It’s no secret Americans have a love for material things. But what can you do about excessive shopping?
It’s one thing to surrender to the occasional impulse buy — that watch gleaming from behind the display case, or a pair of black shoes that will add the perfect dash of sophistication to your favorite business suit.
But when your purchases shift from impulsive to compulsive, it’s the first sign that you might be grappling with a more serious condition: a shopping addiction.
Researchers estimate that nearly 6 percent of Americans are so-called “shopaholics.” In our society, the phrase “shop till you drop” translates as frivolous and fun. But when spending presents a real problem, the glamour fades and debt mounts.
Psychologists call it compulsive buying disorder, and it is characterized as an impulse-control issue, just like gambling or binge eating. Compulsive buying disorder has the potential to create a whirlwind of emotional and financial distress.
Here are some of the telltale signs someone is becoming a problem shopper, and some advice about what they can do to curb their spending. For a more complete analysis, also check out the Compulsive Buying Scale, developed by psychologist Gilles Valence and his associates.
1. You have many unopened or tagged items in your closet
We’re not talking about the sweater your aunt gave you last holiday season, but about items you selected on your own that sit unopened or with their tags still attached.
You’ve likely forgotten about some of these possessions — boxes of shoes lining the bottom of your closet, or jackets that have never seen the light of day.
Click ahead for more signs you may be a shopaholic.
2. You often purchase things you don’t need or didn’t plan to buy
You’re easily tempted by items that you can do without.
A fifth candle for your bedroom dresser, a new iPod case … you get the idea.
You’re particularly vulnerable if you’ve admitted to having an obsession, such as shoes or designer handbags. Just because your splurges tend to stick to one category doesn’t make them any more rational.
3. An argument or frustration sparks an urge to shop
Compulsive shopping is an attempt to fill an emotional void, like loneliness, lack of control or lack of self-confidence. Shopaholics also have a tendency to suffer from mood disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse problems.
So if you tend to binge on comfort food after a bad day, studies suggest you may be more likely to indulge in a shopping spree, too.
4. You experience a rush of excitement when buying
Shopaholics experience a high or an adrenaline rush from the act of purchasing an item. Experts say dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure, is often released in waves as shoppers see a desirable item and consider buying it. This burst of excitement can become addictive.
5. Purchases are followed by feelings of remorse
This guilt doesn’t have to be limited to big purchases, either. Instead, compulsive shoppers are just as often attracted to deals and bargain hunting. Despite any remorse that follows, though, shopaholics are adept at rationalizing just about any purchase.
6. You try to conceal shopping habits
If you’re hiding shopping bags in your daughter’s closet or constantly looking over your shoulder for passing co-workers as you shop online, this is a possible sign that you’re spending money at the expense of your family, or even your job.