In this post, I will talk about the addictive nature of shopping, and how to manage impulses to shop.
This post is a follow-up to my recent post: The YNAB Glitch: What Happened When the Budget Went Down (a.k.a. Self-Control or Lack Thereof) . I wanted to follow-up on some more after-shocks I experienced from my spending spree. So I talked about this a little bit in that post, but wow did the sugar-addict-like shopping cravings ever come back after that dip back into shopping. Ever since I allowed myself to buy several clothing items for work, I have been experiencing recurrent circling thoughts / cravings to shop more and buy more stuff.
So why do I want to shop?
- It could be dopamine. When we experience reward, a chemical called dopamine (among others) is released in our brain. Though it is much more complex than this, it is generally accepted that when we experience reward, dopamine is released in what can be called “reward centers” in our brains. This is the type of reaction commonly associated with addictive behaviors like gambling, drug use, and…you got it: shopping! It’s possible that the high of shopping / buying things after not doing so for such a long time gave me that neuro-chemical reaction. When this happens, your brain wants more. But just because I feel this pull, doesn’t mean I have to act on it, so I may need to practice just watching these impulses to drive to the store, without actually getting into my car. I can say something to myself like “There’s that impulse again, wow, they really are strong ones lately!” Thinking about the impulse in this way can help me to gain some distance from it, and can help me to make another choice.
- It could be that since I started wearing the new clothes, I have been getting so. many. compliments. It feels nice to be complimented, but it can be a double edged sword. I have noticed some of my thinking around this, including things like “I need to get more clothes so this will continue.” / “Maybe I looked bad before.” / “I need to keep this up.” It might be interesting to think about how this whole dynamic might be affecting my self-worth and self-esteem? I always felt fine about myself and the way I looked before, and that is because I looked good and put together, and there really was no problem. In a way, buying the new clothes has had the accidental outcome of making me feel a little bit less good about myself. That is, I have had thoughts pop-up that maybe I need the fancy clothes to look and feel good. This is not the case, and logically I know that, so it is good to remind myself of that truth.
- It could be boredom. This one might sound a bit strange, but coming back to #1: Shopping can be sort of fun. And it’s rewarding when you buy something and then receive compliments on it. If you don’t have much of a plan for what you will do after work one day, it can be tempting to drop into the nearest outlet mall (or regular mall if you really want to throw away your money). It might be helpful for me to notice my impulse to go to the mall, and think, “What else could I do instead, that would make me feel happy, rewarded, or calm?”
- It could be that I’m really tired. This one might sound far-fetched, but consider this: research shows that when you are tired, you are less capable of exerting your willpower. That is, a growing body of research shows that willpower is a limited resource. For me personally, between my full-time job, my long commute, my running club, my blog, and various other activities, I tend to be really tired during the week. If I have been mentally exhausted by a long day of work, I am less likely to be able to resist spending money, or to make reasonable decisions if I happen to find myself in a store full of interesting items for sale. For me then, it probably makes sense to avoid going into stores, or “window-shopping” when I am tired after a long day of work.
So having looked at all these reasons why these cravings / urges to shop may have been happening, how am I going to get back on track?
- I am going to stay away from the stores, unless I have thought it through at length, and I have decided that a purchase is reasonable, necessary, and defined. That is, if I really need a pair of shoes because the ones I have are falling apart, then I can buy new shoes, but I have to have thought it through over a period of time, and determined that this purchase is reasonable and necessary.
- I am going to remember that the budget is back. This comes back to how this all started in the first place, which is that my budget crashed due to a glitch in the budgeting software I was using. This glitch is all cleared up now, and the budget is back up and running. It will be helpful for me to look at the categories in my budget, and make sure I have the money necessary for any purchases before I make them.
- If I decide to spend, I will make sure that my spending is values based. It’s not that buying clothes is wrong, it just that a) I have greater financial goals right now and b) having lots of clothing does not align with my values. This is not the type of spending that makes me feel happy or fulfilled, and so I don’t want to allocate much of my money toward it. Remembering this fact might help me think of better ways I could prioritize my funds.
- I am going to make a pact with a friend. So this one is a bit out there, but hear me out. I have been talking to one of my girlfriends from my Master’s program (who is also paying down student loans) about spending habits. I ran the idea by her of deciding to both, together, not buy any new clothing items for 3 months. We will talk to each other about how it is going, talk about struggles and obstacles, and just generally feel supported by one another. If we have a “relapse”, we can process it together, and talk about the factors/warning signs that led up to it. Generally, we will just hold each other accountable, and provide support.
- I will remind myself of the reasons I am budgeting in the first place. For me, these reasons include:
- Freedom. I want my freedom from debt so badly I can taste it. I want to be able to choose to live and work where I want to without being restricted by debt. I want freedom from the stress of not knowing if I am going to be able to pay for all the things I need. I want freedom from worrying about what will happen to me when I am old, and how I will pay for food and healthcare if something were ever to happen to me. I want all those things way more than I could ever want a skirt, or a top, or a pair of pants.
- Mental health. I covered this one a bit above, but I want financial stability because it removes money-stress and allows me to focus on the other important areas of my life without having to worry about how things will be paid for.
- Opportunities. I want to be in a financial position to be able to seize opportunities when they arise. For example, if I was offered an amazing job in another city, or a cool business opportunity, I do not want to have to say no because I am financially tied down or restricted.
- Safety. I want to be financially responsible in the short and long-term so that I can feel safe. I want to be confident that I have the financial ability to deal with any mental or physical health issues that might arise now, in 10 years, or when I am elderly. I want to know that regardless of what happens, I am financially able take care of myself.
Your reasons for wanting to take control of your finances might be different than mine, and so I highly recommend that you grab a pen and paper, or open your computer and write them down. You might have to sit and think about it for a little while to come up with them, because they are not always that obvious to us. Sometimes it can be easier to think about what stresses you out about money, or what you are afraid of when it comes to money, and then write down what the positive opposite of that might be. For example, if you are afraid of not being able to afford groceries, then the positive opposite of that might be something like “I budget so that I can be confident that I am always able to feed myself / my family.” Thinking about what stresses / frightens you can be scary, but if you then immediately work to generate a positive and manageable solution (like budgeting accordingly) then you begin to build a workable solution that makes you feel empowered and capable. When you are empowered and capable of facing down your challenges, then you feel motivated instead of afraid. You feel motivated to stick to your plan, and keep pushing forward. Now, I’m not saying this will all happen in one day, rather, I am explaining general concepts that can help you build motivation if you are just starting out, or to come back to your original goals and plan, and reinforce your motivation if it loss some of it’s momentum. This is a good activity to do on a semi-regular basis, or any time you are struggling to get back in that strong, motivated mindset.
As always, thank you for reading.
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