Are You a Shopaholic? Five Profiles of Compulsive Buyers

When does shopping become "compulsive buying"?

Posted Dec 27, 2018

Natalie never saw herself as someone who had a "problem" shopping: The only time she ever bought anything was when it was on sale. She truly enjoyed bargain-hunting and finding exclusive sales on shopping forums, and would often buy things for other people. To her, shopping was not only an activity she enjoyed, but stopping by her favorite outlet mall after a stressful workday always gave her a much-needed lift.

Stockpic/Pexels CC0
Source: Stockpic/Pexels CC0

Does Natalie have a problem with shopping? According to research outlined in Benson's "I Shop Therefore I Am," compulsive buyers are those who are psychologically driven to shop. What matters to such shoppers is not the amount they spend, but the effect that the very act of shopping has on them. Here are five profiles of "compulsive buyers" outlined in Boundy's "When Money Is the Drug." Does Natalie — or do you — fit the bill?

1. An "image spender" is always the first to offer to pick up the tab or purchase logo-heavy items, often spending in a very conspicuous way, even when it’s unaffordable or unnecessary. For this type of compulsive buyer, image is everything, and their sense of worth is derived from being perceived as if they are more important or impressive than they really are.

2. The "bargain-hunter" — someone who searches for good deals and haggles with a seller — is easily mistaken as a savvy shopper. In reality, this person can usually afford to pay full price for the item, but instead derives a sense of power, control, and "victory" when bargaining over the seller. This form of compulsive buying is theorized to relate to childhood issues, wherein the seller is a parental proxy, representing the mother or father who constantly withheld anything from their child. By "outsmarting" the parental proxy through bargaining down the price by pointing out defects or other similar strategies, or even walking away from the product, the buyer feels the thrill of having won over the seller and gotten exactly what they wanted — a sense of control over their possessions and life.

3. The "compulsive shopper" is one who shops unconsciously to avoid negative feelings, including depression, anger, fear, loneliness and boredom. When shopping, this type of shopper feels entitled, and often rationalizes spending as something "I deserve." During shopping, this person often feel excited, in control, and has a sense of well-being, but once the shopping is over, and the shopper has settled at home, negative emotions — like anxiety over the amount spent and shame over not being able to control — take over, and the shopper feels let down over the items purchased as not giving the same high when first bought to boot. As a result, this type of compulsive buyer often has hoards of items in his or her home that go unused, and clothing with the tags still on. This type of shopping may be related to feeling deprived, and the act of shopping allows for indulgence or, more commonly, is a strategy to cope with negative emotions in the short term.

4. The "codependent spender" is one who purchases for others in order to win their approval, friendship, loyalty, or love. This type of shopper usually purchases items for family, friends, and acquaintances alike, or anyone from whom they seek approval, appreciation, cooperation, or control. The unintended effect is that through the giving, the recipient may feel the strings attached, resulting in confusion, incongruity, or even resentment. Though unintended, this acts as a sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the shopper: They give because of a fear of being abandoned, but the act of giving, in fact, may be part or whole of what drives the abandonment itself.

5. The "bulimic spender" spends until there are no more funds left to spend as a way to impose limits on oneself. This type of buyer, however, feels deeply ashamed once all of the funds are spent. As noted, “perhaps feeling bad is what the bulimic spender is driven to seek.”

If your spending habits are out of control, consider seeking professional help in case there may be underlying issues fueling the need to shop. 

References

Boundy, D. (2000). When money is the drug. I shop, therefore I am: Compulsive buying and the search for self, 3-26.

Benson, A. L. (Ed.). (2000). I shop, therefore I am: Compulsive buying and the search for self. Jason Aronson.