Let's talk about compulsive vs impulsive shopping. Most Americans are no strangers to unplanned spending. A study of 2,000 consumers found that the average person spends roughly $5,400 per year on impulse spending and that nearly everyone falls victim to it from time to time.
Many people use the terms impulsive shopping and compulsive shopping interchangeably. But they’re actually quite different. While impulsive shopping is simply making an unplanned purchase, compulsive shopping describes a more serious psychological struggle.
What is compulsive shopping?
Compulsive shopping is more than just a spending problem. Instead, it’s an addiction of compulsion that leads someone to spend. According to Harvard Medical School, as many as one in 20 people (or 5% of the population) struggles from compulsive shopping. Most compulsive buyers are women, and this behavior can lead to more serious psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.
Signs of compulsive shopping
The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale is a tool used to determine whether someone has a legitimate shopping compulsion. According to the scale, signs that someone may be a compulsive shopper include:
- They think about shopping all the time
- They give less priority to their job and hobbies because of shopping
- They have ignored loved ones because of shopping
- They have tried to cut down on shopping but can’t
- They become stressed if they can’t shop
- They have experienced financial problems because of their shopping
Causes of compulsive shopping
Compulsive shopping can arise for a variety of different people. For some people, compulsive shopping is a result of perfectionism or the need to be in control. For others, it’s a similar condition to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Finally, others may use compulsive shopping as a way to fill another void in their life.
What is impulsive shopping?
Impulse shopping on the other hand is the act of buying something you weren’t planning to. It can include everything from ordering takeout when you planned on cooking to dropping a ton of money at Target when you just went in for shampoo.
Signs of impulsive shopping
Impulsive shopping is a lot easier to spot than compulsive shopping. When you buy something you didn’t plan on buying, typically because you succumbed to an urge in the moment, then you’ve made an impulse purchase.
Causes of impulsive shopping
Impulse shopping can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which are entirely harmless. First, impulse shopping can be a result of poor planning. You head to the grocery store without a list and end up impulsively picking up all of your favorite foods.
In other cases, impulsive shopping can be a way of deadline with other emotions. People often engage in shopping to deal with (or, more accurately, avoid) other emotions they might be feeling. You have a bad day at work, and cope with your feelings by ordering a few things from Amazon.
Digital marketing has made impulsive shopping all the more difficult to resist. You no longer have to walk into a store to be tempted. Just opening your email inbox or logging into social media can encourage someone to spend.
Compulsive vs. impulsive shopping: Tips to tackle both
Compulsive shopping and impulsive shopping are two different problems, but there are some tips you can try to help overcome both.
Notice your spending habits
The most important first step to overcoming poor shopping habits (and bad money habits) is to realize you have them. By tracking your spending and by defining your wants vs your needs, you’ll notice where your money is going. If you find you aren’t sticking to your budget, you can figure out which spending behaviors are pushing you off track.
Get to the root of the problem
Once you know there’s a problem, try to identify where it’s coming from. It can often be easy to spot the reason for your unplanned spending. We can typically spot when we’re shopping to get over a bad day. Otherwise, it might be more difficult to figure out, as compulsive shopping can be the result of some deep-seated issues.
Stop using credit cards
There are many benefits to using credit cards, but they also make it a lot easier to overspend. Credit cards allow you to spend money you don’t have. Rather than being limited by the amount of money in your bank account, you can easily overspend. This also applies to the "buy now, pay later" options. If you find that you’re overspending often, avoid using your credit cards. This will create a natural spending barrier for you.
We’re surrounded by temptation each day. And for someone struggling with impulsive or compulsive spending, the temptations can often be too difficult to overcome. In that case, it’s best to avoid them altogether. You can avoid temptation and stop shopping by:
- Staying out of your favorite stores (and staying off their websites)
- Unsubscribing from emails that make you want to spend
- Unfollowing influencers that give you FOMO or push you to buy things you don’t need
Use a waiting period for spending
Impulse shopping is a very in-the-moment activity. At that moment, you feel the urge to spend, and you do it before you have the chance to talk yourself out of it. Many people overcome impulsive spending by giving themselves a waiting period. When you see something you want to buy, force yourself to wait a certain amount of time, such as 24 hours to a week, before pulling the trigger.
You may find that by the time your waiting period has passed, you no longer want the item. And if you do still want it, you know it wasn’t an impulse purchase after all.
Channel that energy somewhere else
If you find that impulse purchases happen a lot, it could be that you’re using spending to fill a void elsewhere in your life. Rather than hoping you’ll have enough willpower in the moment, try to fill your time with other activities. If you’ve had a bad day and feel the urge to spend, start a new project instead.
Seek the help of a professional
There are plenty of tips you can try yourself to overcome certain spending habits. But compulsive spending can be a disorder, and you may not be able to get a handle on it without the help of a professional.
If you find that your shopping is causing problems in your life, seek the help of a mental health professional. They can help you identify the reason for your spending and find coping methods.
Compulsive vs impulsive shopping: The bottom line
Now that you know the difference between compulsive vs impulsive shopping, you can be more mindful about your spending. Just about everyone has succumbed to impulse spending at some point.
If you find it’s become a habit for you, the tips on this list can help avoid it in the future. But for more serious cases of compulsive shopping, it’s best to deal with the underlying issue that’s causing you to spend.