Today it’s time to take a look at some of the reasons why we overspend and impulse shop.


You’re a smart, savvy, level headed person and so am I, yet, we’ve both been there. That moment when you look at your visa statement and feel your heart sink. What? No, it can’t be. But how? If you’re like me you’ve overspent on things you don’t need on more than one occasion (okay fine, on many!) and it’s not something you’re 100% proud of. Sometimes logic gives way to desire but nothing kills the new shoe buzz like realizing your visa bill is more than double your monthly bills.

Maybe you don’t get into too much overspending trouble but you’re inclined to pick things up on a whim. Then get home or get the parcel and realize it’s not you or it doesn’t go with anything or a long list of other undesirable options. Whatever it ended up in your closet for 6 months or more and, with the tags still on, eventually finds it’s way into a clothing donation bin. Not the epic journey you had in mind for it originally. That pesky fear of missing out gets the better of us all!

The good news is we’re ready to make a change for the better. So let’s take a look at some shopping triggers because knowledge is power and it’s time to get savvy!

Here’s my take on some common triggers for impulse shopping and overspending:

1. Being Human

So it turns out that just being human is reason enough to be inclined to overspend and impulse shop. Our brains have figured out that shopping is a fabulous way to trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Shopping connects the association between buying something new and feeling good. That emotional reward becomes ingrained and suddenly it’s a habit that won’t let up.

I don’t have any serious suggestions on how to avoid being human but it helps to know what your brain is up to sometimes. If you’re hankering for a dopamine release or itching to shop, try to acknowledge it and switch up your reward. This could be anything from treating yourself to a green tea latte to signing up for a class you’ve been meaning to try. You may discover that your brain is not as foolproof as you think.

2. Discount Dangle

We all know this one, yet it’s probably the most common reason we end up with an overstuffed closet and nothing to wear. Recently, I saw a Bottega Veneta sandal, and at $900 it was a little too much and just a little ‘meh’ but at 60% off I was suddenly telling myself it’s pretty great shoe. Retailers are counting on this internal change of heart to help us leap but if you wouldn’t buy it at full price do you really want it at all? Of course, there are exceptions but for the most part, it’s best not to succumb to marketing trickery.

Ways to avoid discount dangle:

  •  Shop with an explicit list of what you need and stick to it. Define each item as much as possible so your ‘must-haves’ are clear. If you’re tempted by something but it doesn’t meet the exact requirements of your list, then it’s not going to satisfy.
  • It’s not a deal if you don’t need it. I try to keep this in mind when I’m tempted by sales.

3. Browsing Badlands

Maybe you’re on your lunch break or you’re waiting on feedback from a client or maybe it’s a cold night and you’re curled up in with a corgi and the Zara app (I may or may not have just described all my go-to browsing times). Wherever you are, you’re browsing and you’re coming across some pretty tasty morsels that are ever so easily hopping into your virtual cart. I’ve been there so many times and just when I think I’m safe, I find myself hitting the checkout button instead of closing the Safari app. GAH!

Ways to avoid the browsing badlands:

  • Unsubscribe from newsletters. This is by far my most trusted technique to avoid online shopping trouble. What I don’t know about sales and new arrivals, can’t hurt me.
  • Get away from your desk at lunch or try to take a quick walk once an hour to get the blood flowing and put your mind on something else.
  • Can’t getaway? Try hiding your bookmarks bar and fully closing your browser application after each use, don’t just minimize the window.
  • Get a good book. At night when I’m inclined to give in to the hypnosis that is Pinterest, a good read will often save me from myself.
  • Refer back to your well-defined list to help stop your brain from getting attached to things you don’t need.

4. Credit Card Bliss

Loss aversion is a basic economic principle and refer’s to our general tendency to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. In theory, if I lost $100 I’d have lost more emotional satisfaction than I would gain if I won $100. In reality, I see that gorgeous leather bag but I’m not ready to part with the cash it costs to get it. Credit cards, however, make us feel like we’re not paying for things. At least not yet. So we’re much more inclined to cough up the credit than we are the cash. Not to mention the added incentives to buy with credit and earn points or reward miles etc.

Use the theory of loss aversion to your advantage:

  • Try setting up your PayPal to draw directly from your bank account. I know I’m not so nonchalant about a new pair of jeans when that hard-earned cash is coming right out of my checking account.
  • When you go shopping only bring your budget with you. If it’s $1000 take that out in cash and leave the credit card at home or pick up a pre-paid one. It’s hard to overspend with empty pockets.

5. High/Low Reward

This is a trigger many can relate to I’m sure. You’ve had a great day at work and you’re ready to treat yourself. Or maybe your day wasn’t so great actually and you just need a little pick me up. Shopping is an emotional management technique. We shop to ‘feel’ better, ride the high, unwind or relax and take our minds off a crazy day but the fix is temporary. Plus, there’s a good chance at these moments we’re not thinking our clearest or most practically.

Ways to avoid high and low impulses:

  • Plan alternate activities during the times you’re most inclined to shop for a mood boost. Maybe it’s an epic at-home pamper session complete with wine, a new magazine, and a bubble bath. Maybe it’s a delicious meal you can make from scratch.
  • Do something good for you. Maybe it’s taking the dog for a long walk or calling a friend you don’t see often or maybe it’s planning out and preparing awesome breakfasts for a whole week.

6. For Fun

Let’s not get too much of a hate-on for shopping here ok? It’s a blast! It’s a great way to spend some time, invigorate your senses, and get your creative juices flowing. There’s a thrill in imagining new outfits and anticipating the first time you’ll get to wear a new piece. But when it starts getting the better of your emotions, time or money, not so much.

Ways to have fun with fashion, not shopping:

  • Shop your closet. Pull everything out and start trying things on. You’ll be surprised to find a few hidden gems and it’s a great way to purge the excess.
  • Try a clothing swap with friends.
  • Check out this awesome Into-Mind post on Ways To Break Out of a Style Rut and Feel Inspired Again.

7. To Fill A Void

I saved this one for last because I think it might be my worst trigger and it can disguise itself brilliantly. When we feel a lack of confidence or control in our lives we seek out ways to pacify those feelings. If there is something to do with our appearance that we don’t feel good about we might buy new clothes or beauty products to hide or help it but it doesn’t go away. If we lack a sense of self-worth we might try to compensate by buying the latest bag or shoes. When we feel like we have no control over events in life we might buy things to feel like we have some say in what goes on.

I won’t dive too deep into the more psychological issues at hand here but if you feel like this is your main trigger I’d maybe take a little breather from shopping and try to identify the real reasons behind wanting to buy more things.

  • Try shopping fast for a week or even a month. Keep a journal about how you’re feeling and make notes about the times when you are particularly inclined to shop. Watch some tips on successful fasting here.
  • Consider switching up your routine slightly. Get up a 1/2 hour earlier to meditate. Go to bed a bit earlier and write in a journal. The better we know ourselves the better choices we’ll make.
  • Try boosting your confidence with a new skill.

So what do you think? Do any of these triggers ring true for you? Do you have any others or maybe some tips to add? I’d love to hear them! I hope this list will prove useful and I intend to keep it updated as I continue on this mission.


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