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8 Ways to Overcome Impulsive Spending

8 Ways to Overcome Impulsive Spending

Back in 2007, with the economic recession looming, President George W. Bush offered questionable advice to his fellow Americans: “Go shopping more.”

There are plenty of behaviors we all should engage in more often—exercising, volunteering, showing kindness—but clicking “Buy now” is not among them.

And yet many of us follow that “go shopping more” advice all too readily. We shop recreationally, habitually, impulsively, and, in many cases, uncontrollably. In fact, 6 to 7 percent of Americans qualify as “compulsive buyers,” according to a 20-year review of studies published in the American Journal on Addictions.

“We may feel a temporary high when we make impulsive purchases, but there are serious long-term consequences,” says Koorosh Ostowari, author of The Money Anxiety Cure.

The financial perils of impulsive spending are obvious: major debt, an empty college fund, a plundered retirement account, perhaps the loss of your home, possessions, or dream vacation. As demonstrated by lottery-winners and celebrities alike, how much money you make doesn’t guarantee financial freedom—it all comes down to what you spend.

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But impulse buying endangers more than your bank account. Even if you’re well off, mindless spending clutters your home and your mind while costing you energy and time.

Spending on impulse may feel good temporarily, but it often triggers residual stress and anxiety, which can even lead to more spending. “Impulsive shoppers sometimes fall into a vicious cycle of buying, feeling bad about it, and then buying more to feel better,” says Koorosh.

Are you ready to stop making hasty, mindless purchases? The first step is to figure out why you’re doing it.

Have you ever purchased a $200 black sweater in spite of a) not having $200 to spend, b) already owning three blacker sweaters or c) having no room for it in your closet?

Koorosh points to four possible reasons you said, “I’ll take it!”

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  1. To fill an emotional void. “Some people use shopping to counteract a sense of emptiness, fear, guilt, stress, or boredom,” says Koorosh.
  2. Because you’re in the habit. Maybe you have an affinity for black sweaters and buy them on autopilot. “Sometimes we’re just not present during a purchase and don’t give it any thought.”
  3. To boost your self-image or social status. A fashion-forward purchase here and there is fine, but unconsciously purchasing each season’s new styles for the sake of social status can feel like an unforgiving obligation.
  4. To score a “deal”—and prove how business-savvy you are. Of course, where’s the “value” if you don’t need or can’t afford the sweater?

Whether you shop at Costco or at Tiffany, the strategies for putting a halt to impulsive spending are the same:

1. Browse Your Favorite Store—Without Buying

Notice what thoughts and emotions bubble up as you scan the shelves. Do you have that “wanting, craving, grasping” feeling? Then notice how you feel after you exit the store empty-handed.

“Saying no is an empowering feeling,” says Koorosh. “You think, ‘Oh my gosh, I caught myself,’ and you remember that feeling next time you go shopping.”

2. Scrutinize the Stuff in Your House

Take a hard look inside your drawers, cabinets, and closets. Are they crowded with items you never use? What prompted you to buy those items, and how did you feel when you brought them home? Did the purchases satisfy your needs?

How will it feel to own even more gadgets, earrings, or vintage salt-and-pepper shakers?

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3. Don’t Shop Unless You Feel Centered and Relaxed

Hitting the stores when you’re sad, mad, or stressed is like walking into a bakery when you’re famished: a ticket to overindulgence and remorse.

Look for other ways to nurture your emotional needs. When you feel blue, call a friend. When you feel bored, start a new book. When you feel angry, go for a power walk.

4. Pause Before Each Purchase and Check-In With Yourself

Ask: Do I really need this or do I just want it? Can I afford it? How many hours will I have to work to cover this purchase? How will I feel if I bring it home? Does my home have space for this?

We are constantly under pressure—from social media, from advertisers, and even our friends—to buy without thinking, so it’s critical to step back and reflect. “Unless we practice building that muscle of inquiry,” says Koorosh, “it stays weak. Just taking that little pause can make a huge difference.”

For major purchases, make it a bigger pause before you commit—for a few weeks at least. Then see if buying that kayak, TV, or mini-van still seems like a good idea.

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5. Shop With a List, and Don’t Buy Anything That’s Not On It

If you truly need new athletic shoes, fine, head to the store and buy a pair. But don’t walk into a store or go online without an agenda that passes your muster (see #4).

6. For Two Weeks, Buy Nothing but Groceries and Essentials

“It’s like doing a cleanse, like seeing what it feels like to eliminate donuts from your diet,” says Koorosh. “Just explore and see what happens.”

This practice is more of a commitment but will prove to you that you can live without that afternoon Frappuccino or a new cosmetic. Afterward, this can help you feel more satisfied with future purchases.

7. Make Gratitude a Daily Practice

Each day, list three things you dearly appreciate, whether it’s your daughter’s piano playing, your daily yoga practice, or the hummingbird outside your window. “When you remember what you are grateful for, you need less stuff to feel happy and satisfied,” says Koorosh. “Practicing gratitude opens up neurological pathways, taking us out of fight-or-flight survival mode into feelings of love and satisfaction.”

8. Track Your Spending

Taking a few minutes each day to monitor and think about where your money is going is a powerful, enlightening habit. In a recent survey conducted by Tiller Money, 79% of people said that tracking their spending with a simple spreadsheet has led to less impulsive spending.

If you find any of these strategies too difficult to implement and you think you may have a serious shopping addiction, consider seeking help from an experienced therapist or joining Debtors Anonymous.

Featured photo credit: Clark Street Mercantile via Unsplash.com

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Sharen Ross

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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