Is my impulse shopping causing my debt?

Quick techniques to help you think twice before you impulse-buy. – By psychologist Lauren Claassen

A very dear friend of mine has a problem. She’s an addict. Like all addicts, she experiences uncontrollable urges. She obsesses and before she knows it, she’s given in to temptation. She hates herself for being so weak, and guilt always makes her second-guess her decision. Yes, my friend is addicted to impulse shopping.

I remember the first time we went shopping together. We took a harmless stroll through a mall and weaved in and out of stores. At one point, we found ourselves staring into a glass case filled with glittering watches. I couldn’t tell which sparkled more – the watch faces in the dazzling lights or her eyes.

When she asked the shop assistant if she could see the watch, it was game over. She put it on her wrist and I could tell that it was about to be a long afternoon. She asked me a million times what I thought. We discussed clothing pieces in her wardrobe that would go well with the watch. She talked about occasions she could wear the watch to. We compared this watch to all the watches in the glass box, her twelve watches at home and then (what seemed like) all the watches in the world. We spent a long time in that store, talking about, looking at and test driving the watch. Suddenly something strange happened. She snapped back to reality and said that she had enough watches. The shop attendant put the watch back in its case and we left the store. It wasn’t long before I noticed that she had stopped talking. We browsed silently though more shops. She breezed through clothing sections, not engaging with anything and then I noticed she had a red rash on her chest and around her throat. When I pointed it out, she confessed that she’d been obsessing about the watch the entire time and the thought of leaving the mall without it was giving her anxiety. In her mind, she had spent all this time justifying why the watch was an essential. Her mind had rushed the watch from the want list, to the need list, to the essentials list and finally the I’m-going-to-die-without-this-watch list. She looked like a kid on Christmas morning, giving small leaps into the air and clapping her hands. I was instructed to browse on ahead without her while she returned to the shop to buy the watch. A few hours or a day later she had buyer’s remorse. We’ve shopped together a lot since then and with every shop, there’s a new item that gets the ‘watch treatment’.

Impulse buying is common behaviour today. With the rise of online and social shopping, it’s never been easier to click-click, ding-dong. But to control something, we first need to understand it.

Am I an impulse buyer?

  • Impulse Buying Tendency is a personality trait some people possess. These people are usually more social, status-aware and care a lot about their and other people’s image. So they tend to buy things because they think it’ll look grand to others.
  • Impulse buyers also tend to experience more anxiety and find it difficult to control their emotions.
  • Impulse shoppers experience vicarious ownership, which means their minds start to act like they already own the product, making it more difficult to let go.
  • Impulse buyers also buy things to improve their mood. Comfort shopping.
  • They just have to have it and don’t always consider the consequences of their spending.
  • People who shop for fun are more likely to be impulse buyers.
  • Do you buy things without really thinking about what you’re buying an and why?
  • Do you get a sudden urge to buy something once you’ve played around with it or buy it because a friend owns it?

What can I do to stop impulse shopping?

  • Implement a cooling off time. Tell yourself that you’re only allowed to buy something after 15 days or 30 days of seeing it.
  • Only after the time has passed that you consider buying the item.
  • Keep a list of things you want and need. If you see them on sales, you can consider buying them.
  • Shop with the exact amount of money needed to cover your essentials. Leave your cards at home or freeze them in a block of ice.
  • When looking at the price, also think about the how much energy it’s going to cost you to overcome the feelings of guilt and buyer’s remorse.
  • Shop with a cheapskate and don’t shop with a you-have-to-have-that mob.

A modest level of impulse shopping can be harmless. Excessive levels of impulse shopping can lead to unhappiness and debt. Being able to identify why you are buying to achieve a sense of happiness is the first step on the road to spending less on things you don’t actually need. – Lauren Claassen, MEd (Educational Psychologist), HPCSA PS0120367.

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