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Shopping Addiction: First Steps to Trusting Yourself with Shopping Again

Multiple brown shipping boxes of different sizes outside a white residential double door. There are at least ten boxes. The doors have windows at the top and are solid at the bottom. A metaphor for online shopping or a shopping addiction.

If you need help with an addiction, help is available at 1-800-662-4357

How to know if you’re addicted to shopping

Although the best way to know if you’re suffering under a shopping or spending addiction is to seek out the support of a qualified therapist, we can use six questions to get a broad understanding of how shopping may be impacting your life.

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it may be time to get help.

Six Questions to Ask Yourself if you think you might be addicted to shopping

1. Is your shopping negatively affecting one or more of your relationships?
2. Has your work or school performance suffered because of your shopping?
3. Have you ever stolen anything to keep shopping or lied about your shopping?
4. Have you experienced adverse physical outcomes due to your shopping (headaches, sleepless nights, etc)?
5. Is shopping a part of your daily routine?
6. Do you think about shopping when you cannot shop?

Addiction Can Happen to the Best of us

Addiction and addictive tendencies have long been seen as a personality defect. There has been a stigma against drug users in particular for much of our history.

But shopping addictions often slide under the radar. After all, spending money is something we must do to live. Everything you need to survive, even time off from work, you need money for. We can get by just fine without ever using heroin or cocaine, but we can’t go more than a few days without spending money. It’s like food in this way. We need food to survive and we need to spend money to survive.

Reasons for Shopping Addiction

There are about as many reasons for shopping addiction as there are people suffering under its sway. In my practice I’ve seen in break into a few very general categories:

Rebellion- Often this is a result of financial abuse, even at a low level. If we feel like we’re being obligated or forced, one of our natural tendencies is to be rebellious and resentful. I know this can look like a personality defect, but rebellion and resentment are actually protective strategies. If someone is forcing or obligating you and controlling your money, of course you’re going to secretly, rebelliously take back control and spend!

Control- When we feel like our control or choices have been removed, we will exact control in any way we can. And shopping is a socially acceptable way to take control. It can be a balance of novelty, some choice (but not too much), and distraction.

Restriction- It might seem counterintuitive, but restriction generates the rebellious mindset we talked about above. If we feel like we have to lock down our spending, stop spending on “unnecessary” things, and tighten our belts, eventually we will respond with reactive spending. And then very often we pile shame, regret and remorse on ourselves, vow that next time it’ll be different, make our apologies and promises and start the cycle all over again. It makes no difference to your brain whether you are restricting yourself or someone else is restricting you, eventually we all lose that fleeting motivation and “fail”

Recovering from Shopping Addiction

The first thing you can do to begin undermining a shopping addiction is actually pretty simple. Instead of correcting yourself, denying yourself, or shaming yourself, you can simply start with one question:

“What is the purpose of this spending?”

One of the practices I ask my clients to do is to reflect on the purpose of their spending AS they spend.

Let’s say Dorothy is buying groceries, as she swipes her card she reminds herself of the purpose of the groceries “Dinner for the family tonight, lunch for tomorrow”.

Not only does this practice make that spending real to us, but it also helps us understand the purpose behind our behavior.

Occasionally as people begin this practice they may feel that they are justifying purchases to themselves. But because the purpose of this practice is to be aware of spending, that sense of justification typically fades.

We are practicing awareness of your spending without judgment here, but we’re also slowing down decision making. If you find patterns like you are spending to take control, or spending to relieve the pressure of a long day your brain may automatically look for other ways to do the same thing whereas before when your brain was just reacting you might have even told yourself “this is the only way I can feel better.”

Going Deeper into Your Shopping Addiction

Before we talk about a big strategy for undermining a shopping addiction, I need to make a clear distinction between restriction and abstinence.

When I’m coaching with my clients I rail against restriction. But if there is an actual addiction at play, a thoughtful, planned abstinence may be called for.

Restriction is an emotional reaction. It shuts us down and can often lead to a spiral of resentment, shame, and pressure.

Abstinence is intentional and typically planned for. It can even be thought of as a kind of experiment. If you are considering abstaining from shopping it will likely take some time and thoughtfulness.

How to Recover from Shopping Addiction

Again, I recommend seeking out the care of a therapist who’s experienced in addiction therapy prior to starting any attempt at tackling your shopping addiction.
For this strategy we are using a modification of Anna Lembke’s D.O.P.A.M.I.N.E. framework from her excellent book “Dopamine Nation”.

You can also download the worksheet here:

D-

D stands for Data

What is the typical routine for your shopping? What are your preferences? What time of day do you shop? Is there a certain kind of item you’re typically shopping for?

O-

O stands for Objectives

What are your objectives when you’re shopping? How does the shopping experience help you?

P-

P stands for Problems

What kind of negative outcomes have you experienced as a result of your shopping? Relationship problems? Health problems? Financial problems? Self-identity problems?

A-

A stands for abstinence.

This is not easy. We’re not talking about a few days, but more like four weeks. Some people may see a change in two or three weeks, others will have to abstain for six or more. And abstaining from shopping can be tricky. If you have a particular store or website (looking at you Amazon) that is part of your shopping addiction, can someone else do shopping for you during this time?

Shopping is not a drug, not really, but withdrawals can still be intense. I’ve heard my clients say they have an increase in anxiety, sleeplessness, distracted thoughts and headaches.

If you are at all concerned about your mental or physical health before or while you fast or abstain from shopping, seek care before you begin.
Abstinence is doing nothing less than resetting your brain’s pain-pleasure balance, and that means for a time at least, this is likely going to be extremely unpleasant. The good news is that on the other side of this abstinence, I’ve seen my clients consistently have less stress, feel more comfortable and confident in their decisions (financial and otherwise) and are able to build and rebuild relationships.

M-

M stands for mindfulness.

This need not be a meditation practice, although meditation has grown widely in its popularity. If you already have a mindfulness or meditation practice this is a good time to implement it. If you do not already have a mindfulness practice, now may not be a great time to start, but there are other ways to practice mindfulness.
To that end, I’d like you to start observing yourself without judgment. Be a scientist observing yourself. Scientists have an objective, unbiased perspective, and you’ll need that during your shopping fast.
Let’s get a few hypotheses going.
What do you think you might notice as you fast or abstain from shopping?

What kinds of outcomes would you like to see?

What do you think will be the hardest about this time?

What do you think will be the easiest aspect of this shopping fast?

What do you need to be successful in this?

Quick tip:
If I can offer you one piece of advice to make this shopping abstinence easier is to be patient with yourself.

I-

I stands for insight.

(Come back to this section after you’ve done your shopping fast.)

What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed so far?

What was your biggest surprise as you abstained from shopping?

What would you tell someone else who’s considering taking this step?

N-

The N stands for Next Steps

What’s next for you?

How would you like to see shopping integrated back into your life (if at all)?

E-

The E stands for Experiment

A few steps back I talked about watching your own behavior as if you’re a non-judgmental scientist. Now that your scientist (you) has some data, what kinds of patterns have you noticed?

How could recognizing those patterns help you in the future?

If you notice a pattern in your shopping that you don’t want, how could you interrupt it without punishing or restricting yourself?

In Conclusion

Shopping addiction is an easily available and socially acceptable kind of addiction that has the potential to disrupt and harm relationships and financial resilience. But you can undermine your shopping addiction and learn to trust yourself again without punishing yourself, restriction, or shame.

Undermine Shopping Addiction and Overspending With a Skilled Financial Coach in California, New York, Texas, and anywhere else in the United States!

The journey to trusting yourself with money can be daunting. As a seasoned financial coach, I specialize in empowering individuals and couples to be financially reslient. Together, we’ll devise a tailored plan to rebuild your financial foundation, fostering confidence and security for a brighter future. To get started with financial coaching services at Pacific Stoa follow these three simple steps:

1. Reach out to me to schedule an appointment and see if Financial Coaching Services are right for you!

2. Begin meeting with me, Hanna Morrell, a skilled financial coach

3. Learn to navigate life’s biggest transitions and manage your finances effectively!

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At Pacific Stoa, I want to make sure you have everything you need when it comes to managing your finances. So as a skilled financial coach here to help you navigate bad financial advice, I provide Financial Coaching for IndividualsFinancial Coaching for CouplesFinancial Coaching for Divorce and Separation, and Financial Coaching for Families. I also offer Financial Consulting for Nonprofits and Businesses to help create a customized strategy built specifically for you, your organization, and those you serve. Check out my FAQ to learn more about Financial Coaching and my Blog!