Online shopping is a popular hobby for many people, but for some, it can lead to massive piles of debt, strained or broken relationships, hoarding, or other negative consequences.
At some point, we’ve all succumbed to the temptation to impulse spend. That’s because online shopping is easy and convenient. Your favorite stores are open 24/7, so you can shop when you’re bored or late at night when you need a quick pick-me-up.
While it’s nice to have nice things and treat yourself to a spontaneous shopping spree, making regular unplanned purchases can be incredibly costly.
Not to mention, browsing to see what’s new, on sale, or searching endlessly for that perfect dress can eat up valuable time that could be spent on other things, such as work, quality time with loved ones, or self-care.
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Can you be addicted to online shopping?
Yes, you can develop an addiction to online shopping, just like some people may be addicted to gambling.
It may sound silly because we live in a society that encourages us to shop and spend money.
Our favorite online influencers are constantly promoting the latest and greatest stuff, which can lead us to buy things that we don’t need – or in some cases, we don’t really like.
If you want to learn more about how to overcome a shopping addiction, check out my free audio training here.
Online shopping addiction – Warning signs you might be emotional spending
How do you know if you (or a loved one) is experiencing an online shopping addiction instead of just making a few impulse purchases?
Since most people enjoying shopping as a way to boost their mood, it’s important to differentiate between the occasional impulse buy and a pattern that leads to a shopping problem.
Below is a self-assessment that you can take to see if shopping may be a problem. If you answered “yes” to many of the questions, you may have an addiction to shopping.
- Do you shop when you’re bored, feeling sad, angry, or disappointed?
- While shopping, do you feel a rush or excitement or euphoria?
- After shopping, do you feel guilty or like you’ve just done something wild?
- Has shopping and overspending created problems in your life?
- Do you ever lie about what you bought or how much you spent on shopping?
- Do you frequently buy things that you never end up wearing / using?
- Do you think about shopping (like what you’re going to buy next) and money most of the time?
- Have your friends, partner, or family members expressed concern about your shopping and spending habits?
What is the effect of an online shopping addiction?
There’s no doubt about it – shopping makes us happy, at least in the short-term. If you’re feeling sad or frustrated, turning to retail therapy can be a great way to distract yourself.
It can also help restore a sense of control in your life and it feels so good to give into instant gratification.
However, in the long-term, shopping can become problematic if it creates financial problems and turns into a full-blown addiction.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome a shopping addiction and find a healthy place for shopping in your life. And no, you don’t have to become a minimalist or boycott all shopping to do this.
Unlike a gambling addiction, where someone can remove themselves from a gambling environment, shopping is part of our lives. We shop when we need to buy things we need, gifts for loved ones, and so on.
That’s why it’s essential to learn how to shop and spend with intention.
Below are 5 life-changing habits that helped me overcome my online shopping addiction. I hope you’ll find them useful in curbing impulse buys and overspending on instant gratification.
- How to stop buying clothes you never wear
- Why can’t I stop shopping? 5 reasons we buy things
- 45 things to do instead of online shopping
1. Take full responsibility for my actions
Taking full responsibility for your actions means acknowledging the role that you play in your own life – both the good and bad parts.
Accepting responsibility for our actions is hard, and it’s not something that we’re taught how to do in our childhood, schools, or workplaces.
When a mistake is made or conflict arises, our natural reaction is usually to blame others, make excuses, or twist the facts around.
Avoiding responsibility is a much easier way to temporarily cope with negative emotions, but the long-term consequences can be significant.
Yes, life can be unpredictable at times, and some people or circumstances are outside of our control – but you are responsible for your own actions.
You have the ability to acknowledge the problem, identify your role in it, and implement a plan of action to prevent it from happening again.
Taking ownership and responsibility for your actions is an empowering reminder that you have the agency to influence your life. Instead of simply reacting to situations, you get to choose how to respond to them.
While there are many ways to start taking responsibility for your actions, the first step that helped me was to stop making excuses.
When I was struggling with my shopping addiction in my 20s, I used a million excuses to try and rationalize my spending habits.
I’ve come a long way since then, and the biggest change was shifting my mindset to take full responsibility for my actions.
I no longer ignore my bad spending habits or justify my spending by telling myself, “Don’t feel bad”.
When I used to tell myself not to feel bad because “I deserved to treat myself” or I had a hard day at work and “shopping makes me happy” – it only made me feel worse in the long run.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t okay to continue letting myself overspending because of XYZ (or some other excuse I gave myself).
Making excuses for myself wasn’t productive and it was hurting my finances and mental health in the long run.
I’m responsible for my finances and I couldn’t keep running away from the consequences of my own choices.
For me, creating a realistic budget was the best tool to hold myself accountable for my spending. My first budget was definitely NOT perfect, but it got easier with more practice.
Finding the right budgeting method has allowed me to do so much more with my money. It feels empowering to take responsibility.
If you’re interested, you can grab the same planner I use to organize my finances below:
2. Set a goal
When I was struggling with shopping, I didn’t have any substantial goals. Instead, they were vague, small, and changed on a daily / weekly basis depending on how I felt in the moment.
Many of the goals I had sounded like, “I’ll be happy when I buy / get [INSERT ITEM I WANTED]”.
For example, “I’ll be happy when I buy that new pair of designer shoes” or “My collection will finally be complete when I get that jacket”.
They were all tied to acquiring material things. I would save up my money to buy the item I wanted, and while it would bring me joy for a little while, but it didn’t take long before I was on the hunt for that next item that “I needed to have”.
Shopping was my hobby, and it was always the answer to everything.
Want to feel good? Buy more stuff.
Want to feel special? Buy more stuff.
Want to relive boredom? Buy more stuff.
Need to fill a wardrobe gap? Buy more stuff.
Can’t resist a good deal? You don’t have to, so just buy it!
But my spending habits were quickly spiraling out of control. I was buying more stuff than I could possibly use or wear, which left me broke and frustrated. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
Eventually, I grew tired of feeling trapped in the mindless cycle of scrolling on social media, browsing shopping apps, watching shopping hauls, and buying things all the time.
The new clothes I bought weren’t helping me get promoted at work, they didn’t bring me long-term happiness, and they didn’t transform me into the person I thought they would (more confident, beautiful, outgoing, and so on).
It was time to set goals that would actually make a positive difference and help me achieve the life I wanted.
You may be thinking, “I don’t know what goals to set” or “Is it really necessary to set goals?”
For me, I can attest to the importance of setting higher quality goals and how it’s been a game-changer for me. I got clear on what my definition of “time well spent” meant to me, and slowly replaced low-value activities with high-value ones.
If you want to get good with money and turn your life around, you need to set goals. Goals can help align your focus on what tasks or behaviors will give you maximum results, while weeding out wasted efforts and distractions.
They can help guide you and sustain the motivation you need to stay on track. Setting goals and committing to them is another way to take back control of your life.
Before you can decide what to pursue, you need to list out all your possibilities. Start by asking yourself, “What do I want to do with my money?” or “What do you want your life to look and feel like?”
I know that I wasn’t happy working all the time, earning money to buy tons of stuff that I didn’t really use. And a lot of this stuff just created cluttered, which caused me stress because it felt suffocating.
Write down of list of ideas that you’d like to achieve. Try not to judge each idea and just write down whatever comes to mind. Enact a “no self-criticism” rule while you’re brainstorming.
Do you want to build a savings cushion? Move somewhere new? Go on vacation? Buy a new car?
Here’s a few prompts that can help you get started:
- What is the most important problem that you can work on solving right now?
- What would you do if money were no object?
- What are my top 5 priorities in my life right now?
- Where do I see myself in one year? 5 years? 10 years?
- What is holding me back from living the life I imagine?
When setting a goal, try your best to take an outside view. Have you ever noticed that when our friends or family are struggling, we can clearly see the next steps they should take, but they can’t see them?
This is because it’s hard for us to view our ourselves objectively. Practice stepping outside of your experiences by pretending that you’re the protagonist in a novel. Fill in the blank: “They should just do ____ next!”
Revisit your list of ideas and choose just ONE goal to focus on for now. When choosing your goal, factor in how much time it will take to achieve, your level of excitement towards the goal, how difficult it will be to reach the goal, and what impact the goal will have (what short-term and long-term opportunities it creates).
I also recommend applying the S.M.A.R.T goals principles to help you get crystal clear on what you want to achieve. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Then set a tangible goal for your savings account and set a date for when you want to have it completed. This means you’ll need to figure out how much money you need to reach your goal and a realistic time frame you can do this. Each time you get paid, auto deposit money into your savings account.
For example, if you want to build an $1,000 emergency fund in the next 5 months, this means you’ll need to save $200 per month in order to reach your goal.
When I was struggling with shopping, I set a goal to save enough money to go back to school so I could get a better job.
Each day, I reminded myself of this goal, prayed on it, kept a gratitude journal, and this helped me to stay motivated to reach it.
Now my goal is to buy a home. This requires good financial habits and it’s my main motivation to stay on track.
Shopping has found a healthy place in my life, and I have NO desire to buy random stuff anymore.
But I’m still human and some situations can trigger the temptation to impulse buy. That’s why I’m doing a low-buy year to keep me in check.
3. Implement new habits
Just like trying to change any addictive or habitual behavior, shopping less is a lot easier if you’re busy enjoying other things, instead of chasing a “shopper’s high” to function as normal.
Initially it may be tough to find other activities that you enjoy doing, especially if shopping was your main hobby (like it used to be for me).
When you’re removing an undesired habit (such as shopping), you’ll need to replace it with a new and attractive habit.
The key is to be patient and loving with yourself during this transition. It took time to develop the spending habit, and it’ll also take time to change it.
Our mind likes familiar things because it makes us feel comfortable. So, moving from spending all your time shopping to exploring other hobbies and implementing better spending habits probably won’t happen overnight.
In the past, I was spending around $1,000 a month on stuff that I didn’t need for almost 2 years. If I wanted to save enough money to go back to school, I needed to regain control of my spending.
I set a goal to reduce my spending to $100 a month on my wants. This included clothes, shoes, makeup, and other random stuff that I didn’t need.
$100 a month might seem a little extreme, but I needed to be strict with myself in order to reach my goal. Ideally, I wanted to spend $0 a month on my wants, but I wasn’t ready to go cold turkey.
$100 a month was challenging, but it gave me enough wiggle room in my budget to help me let go of the habit of impulse buying everything I saw.
Yes, it was challenging, and not every month was great. But after several months, I was thriving. Saying “no” to impulse buys became easier, and I felt a lot more confident with where my money was going.
I can only speak from my own experience, and I can appreciate that everyone is different. What worked for me, may not work for you. My hope is that you will find it useful in guiding you on your own journey.
Once I reached my goal of saving enough money to quit my job and go back to school, I was ready to start my next challenge, which was doing a no-buy year for clothes.
Going cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone. But you can choose to put better boundaries in place for your spending, so you can do more with your money.
Clothes was the area of my budget that I struggled with the MOST, which is why doing this challenge was important for my personal growth. If you’re interested, you can read the lessons I learned from buying no new clothes for a year.
It’s been several years since I did the no new clothing challenge, and my spending habits have dramatically improved since then. Now, I’m currently doing a low-buy year to help me save money for a home.
While there are many strategies that helped me to stick to my no-buy / low-buy year, below are 2 tips that made the biggest impact:
1) Pause before you buy – Every time I wanted to buy something I didn’t need, I would wait as long as possible before buying it.
If I felt that I urgently needed to buy it, I would transfer the amount I wanted to spend into savings. I made a mental rule that my savings account is deposit only, and no transfers were allowed out.
2) Limit / Get rid of social media – Over the past few years, I’ve quietly stepped away from most of my social media accounts, including Instagram.
Out of sight, out of mind is the best practice for me. What I don’t know about, I don’t want.
You have to tell yourself that YOU ARE IN CONTROL of your money, you do not have to give in simply because of an impulsive feeling or desire.
This is about finding a balance between shopaholic and extreme frugality. To do this, you need to pick an area that is important to you and budget for it.
For example, buying healthy groceries and traveling is important to me, but I’m not longer interested in buying designer clothes or expensive makeup.
You get to decide which cuts are worth it vs. what you truly love and aligns with your values.
While doing a no-buy / low-buy, try using some of the stuff you already have. You’ll probably realize you’re keeping things that you might like in theory, but don’t like in practice.
For instance, I used to buy a lot of high heels because I loved the way they looked, but in reality, I preferred to wear flats.
I also unsubscribed from channels that were haul heavy. I found that these influencers were always recommending products that they usually got for free or raving about how THIS was the Holy Grail of YXZ.
I was constantly fighting with the little voice in my head that say “just treat yourself”, which was super dangerous for my wallet and metal well-being.
4. Declutter to make space for the life you want
I have an entire chapter dedicated to this point in my e-book, The Intentional Spender, but I’ll mention it here as well because it’s so important.
Decluttering is one of the fastest and most powerful ways to manifest more abundance into your life.
And decluttering isn’t just about donating clothes you no longer wear or throwing out old user manuals – it means getting rid of EVERYTHING in your life that no longer serves you, and most importantly, is no longer aligned with your goals.
When you declutter, you’re creating more room for opportunities and better things to come into your life.
Start by focusing on the area that is giving you the most stress, anxiety, or grief.
For me, this was my bedroom. I had an overflowing wardrobe, items stored in boxes under my bed, items stored in bins in the corner of my room, items stored in the bathroom vanity, items stored on the back of my bedroom door, and a bookcase packed full of things.
Every little nook and cranny of my bedroom had something stuffed into it. This included clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry, seasonal accessories, books, beauty products (makeup, skincare, and haircare), random knick-knacks, and memorabilia.
After watching the TV show, Hoarders, this gave me the wake-up call that I needed before my life headed into this direction.
You see, I had trouble letting go of anything.
I was holding onto old ticket stubs from concerts I went to, movie theatre tickets, birthday cards, trinket gifts from friends I no longer kept in touch with, clothes that were too small (hoping I would fit into them someday), shoes I didn’t wear because they hurt my feet (and I felt guilty about the money I had spent), designer handbags that stayed in their dust bags (because I was afraid it would get ruined if I used them), cheap travel souvenirs, and so on.
Buying stuff and growing my collection of items gave me a feeling of “comfort”. But I was using material things to find happiness and fill a void in my life.
For me, decluttering took time. I divided my bedroom into several small sections. Then I slowly went through each section to declutter items.
Trying to sell my stuff was a sobering experience because I realized how little value some of the things I bought actually were. Some items that I spent hours searching for and I thought were valuable, were not seen as desirable by others.
I also found tons of items that I forgot I owned, were rarely used, or never used. Many of these items were no longer in style, didn’t fit me anymore, or didn’t align with my interests anymore.
For instance, I had tons of makeup and beauty products. But what’s the point of having 30+ bottles of nail polish, if I regularly just use 3 of them? Beauty products are perishable, and I won’t be able to finish a fraction of my collection before they go bad.
It’s just my time, money, and resources wasted. I was ashamed by my spending habits. But instead of crawling into a ball and hiding from how I felt (like how I used to do), I acknowledged those negative emotions to help me do better.
Studies show that when we feel shame, it shuts down our creativity. But creative expression can help us move through and conquer shame.
To inspire my own creativity, I started trying to use everything that I already had. This meant experimenting with my makeup, putting together new outfit combinations, and trying all those skincare products I bought.
This helped me to better understand what I liked using / wearing, and what I needed to declutter. Remember, there is absolutely ZERO pressure to get rid of anything that you’re not quite ready to let go of yet.
Put those “maybe items” in a box and store them in your closet or under your bed. You can revisit those items someday and you may just find a new appreciation for them.
Decluttering my closet and other areas of myself gave me peace. Each item I let go of made me happier because I was freeing up more space.
Cleaning my apartment has become SO MUCH easier because I have less stuff to dust and take care of. My daily life has improved because there is less clutter and less mess to worry about.
I used to spend hours checking out shopping apps and shopping online – looking at what’s new, what’s on sale, upcoming promotions, and so on.
Now I have more time, more energy, and feel happier that I can focus on what truly matters in my life.
5. Embrace adversity and practice gratitude
The best way to push through adversity is to embrace it. This involves digging deep and examining your limiting beliefs to figure out what’s holding you back. Everyone’s limiting beliefs will be different.
For instance, some of my limiting beliefs were:
- I’m not good with money.
- I’m not good enough.
- I need to buy new clothes to be taken seriously by my peers.
- I need to buy more makeup to be beautiful.
- I will be judged if I repeat the same outfit.
Limiting beliefs can have a number of negative effects, such as preventing you taking new opportunities and reaching your full potential.
Fortunately, you can change your limiting beliefs by challenging your negative self-talk and practicing self-compassion. Replace negative self-talk with empowering beliefs that will help you work towards your goals instead of hindering it.
For example, instead of saying “I’m not good with money”, say, “I haven’t been good at managing money yet… but I’m learning and getting better each day”.
Another way to embrace adversity is to practice gratitude. This is also one of the most powerful tools to for creating abundance and happiness.
One of my favorite quotes that helps keep me in check is from Oprah Winfrey. She said, “If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you will never have enough.”
Start by practicing gratitude for what you already have. It’s hard to feel lack when you’re focused on everything that you have. As Tony Robbins says, “Gratitude is the solution to anger and fear. You can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously”.
This can be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal. Each morning, take a few minutes to write down at least 3 things that you’re grateful for. This can be both little and small things.
When you feel the need to buy things that you don’t need… ask yourself, “Why isn’t what I already have enough right now? Why do I feel like I need another / something else?”
The truth is – you will always feel like you’re behind whenever a new thing comes out, or if you decided to settle for something that “suits your needs” for now. It takes practice to shut that little voice down, but it’s possible and it all starts by practicing gratitude.
What I’ve come to realize is that my true motivation doesn’t come from a place to acquire more things… it comes from a place to inspire others.
You are already at 100% capacity of who you are. The void that I was so desperately trying to fill through mindless shopping was already filled. I was just thinking that it’s not.
The only void that we create is the void from our own mind. The void doesn’t actually exist. We just keep telling ourselves that we need to do “XYZ” in order to fill it.
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I’ll be happy when….” Such as, “I’ll be happy when I finally get that new handbag”. Or “I’ll be happy when I get that promotion at work”.
Practicing gratitude has taught me to live in the present and be happy right now. Life may not be perfect, and we all have ups and downs, but you can choose to practice gratitude and allow it to energize you and bring hope.
Even during tough times, keeping a gratitude journal has allowed me to see the bigger picture and get less overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. It’s not easy to do, and I’m still practicing, but it’s totally worth the effort.