Why do shopping addicts keep spending even in the face of harmful financial, emotional and social consequences?
Approximately 10 percent of adults in Western countries are believed to have a compulsive spending disorder that leads them to lose control over their buying behavior — and the trend is on the rise, according to the new study from researchers at San Francisco State University.
Shopaholics are addicted to buying things, regardless of whether they want or need them, the researchers noted.
In a new study to be published in the Journal of Economic Psychology, the researchers say poor credit management and a belief that new purchases will create a happier life fuel compulsive buying.
“Compulsive shoppers tend to be people who bury their heads in the sand and ignore the credit card bill,” said Ryan Howell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the university. “We also found that these individuals keep on buying because they are looking for that ‘buy high,’ hoping their purchases will lift their mood and transform them as a person.”
“A lot of research has shown that shopaholics tend to have materialistic values,” he continued. “Our results explain why materialistic people shop compulsively.”
Howell and his fellow researchers surveyed more than 1,600 people who answered questions about their money management, shopping habits and how much they value material possessions.
Their analysis found that lack of money management predicted an individual’s compulsive spending, regardless of their personality, gender, age and income. In particular, out-of-control-shopping was primarily driven by poor credit management, such as not paying attention to credit card statements, not paying credit card bills on time, and exceeding credit limits, the study found.
One reason why credit cards may facilitate compulsive shopping is because they allow consumers to separate the pleasure of buying from the pain of paying, the researchers postulate.
In the study, compulsive shoppers reported that they bought items to “get a buzz” or put themselves in a better mood. They also believed the purchases could change their life, for example by transforming their appearance, self-confidence, reputation and relationships.
“We know that a person’s values impact their shopping habits, but values aren’t the easiest thing to change,” Howell said.
“Even if you are still materialistic and you have the desire to acquire more possessions, it’s how you manage your behavior that counts. Our findings suggest that you can keep your shopping under control by paying attention to your credit card and checking in with yourself about whether you are shopping for emotional reasons.”
Howell and his graduate students continue to study compulsive buying and other consumer habits at their Beyond the Purchase website. On the site, members of the public can take free surveys to find out what kind of consumer they are and how their spending choices affect them.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with a shopping addiction, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Addictions Initial Assessment.