To Buy or Not To Buy

Why we overshop and how to stop.

Mindful Shopping

Turn mindless shopping into mindful shopping.

Ours is largely a culture of spur-of-the-moment, impulsive, recreational, mindless shopping; we typically put about as much conscious thought into it as we do into digesting. With the current economic crisis, now more than ever its crucial to stay emotionally centered and mindful-of what you plan to buy, of what you can comfortably afford to spend, of what you're responding to, and above all, of who you are and what really matters to you. By now we all know that a transaction need not occur within the walls of a store for it to be "shopping." And no matter how clearly you know what you're shopping for, there are always pressures to overshop. Shopping-at a mall, on the Internet, or even from a catalog-is almost guaranteed to stir up feelings and impulses. Mindful shopping can help in all of these cases.

The key to any successful, reasonable shopping experience is a plan for each shopping trip you make. Whether the trip's virtual or physical, guidelines must be set in order to maintain control of shopping desires, and your money. If you're shopping on the internet or by phone, keep the specific plan open beside you. If you're shopping away from home, have your plan with you and review it before you begin. This plan should always start with a list of the specific items that you intend to purchase. Once this list is complete, evaluate the necessity of each item on your list and assign each item a score. If the item seems totally unnecessary, it gets a zero, if it's somewhat necessary, it's at one-third, very necessary, two-third, and if it's essential, it should be a 1. Any items with low scores should be seriously reconsidered. Then note where you'll shop, how long you'll shop for, who you'll shop with, who you'll shop for, and finally, what you can comfortably afford.

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As far as the logistics of purchases, each venue requires different treatment. For brick-and-mortar shopping, think through the route you'll take-to the mall, through the mall, and through the store-so dangerously tempting departments or sidetrips can be avoided. Regardless of where you plan to shop, limit your browsing time: the longer you browse, the more you'll buy. Allocate a certain amount of time to spend in a store, or to find your particular item within the store. But before you make any purchase, there's always time for a "mindful pause." This mindful pause is key to creating space between your impulse and the action of buying. Walk away from the item or put it down; you make even have a salesperson hold it. Then find a place to sit. This is the time to ask yourself and answer (preferably in writing), these six key questions:

 

Why am I here?

How do I feel?

Do I need this?

What if I wait?

How will I pay for it?

Where will I put it?

If you're shopping on the internet or by phone, keep you plan open beside you. Write down which sites you'll visit and/or which keywords you'll search. This is your digital "map". Once you've located your item online, sit down in a peaceful place away from the computer. This is your mindful pause at home, which gives you the choice to buy or not to buy and helps you to become aware that you have a choice. Ask yourself the same questions noted above.

Then, only make the purchase if you're very certain that it's something you need and can afford. Use cash, check or debit card only! Immediately after the purchase, review the experience. If you were shopping in a mall or in a store, take note as soon as you get home. How well was the plan carried out? Was this a successful, mindful shopping experience or does you need to reconsider this purchsae and maybe return it? If the plan went awry, what can you do differently next time to make your plan more likely to succeed?

If your shopping trip went according to plan, reward yourself! Reinforce your behavior so that it becomes a habit by acknowledging what you've done with some non-material reward. Take a walk in a garden, take a long bath, do something for you, something that makes your heart sing. There are an infinite number of rewarding experiences that cost you nothing and highlight the wise old adage that the best things in life are not only free, but often priceless!

 

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April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. She specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder.

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