Here’s How to Stop Shopping If You’re Overspending

Many of you may remember reading, in addition to having a “get out of debt story,” I'm also a recovering shopping addict.Even though I've mentioned before that I used to be a shopaholic, I've never really broken down what this means, or how I kicked the habit for good. Here's my story and 6 ways to beat your shopping addiction for good.

Here's How to Stop Shopping If You're Overspending

When I Knew I Had a Problem

The first two years of college I worked at a retail clothing store, so it didn't seem too out of the ordinary that I was shopping a lot. Working at the mall, I was constantly surrounded by beautiful clothes.

After I transferred to my second school in 2007 and started working at a Doctor's office, I spent considerably less time in the mall, but by 2007, online shopping became “the thing” and I spent countless hours of my downtime scouring websites for the next great deal.

By the end of 2007 I'd (nearly) maxed out my cards and had terrible credit. (Check yours for free, here.)  I remember one week I had $30 dollars left to last until my next payday and instead of buying groceries (Which I desperately needed) I bought the UGLIEST purse while out shopping with a friend, because I felt like I absolutely had to buy something before I left the store. So I bought said ugly purse and convinced myself I loved it, and it never left the back of my closet after that day.

In the coming weeks, I'd look at that purse and go, “Why did I do that?” and feel such shame. That is when I knew I had a problem with both shopping too much and my finances, but I didn't necessarily know what to do about it.

What Shopping Addiction Therapy Is Like

I originally began seeing a therapist in 2007 because I was having a difficult time adjusting to the transition between schools. I missed my friends, my sorority and pretty much everything about my old life. Even though I would eventually settle in and love my new alma mater, the first few months of transition were very difficult.

“So you're lonely.” The therapist said, after I told her my initial reasons for our session. “What do you do when you're lonely?”

“I go to the Brookhaven Mall, usually. Or Chic-fil-a.”

“Do you do this a lot?”

“Just, like, four..five nights a week.”

“And do you always buy something?”

“Yes.”

I'd already told her about my money troubles: the nearly $10,000 in debt I was in by that time, and how my parents were still angry with me for running up so much card debt in the first place.

“Well Lauren,” she said putting away her pen and paper, “There are a lot of things going here. But I think the first thing we need to deal with is the fact that you exclusively cope with your struggles through shopping.”

She said it, and it literally set me free. You know how someone says something to you (or you find a quote on Pinterest) and it just makes sense to you? That it resonates so deep within your heart you know it to be true? Yeah, that was what that moment was like for me.

6 Ways to Beat Your Shopping Addiction (and I've Tried them All!)

Over the next few weeks, we began to explore my range of feelings, from everything that was really bothering me to passing annoyances. She had me keep a journal of those feelings and what I did in the moments after those feelings came over me. Armed with this knowledge, we then began to craft a certain set of spending triggers and behaviors that I live by to this day:

I No Longer Hang Out At Malls

Alcoholics don't hang out in bars. Those with shopping problems shouldn't hang out in stores or malls, “just to kill time,” or “pass an afternoon.” I may indulge in a little “mindless” shopping every now and again, mostly on vacation, but I rarely go to any store without having thought about what I need to buy first. I go in, I get out, and get on with my life.

I Don't Get Flash Sale Ads in My Inbox

These are my kryptonite (J.Crew anyone?) I use a great service called Unroll.me to roll up all of the emails in my inbox. They go into a digest that I do skim once a day, but without the flashy subject lines nagging me from the top of my Gmail folder, I haven't indulged in a flash sale in years.

I Avoid Sales in General

I realize this may be anathema to others in the personal finance community who pride themselves on getting good bargains, and for some who are in control of their spending urges this can be a great way to save a dollar or two. I'm not knocking it. But the psychology behind sales is to get customers in the door to spend more money than they would in the first place. For this purpose, I practice mindful spending, look for a deal when I'm going to buy, and ONLY buy that item. You're not fooling me with that $25.00 free shipping minimum, Amazon.

I Channel My Feelings Into Something Besides Shopping

At my therapist's suggestion, I decided to give theater another go, and I ended up getting cast in a show that spring. Suddenly, between class, work, and rehearsal, I had very little free time to shop. Funny how that works! Now I do yoga, run this blog, and tackle DIY projects around the house in my spare time.

I Indulge in a Guilt-Free Way

Not shopping isn't really an option for me. I am, after all, a woman with a career in an office where people have to dress a certain way. So I set a clothing budget for the year (around $1800) and I get the things I need for this amount over the course of the year. Some months I spend a lot, some months not at all, but this allows me to get a few new things each season without feeling guilty. I also try to shop my closet wherever I can.

I Try Not to “Shop my Emotions”

Through my work with a therapist, I realized I spent the most when I was feeling sad or a little blue, because having something shiny and new was a great way to dispel those feelings. Nowadays, I avoid computers, stores, etc. like the plague when I'm feeling sad.

I'm happy to report I no longer feel so blue as a happy, thriving woman, but work and relationship related stress has taken that emotion's place. When I've had a bad day, I try to stay offline as much so I avoid “shopping my emotions” in order to comfort myself.

I think when I was younger I felt I didn't have much to be proud of, which is why I started shopping– to make myself feel better. I had a lot of self-esteem issues as a young woman and shopping (for better and for worse) feels really good. This is why you have to be careful. It took a lot of (expensive) therapy and debt repayment, but I'm glad I have a handle on both my money and my shopping triggers now.

 

Kick your bad habits is all about retraining your brain and spotting your triggers. Here is how to stop shopping addiction for good. 

 

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  • Jason Cutter
    March 17, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Loved what you shared. I have had this problem myself, as well as seen hundreds of other with similar lack of control over their spending.

  • Victoria @thefrugaltrial
    October 1, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I was in a very similar situation as you. I moved to a new town, had been single for a long time and still was. I knew very few people so at the weekends I would go shopping as I didn’t have anything else to do. I have so many clothes and accessories it is silly and the truth is, I don’t like a lot of these items. I have now sold a lot on Ebay and made some money back which is good.

    I set myself a challenge to not buy any clothes, shoes, bags or unecessary beauty items for 6 months and that helped tremedously. It was hard but it helped.

    I still buy clothes etc, but I only buy one or two items at a time. I find that works for me. I very rarely have huge shopping sprees now. However, I still have triggers. Tough days at work = shopping.

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Hey Victoria, I also did a six month “no shopping” challenge last year when I was saving up to buy a home. I found it really effective, so kudos to you for taking charge of your spending. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help!

  • Broke Millennial
    October 1, 2014 at 11:42 am

    I think my biggest takeaway here is being flummoxed at the thought of you not having much to be proud of. You’re such a confident woman, or at least come off that way. Plus, you’re awesome.

    Thanks for opening up about this in greater detail. I’m a classic over-eater when I’m feeling a certain way and a bit of a sloth in front of the TV. Neither are great habits…

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      Aww thank you Erin. You’re so sweet!

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    October 1, 2014 at 6:21 am

    I always feel the urge to shop most especially when it’s payday and there is sale. This is a problem of mine I haven’t dealt with. I always find myself spending almost half of my salary, which leads me to regrets later. But I really like the feeling of shopping and getting what I want. One factor of this is my age (I am 23) and fear of missing out. 🙂

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm

      Oh yes. You should try some of the things that I found worked for me and see if there is something out there that can help curb your spending!

  • Kate @ Cashville Skyline
    September 30, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Kudos to you for owning your addiction by going to therapy and learning about your triggers. Definitely not an easy thing to do! Personally, I’ve had similar issues with food and alcohol in the past.

    • Lauren Bowling
      October 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm

      It’s something I always kind of have in the back of my head, I just know how to manage it better now 🙂

  • Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way
    September 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I got a spending problem a few years ago. I couldn’t control myself to buy unnecessary things and even if I knew that I don’t need it much. Until finally, I had read one article about shopping addiction problem and as the days past I can see myself improving.

  • Michelle
    September 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Oh, can I relate! Shopping started the same way for me, when I was younger and I had self esteem issues. Like most kids, I had been teased and teased for years and I felt the only way to have friends was to buy things to impress them. Over the years my shopping has become therapy for my feelings. Similar to you, if I’m sad, bored, depressed or feeling a bit lonely I turn to online shopping. This is why I’ve overspent on clothing this year. I’ve been feeling a bit unhappy in my career.
    I combat the spending by first curing the boredom, usually by working out or creating projects for myself to do. I’ve also unsubscribed to ALL emails and I’ve been keeping my personal computer off as much as possible. Hopefully I’ll kick this!
    Thanks for sharing, it was interesting and helpful reading your experiences with the therapist.

    • Lauren Bowling
      September 30, 2014 at 8:59 am

      I think it is a problem most people struggle with. I think you can do it! Let me know if you need anything 🙂

  • Melinda
    September 29, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, Lauren! I don’t know that I have a true shopping addiction but I am guilty of shopping as a pick-me-up. Your post really helped me think about why I do that – and what it would mean to stop. Very practical!

    • Lauren Bowling
      September 30, 2014 at 8:59 am

      I’m no longer spending money I don’t have or spending as a compulsion, but I still “shop my feelings” ever now and again. It is hard not to when the gratification is so immediate. Glad you liked the post!

  • Kassandra
    September 29, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I commend you for seeing a therapist in the first place Lauren for helping you to address what you were feeling! I too am a former shopaholic so I avoid the malls and refuse all e-mail sign up pitches. When I do shop for something, I usually go with my DH who encourages me to stay on point. Over the years I have also lost the appeal to buy things I don’t need – feels good to be free of that.

    • Lauren Bowling
      September 30, 2014 at 8:58 am

      I also like to live clutter free, so that helps. Now my house takes all my money in repairs 🙂 Good for you for kicking the habit and having someone who keeps you accountable!

  • Kyle
    September 29, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Quitting something you’re addicted to is one of the hardest things anybody can do. Keep up the good work!

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde
    September 29, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I actually give a lot of this same advice for my clients who have spending problems. One of the worst things for them are the emails from stores. I have gotten really good at just deleting them right away, but it’s amazing how much of a trigger it is for other people. I get texts all the time from my clients telling me they resisted a 20% off coupon for “fill in the blank store” and I applaud them for their successes.

    • Lauren Bowling
      September 30, 2014 at 8:57 am

      It’s a fine line to walk. On the one hand if you need something it is nice to find a sale, but I feel like most retailers send out something every few days inciting people to buy.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
    September 29, 2014 at 8:36 am

    When I was on tour our lunch and pee breaks were always at malls and it constantly blew me away how everyone would come back to the bus with a whole bunch of crap they just bought. I was like, we’re here to use the bathroom, not shop (plus we’re all broke actors).

    • Lauren Bowling
      September 30, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Malls are designed to get you to spend though. That fresh smell and awesome lighting? Hard to resist.

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