How to Cope With Compulsive Shopping Behaviors

Everyone has moments when they decide to buy something they weren't planning on buying. It could be a new pair of shoes, a gadget they have been meaning to buy, or just a snack they have not thought about in a while. Sometimes, these purchases make them happy, but sometimes, they make them feel bad or end up costing them a lot of money. Impulse buying is different from compulsive buying, but they both have much to do with the psychology of making decisions.

What Is Compulsive Behavior?

Compulsive behavior is when people feel the urge to do something repeatedly, even if it causes pain or stress. It's usually triggered by stress, anxiety, or other negative feelings. Compulsive actions are a way of dealing with or escaping those feelings. It can become so addictive that it can disrupt people's daily lives and interfere with their relationships. Some common compulsive behaviors include gambling, compulsive eating, hoarding, or self-harm.

What Is an Impulse Buy?

An impulse buy is a purchase made on the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation. It is typically driven by external factors such as sales, discounts, advertising, or peer pressure. However, an impulse buy can also be driven by internal factors, including mood or personality traits. Examples of items often purchased on impulse include clothing and accessories, books, video games, or food.

Why Do People Make Impulse Purchases?

People may buy things on impulse to reward themselves for an accomplishment or for navigating a challenge they faced. They may also buy something to enhance their self-confidence, satisfy their curiosity about something new, or seek acceptance from others.

How Do People Stop Impulse Buying?

One of the best ways to prevent impulse buying is to make a shopping list and stick to it, buying only what is needed. People should also avoid shopping when they are stressed, bored, or experiencing any other strong emotions. Find other ways to deal with negative emotions or reward yourself for accomplishments. Curb temptation to buy things by not signing up for promotional emails or other electronic notifications from retailers. And if the urge to buy does strike, delay the purchase; if you still want the item in a few days, then you can consider purchasing it.

What Is Compulsive Shopping?

A compulsive shopping disorder is characterized by an excessive and uncontrollable urge to buy things. It is sometimes referred to as a shopping addiction or oniomanic disorder. Although compulsive shopping is different from impulse buying, the two can overlap. However, compulsive shopping is characterized by a more prolonged and severe compulsion than impulse buying and is more often motivated by emotional needs.

Impulsive vs. Compulsive Shopping

There are some key differences between compulsive and impulsive shopping. Compulsive shopping is more frequent and intense, while impulsive shopping is more casual and spontaneous. It is also commonly influenced by external cues, while impulsive shopping is often triggered by internal feelings. Impulsive purchases are also usually more satisfying than compulsive ones; an impulse buy may make the shopper happy, but a compulsive purchase is more likely to lead to negative feelings like guilt or shame. Impulsive buying is also easier to control, while compulsive shopping may require professional treatment.

Signs of Compulsive Buying

If people are struggling with compulsive buying, they may notice things like spending more money than they can afford or earn, shopping longer or more often than they planned, feeling like they cannot stop themselves from buying, feeling guilty or ashamed after buying, hiding or lying about their purchases, having conflicts or problems with others related to their buying habits, or ignoring other aspects of their life because of their shopping habits.

Causes of Compulsive Shopping

Some of the most common causes of compulsive shopping are low self-esteem, low self-worth, a lack of emotional support, or a lack of intimacy. Compulsive behaviors may also be rooted in trauma or abuse, personality traits (e.g., perfectionism, impulsivity, etc.), genetic factors, or mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Problems Associated With Compulsive Buying

If people are compulsive shoppers, it can have a huge impact on their life. They can end up deeply in debt, filing for bankruptcy, and dealing with debt-related legal problems. Compulsive buying can also have a psychological toll, including feelings of guilt or shame, anxiety or depression, or suicidal thoughts. It can also lead to social problems such as feeling isolated, having conflicts, or losing relationships. It may even affect the person's job performance and future employment.

How to Deal With Compulsive Shopping

If people are struggling with compulsive shopping, it is important to recognize the problem and get help. They can seek support from a trusted individual, such as a family member or counselor, or consider joining an online support group. They'll need to figure out what is driving their shopping behavior and how to manage it in a healthier way.

It can be helpful for people struggling with compulsive shopping to find a healthier behavior to replace it with, such as starting a new hobby or giving back to the community through volunteering. However, often, people with any type of compulsion, whether it's the urge to shop, eat, or gamble, will need to seek help from a mental health professional.

about the author

Burke Banda
VP of Partnerships
Since 2015, Burke has worked with hundreds of partners in the affiliate space to help grow their businesses while creating a seamless consumer experience. Previously, he worked with Fortune 500 retail companies and has also worked to expand savings into new spaces like direct-to-consumer and food and dining. At CouponFollow, he hopes to continue expanding the ways consumers can save with products like cashback and loyalty programs that combine with traditional deals and offers to ensure you save every time you visit.