For many shoppers, sales are like putting a glass of wine under the nose of an alcoholic. To them a sale makes shopping all the more appealing — and addictive. There’s a good reason for this reaction. Sales are designed to “psych” you out, to make you feel that you are getting something for nothing and that this special offer will exist only for a limited time. Sales tap into our fears that a commodity we need or want is going to get away from us. That’s why rationing causes people to panic and line up for hours to stock up on those items. So the sale appeals to the idea that we got away with something, that we got more than we deserved to get, and that we were smart in the purchase.
While many people joke about “shopping till you drop” and “I can’t resist a sale” there are people out there known as “compulsive shoppers” who really do have an addiction. This is a true disorder thought to effect as much as 8 percent of the U.S. population, and of those, 90 percent are women. Compulsive-shopping disorder is an obsessive-compulsive disorder similar to compulsive gambling and binge eating. Sales are an easy way to justify such behavior.
The desire to spend, if there is a sale or not, really comes down to an emotional need. People with compulsive-shopping disorder often also suffer from anxiety and depression. They shop in hopes it will reduce their tension or low mood, and not only does this fail to work but they tend to feel worse due to the consequences of over shopping. Many of these people have credit card debts they cannot possibly handle, legal problems (including bankruptcy filings), destroyed marriages, and ruined friendships. Many wind up lying about their compulsive spending to their loved ones, and themselves. They often shop for the same item over and over again, even if they never ever use it. Compulsive shoppers may even have emotional “blackouts” where they cannot remember shopping.
If you think you have a problem with shopping sales, there are ways to curb your “addiction.” Here are some steps you can take:
- Decide beforehand what you’re comfortable spending. A sale does not mean a blank check. If you’ve budgeted $100, stick to $100.
- Don’t shop when your mood is low. Shopping when you're down is shopping with little willpower. You’ll end up treating the mood.
- Hold onto the item. Pick your item and then circle the store before heading to the cash register. If you give yourself some time, you may decide you don't really want/need the item after all.
- Stick to a list. Before you go shopping at all, make a list of what you need and buy only what is on the list.