Three Proven Strategies to Stop Overshopping

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New York. The Big Apple. Top-tier hotels, five-star restaurants and exclusive shopping. Oh, the shopping. Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Tiffany & Co. If Las Vegas is the mecca for gamblers, surely New York City is in the running for shoppers.

The tasteful limo pulls up in front of Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Out pops a United Nations delegate and his wife, or an A-list celebrity, or the wife of a Saudi prince. Trailed by a handful of assistants, they quickly disappear into the shrine, losing themselves in the bright lights, chrome and subtle background music.

The limo will pull up again. The assistants and the principal will emerge, loaded with colorful bags, themselves a combination of advertising and status symbol, load up the limo and be whisked off to the next shopping adventure.

The majority of us can’t imitate the super-rich. We can’t spend our weekdays trying our best to put a dent in a vast fortune.

And there are some for whom shopping is actually harmful, both financially and emotionally. The Shop-a-holic. The compulsive shopper. For these people, shopping can be a crippling addictive behavior.

Treating Overshopping

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is a therapist who practices in New York. She’s an expert on shopping addiction and has written books on the subject. Her latest, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, gives practical advice on the condition and how to recover.

The strategies below are an example of a real-world, expert approach to stop overbuying and address the underlying emotional issues.

Overshopping Strategy #1: Identify trigger emotions

For those engaged in overshopping behaviors, there is an emotional component. It draws them to the experience, changes their mood and, at least at first, satisfies some inner need. It doesn’t help that marketers and our peers bombard us with tales of “great deals” or show off their latest purchase.

While the reasons for overshopping differ, the desire to alter our mood predominates. These “trigger” emotions are the first link in a chain that leads to overbuying and eventually, a financial crash.

By listing how you actually feel when the craving to shop emerges, you can identify some of your own emotional drivers. Common feelings reported include:

  • Sadness or depression
  • Boredom
  • Rejection or frustration
  • Inadequate or needy
  • Guilt
  • Unattractiveness

Overshopping Strategy #2: Discover your real needs

Identifying trigger feelings allows you to recognize and address those needs directly. Someone who is feeling anxious and is calmed by the comfort he or she gets from a shopping trip can seek relaxation or reassurance elsewhere.

If you feel bored, the underlying need is for stimulus. Connecting feelings to real needs is a critical step – avoiding the easy and temporary way of dealing with a problem by shopping and taking other actions, usually harder, instead.

Dr. Benson’s second strategy is to then list the trigger emotions and identify the needs that generate those feelings.

Overshopping Strategy #3: Find your own alternatives

By coupling triggering emotions to needs, we can figure out other, healthy ways to meet those needs. Make no mistake, the needs are real and can’t simply be ignored. They don’t simply go away on their own.

Each of us has a variety of ways to meet our needs, if we look for them. Even though we are unique and prefer one choice over another, the choices are there. For example, a need for stimulus can be met with an outdoor hobby like bike riding. Coupled with a need for social interaction, a group that cycles together could be a solution.

Avoid the trap of imagining a solution and then rejecting it out of hand. Be willing to try something different and find out how well it fits. Your alternative is yours, no one else’s. So it may seem impossible to volunteer at a pet shelter to meet a need to feel useful and loved, but for the person who discovered it did exactly that, for her, the twice-a-week trips turned out to be a life-saver.

Dr. Benson includes a fuller version and worksheet for these tips on her website. They can be viewed and printed out here. You will also find news and information about overshopping on Dr. Benson’s website and blog.

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