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Compulsive Buying Disorder

Compulsive buying disorder is characterized by an obsession with shopping and buying behavior that causes adverse consequences.” It is found in approximately 5.8% of American citizens; of that 80% are female[i].

While you may not suffer from a compulsive buying disorder to the point that it has adverse consequences in your life, most of us are guilty of spending money we don’t have for things we don’t really need, whether it is that magazine that catches our eye while checking out or that new movie on the flashing display when you walk in the store.

I myself am guilty of it, my personal enemy; Bass Pro. It has such an effect on me that I feel guilty leaving the store with nothing. Let’s get one fact straight – products are placed purposely in stores and packaging and displays are meant to catch your eye. Companies spend millions of dollars each year preying on our inability to say no. So how do we counteract these urges of ours? How do we train ourselves not to pick up that shiny item we all know we must have?  There are many ways to combat this but here are a few strategies that I personally use.

  • Making a list ….and sticking to it
  • Leaving your credit cards in the car and only taking in the cash you need
  • Setting a time limit to how long you will stay
  • Taking a friend, preferably one who does not share your enthusiasm
  • Only go when you absolutely need something, not just to browse

Making a list and sticking to it! Making a list before going anywhere is easy and practical. Whether it is a list of things to do that day or a list for the grocery store, it will help you stay on track and be productive. Doing it is one thing but sticking to it is a whole new ball game, because if you can’t do that the list was a waste of your time. A good strategy is to know where you’re going and head straight there because you might need milk, but it’s not going to help if you walk through four isles to get there.

Leaving your credit cards in the car and only taking in the cash you need. This personally is my biggest helper. Often I find myself spending more money then I should with the justification of putting it on my credit card. So make it easier on yourself and don’t even bring it in, trust me it will make your life a whole lot easier.

Setting a time limit on how long you stay. This may seem a bit rudimentary but I really think it does work. By setting a time limit on how long you stay it helps you from browsing and finding that one item you can’t live without. Make it something practical like 20 minutes in the grocery store. It obviously applies to different situations so just use your best judgment.

Taking a friend, preferably one who does not share your enthusiasm. I myself find it a lot easier to stay on track when I’m not alone in the store, they too know what you came there to get and for the most part add a second opinion on any purchases. Don’t take in a friend who enjoys the same thing you do. When I go to Bass Pro with my brother I know it won’t end well because we both love to hunt. However, put me in bass pro with my girlfriend and I’ll bet you my bottom dollar she won’t let me leave with something I don’t absolutely need.

Only go when you absolutely need something, not just to browse. Going to a store just to “have a look” is a set up for failure. Only go when you absolutely need something. And even then use the other strategies we discussed before, make a list, only bring in the money you need, and bring a friend who will keep you on track.

Like I said before these are by no means the only strategies to prevent compulsive buying, but they are a good start. Try some of these the next time you go out and see how they work.

by Robert Self, Personal Financial Planning student
(with edits by Ryan Law)


[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsive_buying_disorder