… let’s continue from where we left off shall we? Oniomania, a new word we learnt from last week’s Womenomics blog post about the financial implications of being a shopaholic, which Financial Advisor, Sheila-Anne Robey simply defined as the act of being a consumer with an addiction to buying or shopping. 

If you missed last week’s blog post, you can quickly catch up here: https://www.artofsuperwoman.com/2021/05/27/hi-my-name-is-and-im-a-shopaholic/ 

Maxing out your credit card, going way over your budget, making excuses, feeling guilty – but still finding yourself trapped in the cycle of uncontrollable spending, all in the name of ‘retail therapy’, are signs that indicate you may be addicted to shopping.

“The misconception of ‘retail therapy’ as seen in business ads appealing to your emotional need to buy their product, or use their service without giving you the chance to consider your physical need for shopping, things like movies or the likes of Instagram, do not make it easy for people to manage their shopping in a healthy way,” says psychologist, Ashley Motene. But it all starts in the mind and the only way of dealing with any addiction, is identifying and dealing with the psychological effects of the root cause.

Motene says that there are several reasons why people may be addicted to shopping. “Some people shop when they are highly stressed, while others develop an obsession with finding what they see as the perfect item. You also find people who shop to uphold an image of being flashy or known for only buying original things. Others are bargain buyers who are addicted to buying items that are on sale; often susceptible to Black Friday promotions, and online deals even if the discounts aren’t really saving them money. All these are as a result of brain chemicals in which in turn affects our decisions around behaviour like shopping,” she explains.

“Applied health sciences professors like Ruth Engs, have found that shopping can release happiness hormones in your brain, which bring about temporary feelings of excitement linked to your new purchases. Whilst you may feel happier in the moment, you might not feel satisfied with your income-generating work, life in general or your financial decisions after shopping,” says Motene. Some of the chemicals linked to cycles of being a shopaholic include;

  • Dopamine, which enables motivation, learning and pleasure. 

According to neotracker.com, when you see sales items while shopping, it triggers a sensation of instant gratification. The more you feel good about a sale, the more likelihood you will continue to shop. But afterwards, similar to alcoholics or drug addicts, intense feelings of guilt may arise. To get that high again, however, we go back for more. Dopamine has the potential of perpetuating negative habits as it creates ‘the need for rewarding yourself.’

  • Endorphins release a brief euphoria to mask physical pain. This chemical responds to stress and alleviates anxiety and depression. 

In the previous blog, recovering shopaholic Reatlegile Mampa shared how losing her mother brought about great grief in her life, and as a result, she turned to shopping to fill that void. “Experiences of pre-trauma may contribute to trying to distract yourself from your stressors by irrationally shopping for certain items,” says Motene. 

  • Serotonin this feeling is significant or important among peers. This chemical brings about a calm form of accepting yourself with people around you.

This chemical is capable of enabling the habit of making risky decisions seem more appealing and as a result, shopaholics are prone to making decisions that have negative consequences, such as getting deep into dept just for a temporary feeling.

So, how do you break the cycle? Motene recommends taking the following steps: 

Step 1: Seek accountability: Not all family members or friends are psychologically safe or responsible enough to help you manage your shopping tendencies, or addictions – especially if they benefit from your shopping which makes them potential enablers of your behaviour (e.g. benefitting from takeaways, alcohol or you buying items for them in the process). Acts like going shopping with others, sharing your shopping list or budget with trustworthy people who are close to you, can help you to manage your expenditure and give you feedback.

Step 2: Consider leaning on other financially like-minded women for support:  This can be through money-saving and responsible shopping social groups with a sound financial purpose, and strategies like stokvels with other women, crowdfunding investment groups, and social media groups where you can find encouragement to save, tackle debt, share details about promotions, buy responsibly, learn money-saving, home management hacks, and also share healthy shopping victories.

Step 3: Take time to make big financial decisions:  Once you have seen something that you want to spend money on, give yourself a mental break from being preoccupied with the item or service. It gives you time to reassess your need for that item/service before spending money, to research and compare prices as well as to psychologically prepare yourself for the financial commitment (i.e. once off or an instalment payment using cash, credit, savings or a combination). In doing so, you minimise the psychological risk of experiencing buyer’s regret or guilt. 

Step 4: Seek professional psychological support: If you are struggling to manage your shopping tendency or think that you may be addicted to shopping, making an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist may help you to address the cause of your behaviour, to help you develop a healthy relationship with money and shopping as well as work on different strategies for making decisions. That is a positive step towards recovery and growth. Some sources for professional support, include  The Counselling Hub or South African Depression and Anxiety Group. 

The next time you feel the urge to shop, stop and ask yourself what need you are satisfying. One that has use for the item you are buying or one that is subjected by the need to a hormonal urge to serve a not so good addiction.