Shopping can be a form of relaxation, an entertaining way to spend time or even a hobby. But it can turn into an expensive habit.
Whether you sometimes give in to a weakness for designer handbags or brand-name shoes, here are three ways to help you manage the urge to spend. Pick the tactic that works best for you: postponing the purchase, making a plan or doing something else instead.
1. Pretend (or postpone)
If you want to feel like you went shopping without spending any money, do everything you would when you really shop, but stop short of actually buying anything.
Browse online, pick out a shirt in your favorite color and even add it to your cart. If you’re in-store, go window shopping without your wallet. Then wait.
“Have some type of cooling off time period before you commit to purchasing the item,” says Ross Steinman, a professor of psychology at Widener University in Pennsylvania. “You should attempt to eliminate consumer decisions in an emotional state. This often leads to impulse buys.”
That delay period will vary from person to person, but Steinman suggests waiting at least one day. Depending on the purchase, you could wait a week or even a month before deciding whether to buy the item in question.
This might be enough to work the urge to buy out of your system. But just in case, eliminate any remaining temptation.
“Delete those items so that they are not waiting for you in your shopping cart only one click away to purchase the next time you visit the online retailer,” Steinman says.
But pretending isn’t always a reasonable solution. At some point, you will surely need to buy something. And that’s OK.
It’s actually best to still go to stores, rather than avoiding shopping altogether, advises Dr. Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist in Kentucky. That is, as long as you’re proactive and prepare yourself mentally before you shop.
If you “ride the wave” and confront the emotion driving why you want to shop, you can teach yourself self-control, he says.
“Ultimately, you’re teaching your brain a new association. Meaning I can think of a store like Target or Costco or Ikea and think that it doesn’t compel me to shop per se. It’s just another store.”
He compares the strategy to overcoming a fear of elevators.
“Say I have an elevator phobia. Well ultimately, at some point, I have to confront an elevator,” Chapman says. “But the way you do it is you don’t throw someone into an elevator and say, ‘sink or swim.’”
Instead, you prepare so you know what to expect. As it pertains to shopping, Chapman says to formulate a “game plan.”
Recognize that you have a tendency to overspend. Create both a budget and a list before you go shopping (in-store or online). Then, hold yourself accountable to that list and feel a sense of confidence that results when you succeed.
As you shop, keep track of your buying behavior so you can identify patterns. Steinman recommends noting things like the cost, time of day and what the item was for, among other details.
“It will raise awareness about how much somebody is spending and also identify trigger points,” he says.
Ask yourself questions about any trends that you notice. Steinman gives examples: Do you mostly make purchases in the late evening? During the day? After you’ve had coffee and increased your energy level? What about after you receive your paycheck?
As you do so, think about your emotions. If you’re looking for the high that comes along with shopping, Steinman recommends doing something else in its place that gives you a similar feeling — for example, donating your time or resources.
And keep in mind that the temporary emotional high that comes with impulsive shopping is just that — temporary, according to Chapman. It may be a little easier to give up overshopping if you know the feeling is fleeting.