Compulsive Shopping: Money Management, Motivation, and Expectations


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Many people spend above their means during Christmas. Image by Zereshk.

In the United States, the percentage of compulsive buyers is increasing, from 6% in 2006 to 9% in 2008. Today, compulsive buyers make up as much as 10% of the population. The average credit card debt for a person living in the United states is about $10,000, most of which is from unneeded purchases.

Compulsive buying is a chronic and repetitive purchasing problem that is often seen with a loss of control over buying and continued shopping even through negative consequences: debt, negative emotions (guilt and disappointment), and negative effects on social relationships.

It is likely that materialism is a precursor for compulsive buying because it suggests a psychological benefit (mood and identity) from spending. In addition, poor money management can also lead to compulsive buying since there is no buffer to stop the spending.

To see how compulsive buying works, Donnelly et al. wanted to “determine the unique contributions of buying motivations, transformation expectations, and money management in mediating the relationship between material values and compulsive buying.

Compulsive Buying, Monetary Connections 

Material values can predict compulsive buying. Buyers are often at war with “short term emotional factors” and “longer term rational concerns.” To control their spending habits, buyers use a strategy that helps them resist the impulse to buy. The method most mentioned is the consideration of economic costs, but since compulsive buyers do not have a regard for this, it can be suggested that their desire is greater than their willpower.

Unlike compulsive buyers, other people reduce their bad spending habits by making a budget and monitoring their spending behavior. Because of this, money management is seen as a mediator between material values to compulsive buying.

This, however, does not mean that materialists do not worry about finances. The truth is that they do. In an interview with Dr. Howell, who worked on the study, materialists may even worry more about finances than the average person. He told Decoded Science,

 “…materialists place a greater value on financial well-being and success-however, research also shows materialists are less satisfied with their finances and standard of living. In sum, money is important to materialists, and they want more of it. However, because they feel a lot of excitement of a seemingly promising purchase “in the now,” maybe this overrides responsible planning. This might be especially true when materialists think about their insecurities; during these times they would rather focus on a simple and quick fix rather than a long-term improvement.”

 According to this research, materialists “may be trapped in a cycle of falling below their financial expectations and, ironically, compensating for this disappointment by shopping.”

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