Compulsive shopping could be more than a habit – The Week

The troubling layers of shopping addiction and tips to cope
Add to cart, proceed to checkout, complete order. This was, and is to an extent, 39-year-old brand consultant Divya Singh’s routine each time she got her paycheque. “My shopping addiction began when Flipkart was the major player—way before Amazon came along,” she says. “It initially started with ordering books. It then became about finding deals online. When you are earning and have money at your disposal, you are tempted to buy things. It began with an original Calvin Klein watch I bought when I got a new job. I spent 012,000 on it. When you get great brands for a great deal, it is so tempting. It kind of gives one self-confidence. Moreover, it is convenient—you can pay by card or avail of cash on delivery.”
Just like Singh, the convenience of online shopping tempted a lot of us to buy things; things we may not even have needed. Singh says she once spent 080,000 in three months. “I bought books, shoes and many other things,” she says. “It was a craze, it was also greed.” Singh confesses that her tendency to shop was more when she had a bad day. “When something went wrong, my go-to comfort would be shopping,” she says. “I amassed over 1,000 things. A lot of them are locked in a room.”
Singh says she definitely overspent—maxing out her debit and credit cards. “Paying bills became difficult,” she says. “I still find it difficult to control the urge to shop as the offers keep coming.”
Bengaluru-based psychotherapist Aji Joseph says compulsive shopping can be a result of pending anxiety disorder. “It has layers—it could be a comorbid condition and not just a habit,” he says. “In my experience, compulsive shopping has been seen in people with a traumatic experience. Or those who have insecurities or have faced rejection.” Compulsive shopping, according to him, is an extreme symptom of an underlying condition. “The trauma or the rejection could have taken place between the ages of one and 10,” he says. “This usually manifests in adolescence. Shopping here can provide the same relief as a painkiller.”
The pain or trauma can be anything from parental abstention, abuse (emotional or physical) or even financial or social insecurity. “The presumption that compulsive shopping is predominantly a female problem is wrong,” says Joseph. “It can affect men, too.” There are also shoppers who buy the product, return it and do this on a loop, he says.
“Getting help is crucial,” adds Joseph. “Psychotherapy can help identify the underlying problem, find the root cause and help address it. One could also turn to parents or a trusted friend. Tell them about why you shop, how you feel when you shop; talk about it in detail. You could also ask them to keep a check on you—make it so that you need their permission to shop. Or, let them handle your debit/credit cards for a while. This will create a delay and help cut the urge.” Joseph also suggests writing down the trigger. “Write down what you intend to buy and why you need it,” he says. “Wait for two days and decide whether you need it. Most of the time, you would not buy it.” Most important, he says, seek help.
Aliya Nazeer, 30, a Kochi-based IT employee says the shopping craze caught up with her during the lockdown. “You could not step out; it felt restrictive and so my solace was shopping,” she says. “It was not just clothes or make up. I was shopping for nearly anything and everything from books to home decor to household items like cleaning supplies. Many a time, the things I bought did not serve any purpose. I would not look for deals as such. I would shop every time I felt out of sorts, which was a lot.”
She says a lot of her buying was after watching reels on Instagram. “I would see a beautifully done room and think, I want that!” she says. “The need to be perfect, the need to look put together, drove me to buy cosmetics, clothes, accessories.” Nazeer says that initially she never thought about the money—so much so that she does not recall how much she spent on shopping during the pandemic. “Even when I felt I was overspending, I would buy what I wanted,” she says. “I am quite sure I overspent on items I did not need.”
“Currently when you look at influencers on social media, it is a combination of many things,” says Joseph. “Shopping behaviour is a combination of one or two things like impulsivity and peer pressure. Often, it is not a well-thought decision. It just gives immediate gratification. It becomes a weakness because a lot of these purchases are made when one is stressed—it could be termed a disorder. It gets difficult to resist when there are inviting tag lines like ‘complete your life’ or ‘boost your confidence’ and so on. This causes more damage than benefit to shopaholics. Another factor is the visuals—they are attractive. What we see, we imprint and buying it generates a gratifying feeling. As a result, the shoppers get into huge credit card debt.”
Chennai-based chartered accountant and personal finance expert Lavanya Mohan says that shopping for discretionary items should be done only after essential spends and debt have been taken care of. “Saving cannot come after spending,” she says. “Allow yourself to spend only after you have allocated for savings.”
At the same time, Mohan adds that everyone deserves some “fun money” that they can spend on whatever they want. It just should not come at the cost of savings or essential spends. “Today with the popularity of BNPL (buy now pay later) it becomes easier than ever to shop for the items you want,” she says. “However, if consumers are not careful, they can easily slip into a very expensive trap and a vicious cycle of interest payments and late fees.”
Influencer marketing today, says Mohan, is bigger and more legitimate than it has ever been. “It is a $14 billion business, globally,” she says. “In India, it is estimated to be around Rs900 crore and is predicted to grow to Rs2,200 crore by 2025. The marketing argument for influencers is that they drive revenue. While this makes sense, it is superficial to an extent,” she adds.
Mohan recommends the 50-30-20 rule when it comes to budgeting—50 per cent for your needs, 30 for savings and 20 for wants. “The key is simply staying consistent,” she says. “It is not a one-time exercise, but a habit. So take time every day to record all the transactions you make.”
So, maybe head to the cart and hit delete!
Recognising the problem is the first step. “Accepting that you have a problem is key,” says Kochi-based consultant and clinical psychologist Anita Rajah. She suggests the following methods to cope with shopping addiction:
* Tell yourself that it is not a necessity, it is not a requirement. This requires a lot of self-awareness
* Quitting cold turkey is another option. This might be hard, but you can achieve it by keeping your credit card away and identifying your trigger. Are you shopping because you are bored or because you are stressed? Do you tend to have an affinity towards discounts? Identify which sites you tend to visit frequently—is it Amazon, Myntra? What time do you tend to shop? In the morning, during the lunch hour or before bed time? Identifying the patterns help you break it
* Keep an amount aside for spending. Let us say the amount is Rs10,000. Put the rest of the amount in another account or in a joint account with your spouse or partner or parent, someone who will hold you accountable. Ask a trusted family member to ensure that you do not touch your phone after a certain time, so that you are not tempted by social media
* Try delayed gratification. For example, if you have goods worth Rs10,000 in your cart, do not buy it immediately. Revisit it a day later, assess if you really like the colour of the clothes you have chosen. The next day, assess whether you will wear it on day-to-day basis. Such assessment will help reduce the number of items in the cart and you will probably spend Rs2,000 instead of Rs10,000
* Practise meditation and deep breathing. This, to an extent, will help control your impulses
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