’s the act of buying that gives satisfaction, not really the object itself. Several factors can motivate people to act in this way:

  • In most cases, people are looking to boost their morale after a stressful time or as a reward for hard work.
  • Compulsive buying can also be an attempt to compensate for emotional deprivation. Some experts compare it to bulimia.
  • People may feel they have to buy an item because it’s on sale and they’d be negligent not to take advantage of it.
  • It can also be conditioned by social context: to strengthen your sense of belonging to a group, you may feel that you need to own the latest smartphone or any other consumer item that makes you feel as though you belong.
  • We’re often told that being good consumers boosts the economy, which can justify unnecessary shopping.
  • It could also be a problem rooted in childhood: children who are regularly rewarded with money or gifts are more likely to succumb to compulsive shopping as adults.


When compulsive or impulsive buying becomes pathological, it leads to debt problems and causes additional stress, insomnia, anxiety and even depression. Symptoms may also include remorse and guilt. To resolve their financial problems, people work even harder and spend more to offset the stress of the extra work.

Advice for coping

To break this vicious circle, people have to change their habits and learn to spend in a healthier way. They need to equip themselves with tools in order to succeed. Here are a few hints to help you avoid impulsive or compulsive buying and the debt problems that follow:

  • Set a budget before you go shopping.
  • List the items to buy and don’t buy anything that isn’t on the list.
  • Always shop with friends and ask them to help you stick to your shopping list.
  • Never buy anything the first time you see it and always give yourself time to think.
  • Cut up your credit cards and pay with cash.
  • Don’t shop when you feel depressed or frustrated.
  • Instead of going shopping, use this time to do another activity (sports, art, science, volunteering).

If none of these ideas work, it may be a good idea to see a psychotherapist for help understand underlying emotions that this behaviour may be concealing. And you can resolve the debt problems you face by consulting a professional in finance and credit.

Easy hints to help you stop your runaway urge to shop
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