I’ve struggled with compulsive shopping for over thirty years. Ever since I started having disposable income, I’ve wanted to spend it on clothes, shoes, and accessories. Some of you have questioned whether I am in serious debt. While I do not carry any ongoing debt at present, I’ve battled financial insolvency on numerous occasions in the past. I had to be bailed out of credit card debt three times and I used a debt consolidation service once. For all of the other times when I was in debt up to my eyeballs, I stopped shopping “cold turkey” and “white-knuckled” it for as long as possible until I was able to claw my way back to solvency.
The Evolution of Shopping
That was then, back in the days before a shopaholic could indulge her addiction with a few mere mouse clicks at any time of the day or night. These days, it’s not enough to stay away from the mall while you try to pay down your credit card debt or build up a nest-egg. Temptation is virtually everywhere and it’s no longer possible to simply hole up in your house or apartment and not shop.
Today I’d like to talk about online shopping: how it’s been a “game-changer” for compulsive shoppers, how I’ve fallen prey to it myself, and how we can limit its impact on our bank accounts and psyches. I don’t have all of the answers, but hopefully I’ll be able to offer some valuable insights to those of you who struggle with buying things online.
I Didn’t Follow My Own Holiday Shopping Tips!
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the holidays and shopping converge to create a not-so-perfect storm for overshoppers. I shared a few tips for dealing with the “Grand Poohbahs” of sales that are Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Of course, with all tips, they need to be followed in order to be of use to anyone. I hope some of you followed my tips because – confession time here… – I did not!
No, I didn’t venture into the stores on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, or the holiday weekend. I didn’t have to… I was able to do a fair amount of damage in the same exact spot where I’m typing this blog post, at my desk in front of my computer!
I’m Not Even That into Online Shopping…
I’ve never been that big of an online shopper. Since I’m difficult to fit, I usually opt to shop in the brick and mortar stores instead. Truth be told, probably 75% of the items I order online end up going back to the stores. Sizes are just too inconsistent, colors and fabrics look different in person than on our monitors, and clothing is often pinned back on models to showcase inaccurate silhouettes. While some of you may hit a lot of home runs when ordering online, I strike out more often than not.
Yet sometimes the temptation is just too great and I succumb. Where did this temptation come from, you ask? After all, haven’t I recommended that we unsubscribe from store email lists in order to have the “deals” be out of sight and out of mind? Yes, that was me and I no longer receive any emails from retailers about their “amazing sales.” However, I still subscribe to a handful of style blogs and visit Facebook a few times each day, so I may as well have been receiving emails from all of the major stores. Bloggers and Facebook “friends” alike were all excitedly sharing the special Black Friday offers that, by the way, applied to online shopping as well as shopping in the stores.
It Wasn’t All Bad – The Silver Lining
Not all of the buying I did this past weekend was ill-advised. In fact, most of what I purchased was on my shopping priorities list. I bought two pairs of pants that were supposed to be the same style as one of my few existing pairs that I enjoy wearing (sadly, the style must have changed because the pants already arrived and are going back). I also ordered a few items in tall sizes that can only be obtained online (one top is here and I’m keeping it, while the others are on their way). But I just bought too much overall and a few things should have remained in a faraway warehouse instead of en route to me here in (not-so) sunny San Diego.
I haven’t overspent my budget for the year, and after all of the returns are said and done, I’ll likely still be ahead of the game (as always, I’ll share my numbers here – my November update will appear on Monday). But that’s not the point, or at least not the whole point. The point is that it’s all too easy to buy things online, and I succumbed to temptation. I let the allure of the sale compel me to buy more than I should, and I regret that my emotions were running the show instead of my brain.
The Pros and Cons of Online Shopping
Now that I’ve done my mea culpa, I need to forgive myself and forge a plan to do better moving forward. I realize that online shopping is a problem for me, as I’m sure it is for many of you. Even those who do not consider themselves “shopaholics” fall prey to all-too-easy internet buys on occasion.
Few of us are completely immune to the clever ploys that marketers use to lure us in. It used to be that shipping and return costs would deter me from clicking “buy now,” but then many stores started offering free shipping and returns at least some of the time. That shift was definitely a “game-changer” for me, as it removed my primary objection to online buying.
In some respects, I love the ease and convenience of online shopping. It’s one of the great benefits of the technological advances of the past few decades. I certainly don’t want to roll back the clock to the days when I had to schlep to the stores every time I needed to buy something. Yet I also don’t want to give myself complete carte blanche to buy new things whenever the urge strikes. So how can I/we find a healthy balance between never buying online and always buying online?
Tips for Smarter Shopping Online
Here are a few suggestions to dial back your online purchasing a few notches. Some of these suggestions also apply to brick and mortar shopping, but I’ll begin with those tips that are specific to e-commerce.
Most online stores allow you to create an account and save all of your pertinent information for future purchases. The good news and bad news for this practice are the same: it makes it easier for us to buy. If you struggle with impulse buys, make it harder for yourself to take the plunge by not creating accounts at your favorite online stores. Browse as a “guest” and enter your shipping and billing information every single time you buy something. This will allow you a bit more time to consider whether or not you really want to make that purchase.
Leave Your Cart Unattended
You can still use the “power pause” when you shop online. Before you click the “checkout” button, step away from your computer for at least a few minutes and preferably for two hours or more. Take a walk, call a friend, run an errand, or do something else that doesn’t involve being on your computer. Before you go back to your cart, take some time to consider your best next step.
Ask Powerful Questions
While you’re on that “power pause,” ask yourself some powerful questions that will help you make the right decision. Start with the 6 key questions from Dr. April Benson (author of “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop”):
- Why am I here? (In this case, why did I visit that e-commerce store?)
- How do I feel? (Tune in to your emotional state and what else is going on in your life.)
- Do I need this? (Are the items you’re considering buying on your shopping priorities list? Will you wear them right away or are they things you’re buying for next year or “just in case”?)
- What if I wait? (Sure, this is a “great deal” right now, but there will always be other sales and deals and the timing may be better for you and your life later.)
- How will I pay for it? (This isn’t just about which credit card you’ll use! Do you have the money to buy the item without accruing unnecessary interest or taking away from real life needs?)
- Where will I put it? (Many of us complain about our overloaded closets, yet we keep buying more things to fill them up! It’s worthwhile considering whether or not we truly have space for our prospective purchases.)
In addition to Dr. Benson’s wonderful questions, here are a few others to consider:
- Would I buy this item at full price? (Many impulse buys are for things on sale. It’s worth considering whether it’s the item we truly want – or the deal.)
- Do I already have something very similar in my closet? (Often we’re drawn to things we already have, so it’s worth looking at whether we already possess a viable alternative.)
- Do I want to wear this item right away? Do I have an actual life occasion in which I can wear it? (Don’t buy for next year or “just in case”! Buy for the current season and your actual lifestyle!)
- Why wouldn’t I buy this item? (This great question was suggested by one of my readers and I love it! We usually consider the reasons why buying something is a good idea, but looking at the flip side can offer a valuable perspective as well).
Use a List and a Budget
I often tout the value of maintaining a shopping priorities list and creating a monthly, seasonal, or yearly clothing budget. While many of us carry our shopping lists in our handbags or on our cell phones, we often don’t have these lists nearby when we shop online. I recommend creating a shortcut icon to easily access your list while on your computer.
Better yet, have a plan for what you’re looking to buy before you ever visit an e-commerce store. Going in with a plan can help you avoid unnecessary temptation. Similar to making a beeline to the appropriate section of a brick and mortar store, you can click on the pertinent section of the online store to find what you need on a given day. Don’t look around at other areas of the store, as you may be tempted to make unplanned purchases. Stick to the business at hand and you’ll have a better chance of shopping wisely.
In terms of budgets, it can also be helpful to set a budget for a given shopping “trip” in addition to setting monthly or seasonal limits. It’s so easy to click “buy now” that we forget we’re spending real money! Having a guideline – or a hard fast limit – for what you’ll spend can help to bring things down to earth and keep you on track.
The Bottom Line
It’s time for me to start following my own advice, not just when it’s easy but all the time. I’ve made such excellent progress this year that I don’t want to see it unravel just because there are abundant holiday “deals” on the horizon. Acceptance is a powerful first step toward change, and I acknowledge that I have a tendency to overshop online, particularly during certain times of the year (holidays and seasonal sales in particular).
I’m definitely not perfect and I’m still a recovering shopaholic. I was recently interviewed by a journalism student, who asked me if I had recovered from shopping addiction or if I believed I would ever fully recover. I told her that I am not yet recovered and I believe I will likely always have to be careful of my tendency to overshop.
Recovery Occurs Along a Continuum
It’s probably similar to what I went through with eating disorders. I was told, “once an anorexic, always an anorexic.” For years, I didn’t want to believe such an assertion, as I wanted to put my disordered eating past behind me completely. However, I’ve come to view recovery as more of a continuum than a path with an end point.
At this point, I am 90-95% recovered from anorexia. My eating is mostly normal, but I still struggle with lingering body image issues. While I’d love to be 100% recovered, the reality is that my life is mostly free of the burden of eating disorder struggles, whereas it used to completely overshadow all aspects of my existence. I actually have a life now and I’m extremely grateful that the shroud of anorexia no longer colors my reality.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely put compulsive shopping behind me, but if I can get to the point where it’s just a very small part of my world, I’ll be happy with that. I’m doing my best to enjoy the journey, learn what I can along the way, and share my insights with all of you. I’m grateful that I have this platform and that my recovery process and learnings are resonating with others.
What Are Your Suggestions Regarding Online Shopping?
If you have any suggestions for other ways of dealing with online shopping temptations, I invite you to share them. I don’t know the statistics, but I do know that online shopping is a big problem for many people. But like virtually all problems, there are solutions and there is hope.
I welcome your insights and suggestions for how we can step away from the computer, honor our needs and limits, and put shopping (both online and in person) into its rightful place in our lives.