The Psychology Of Consumer Spending

Graphic created by Illinois Lending.

Shopping is a beloved American pastime, and now more than ever, it’s easier to make purchases online with the click of a button. Sometimes it can be fun to online shop during your lunch hour or make a spur of the moment purchase at the mall.

However, shopping can also become a compulsive action that you can’t control. This is known as compulsive shopping, and it’s a real problem for millions of people. Shopping addicts buy more than they need and spend more money than they can afford, which often leaves them in serious debt. Here’s a closer look at why people shop compulsively and the psychology behind this addiction.

What Is Compulsive Shopping?

Every day we get bombarded by advertisements about amazing deals as well as new products and services that claim to enhance our lives. It can be all too easy to give into these temptations and succumb to shopping beyond the occasional impulse buy, especially when emotions are involved. This is when shopping can become an addiction.

Compulsive shoppers purchase items such as clothing, shoes, jewelry and items that are on sale to feel better. For example, a shopaholic may feel depressed or stressed and make a purchase. This instantly gives the buyer a rush of excitement or “high.” This is because it activates the brain’s reward pathway and floods one’s system with dopamine. Once the high wears off, the feelings of depression or stress return and the shopper makes another purchase to experience the high again. It’s a vicious cycle of highs and lows, and it’s hard to stop. Moreover, it can wreak havoc on a person’s financial life and relationships.

Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction

While compulsive buying affects people from all walks of life, women are most at risk to develop the addiction. In fact, they comprise up to 92% of compulsive buyers. The addiction is also more likely to develop in families with a high rate of substance use or mental health disorders. Compulsive shopping symptoms include the following:

  • Shopping when angry, depressed or stressed
  • Unable to follow limits when shopping
  • Hiding purchases from family, friends and partners
  • Feeling guilty a day after making an impulse purchase

Reasons for Compulsive Shopping

Most causes for developing a shopping addiction are psychological and may include:

  • Childhood issues
  • The desire to seek excitement or approval
  • A lack of impulse control
  • Perfectionism
  • The need to fill the void of emptiness
  • The need to gain control

Shopping Addiction Treatment

Fortunately, compulsive shopping can be treated with professional therapy. Individuals may benefit from seeing a therapist or psychologist if they feel like they have no control or if shopping affects their physical and mental well-being. Therapy can help compulsive shoppers overcome the habit by exploring feelings and triggers that first led to the addiction. Professional therapists use research-backed therapy approaches to treat symptoms.

Other strategies that may help break the cycle of compulsive spending include carrying cash only, tracking your spending and avoiding tempting situations. To learn more about the psychology of consumer spending, see the accompanying resource.


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