Compulsive Shopping: Warning Signs and Tips to Address It

Ah, shopping… Whether we love it or dread it, it’s something we’ve gotta do. And it’s much easier today, with online options and easy payment methods. But what happens when shopping spirals out of control? When it begins to have harmful consequences, such as relationship conflict, mental health issues or financial problems? We look into compulsive shopping and its warning signs, and offer some practical tips.


When we purchase something new, our brains release endorphins and dopamine, giving us a feeling of happiness. The novelty of a new thing is exciting to us. In some cases, though, this pleasure can become addictive and lead to compulsive buying.

Recent developments in technology have made shopping easier and faster. Credit cards and other credit facilities have many advantages, but they can also make money seem intangible and endless. Because they are so simple and quick to use, they can fuel our impulsive purchases. On top of that, our smartphones expose us daily to new items, trends, deals and discounts, and constantly try to convince us to spend our money.


What is compulsive shopping?

Compulsive shopping, also known as oniomania, compulsive buying disorder or shopping addiction, is a constant and unhealthy purchasing pattern that becomes difficult to stop and results in harmful consequences, such as marital conflict, mental health issues or financial problems. Not only is compulsive shopping expensive and time-consuming, but the shopper never feels truly satisfied. In fact, compulsive buyers tend to feel worse after making their purchases.

Warning signs of compulsive shopping

 If you’re concerned about your shopping habits, or the habits of someone you know, watch out for these red flags:

  • Buying things to avoid or self-medicate negative feelings (i.e., anxiety, sadness, anger)
  • Purchasing a lot of unnecessary things, and feeling guilty or embarrassed about it afterwards
  • Hiding or lying about what was bought or how much money was spent
  • Financial, social, and/or emotional difficulties because of shopping.

What if I think my shopping may be getting out of control?

  1. Get rid of credit cards and only carry cash. The use of cash tends to reduce excessive spending. It’s easier to notice bills and coins disappearing, and much less likely to spend impulsively when you’re spending real money.
  2. Track your spending: what you bought and what it cost. Writing down every purchase will help you notice and visualize your spending habits and patterns. Consider installing expense tracker apps, like Wally or Mint.
  3. Wait 30 minutes before making a purchase. If you see something you like, walk around in other sections of the store, leave the place or do something else. Think about it for half an hour: is that purchase really necessary or useful?
  4. Avoid temptation. Unsubscribe from emails that offer deals and discounts, unfollow shopping-related social media accounts, and delete shopping apps from your mobile devices. If your weakness is the mall, try to avoid going there.
  5. Identify your triggers. When do you feel the desire to spend extra money? Is it when you’re bored, sad, angry, anxious? Targeting the core problem and understanding what triggers your compulsion to then shop will help regulate your behaviour in the future.
  6. Replace shopping with a new hobby. Cooking? Painting? Learning a new language? Try to find fun and healthy activities to occupy yourself with when you’re bored, and to distract you when you have the impulse to shop.
  7. Set realistic saving goals. Having something you’d like to accomplish (i.e. doing a trip, buying a new car, donating money to charity) will remind you how important it is to not spend that money.
  8. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends. Having a strong support system can help with the recovery process.

Compulsive shopping is not the same as occasionally impulse buying or buying something you regret. And because shopping is so “normal”, a shopping addiction might even go unnoticed until the consequences become more severe. If your shopping is chronic and repetitive, and if it is affecting how you function in your everyday life, consider seeking professional support.

What feelings or factors trigger you to shop? We appreciate your contribution to this complex discussion.


PHOTO: Pexels/Andrea-Piacquadio