Compulsive shopping: Key signs & how to cope

If you are worried that you might be prone to compulsive shopping or compulsive buying then this articles will help you work out if you are and understand the causes of it.

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The factors that can cause compulsive spending vary from social pressure, lack of tracking spending, and emotional spending amongst others. Read on to find out more and to learn about practical tips to manage your finances effectively and avoid compulsive spending disorder.

What is compulsive shopping?

Compulsive shopping, also known as compulsive buying disorder or oniomania, is characterized by an irresistible urge to shop and spend money, often resulting in negative consequences such as financial troubles and emotional distress.

Key signs of compulsive shopping

Some key signs of compulsive shopping include:

1. Preoccupation with shopping

Constantly thinking about shopping, planning shopping trips, or fantasizing about buying new items.

2. Frequent shopping binges

Engaging in excessive shopping sprees, whether in physical stores or online, often resulting in buying items that are unnecessary or unwanted.

3. Buying beyond one’s means

Making purchases that exceed one’s budget or financial resources, leading to debt and financial problems.

4. Emotional triggers

Shopping to cope with negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, or loneliness. Shopping provides a temporary sense of relief or pleasure.

5. Hiding purchases

Feeling the need to hide or downplay the extent of one’s shopping activities from family or friends, often due to shame or embarrassment.

6. Feeling guilty or remorseful

Feeling the need to hide or downplay the extent of one’s shopping activities from family or Experiencing guilt, regret, or remorse after a shopping spree, particularly when the items purchased are not needed or when money is tight.

7. Compulsive online shopping

Spending excessive amounts of time shopping online, often late at night, leading to sleep disturbances and reduced productivity.

8. Accumulating unused items

Owning a large number of items that go unused or are still in their original packaging, as the pleasure comes from acquiring rather than using the items.

9. Neglecting responsibilities

Prioritizing shopping over important responsibilities like work, relationships, and household duties.

10. Failed attempts to control or stop

Repeatedly trying to cut back on shopping or quit altogether but being unable to maintain control over the behaviour.

11. Declining financial situation

Suffering from severe financial problems, including mounting debt, maxed-out credit cards, and trouble paying bills due to excessive spending.

12. Relationship strain

Strained relationships with family and friends, as they may become concerned about the compulsive shopping and its impact on the person’s life.

It’s important to note that compulsive shopping is considered a behavioural addiction and can have significant negative consequences for a person’s well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive shopping, seeking professional help can be an effective way to address the issue and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

The emotional and practical downsides of compulsive shopping

1. Stress and anxiety

Financial difficulties caused by shopping can lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Constant worry about unpaid bills, mounting debt, and financial insecurity can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional well-being.

2. Guilt and regret

Many individuals who engage in compulsive shopping often feel guilty or regretful after each shopping spree. This emotional burden can be particularly heavy when they realize they have wasted money on unnecessary or impulsive purchases. This is even worse when it is money they cannot afford to spend.

3. Debt accumulation

Credit card debt, personal loans, and other forms of borrowing may increase to cover compulsive buying. As interest accumulates, it becomes increasingly challenging to pay off the debt.

4. Reduced savings

Money that could have been saved for emergencies, future goals, or retirement is often depleted due to shopping, leaving individuals with little to no financial security.

5. Impaired financial goals

Financial problems can derail or delay important life goals such as buying a home, pursuing further education, starting a family, or traveling. This can lead to frustration and a sense of stagnation.

6. Relationship strain

Money problems due to compulsive buying can strain relationships with family, friends, and partners. Loved ones may become frustrated, worried, or disappointed by the individual’s financial irresponsibility.

7. Legal consequences

In extreme cases, excessive shopping and accumulating debt can lead to legal issues, such as bankruptcy or lawsuits from creditors. 

8. Negative self-image

Those experiencing financial problems due to shopping may struggle with self-esteem and self-worth issues. They might feel ashamed or embarrassed about their inability to control their spending.

9. Lifestyle changes

To manage their financial problems, individuals might need to make significant lifestyle changes, including downsizing, cutting back on non-essential expenses, and creating strict budgets.

10. Denial and avoidance

Some individuals with compulsive shopping tendencies may deny the severity of their financial problems or avoid addressing them. This can perpetuate the cycle of financial instability.
It’s essential for individuals facing financial problems due to shopping to seek help and support. Addressing the root causes of compulsive shopping and developing healthier coping mechanisms is crucial for regaining control over one’s finances and overall well-being. Additionally, creating a realistic budget and a debt-repayment plan can be practical steps toward financial recovery.

Compulsive shopping checklist

1. Constantly buying things you don’t need

It can lead to financial strain, regret and low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and cluttered living spaces.

2. Lying about shopping

This is a common behaviour among compulsive shoppers, often used to conceal the extent of their spending from friends and family.

3. Constant thinking about shopping

This can consume one’s thoughts and lead to impulsive spending decisions.

4. Feelings of guilt after shopping

These often arise when one realizes that their purchases were unnecessary or financially irresponsible, causing a sense of remorse and regret.

5. Turning to crime

When left unchecked, compulsive buying can sometimes lead individuals to turn to criminal activities such as theft or fraud in an attempt to fund their compulsive shopping activities.

6. Zoning out while shopping

This involves someone becoming so engrossed in the act of shopping that they lose track of time, surroundings, or their original shopping intentions.

7. Constantly buying more & more

This is a hallmark of compulsive shopping, where the desire to acquire items becomes insatiable and often leads to financial problems.

Risk Factors of Compulsive Shopping

Risk factors for compulsive spending, also known as compulsive buying disorder (CBD) or oniomania, include a combination of psychological, environmental, and personal factors. These risk factors may contribute to the development of compulsive spending behaviours:

Psychological factors

Impulse control issues

Difficulty in controlling impulses and urges to shop impulsively is a significant risk factor for compulsive spending.

Emotional dysregulation

Individuals who have difficulty managing their emotions, such as stress, anxiety, or depression, may use shopping as a way to cope with emotional distress.


Personality traits


Perfectionistic tendencies, where individuals seek to achieve unrealistic standards, can drive compulsive spending as they attempt to acquire items to fulfil these ideals.

Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem may turn to shopping to temporarily boost their self-worth and self-image.


Genetic and family history

Family influence

Growing up in a family with a history of compulsive buying behaviours may increase the risk of developing the disorder. That said, this doesn’t mean it has to be difficult to get free from compulsive shopping, in fact it can be incredibly easy.


Environmental factors

Easy access to shopping

Living in an environment with ready access to shopping centres, online retailers, and credit facilities can make it easier for compulsive spending to occur.

Consumer culture

Societal pressure and the culture of consumerism, with a constant emphasis on acquiring material possessions, can contribute to compulsive spending.


Personal history

Traumatic events

Individuals who have experienced traumatic events, such as loss, abuse, or financial difficulties, may turn to shopping as a way to cope with their past experiences. This does not mean that they cannot get free from compulsive buying. Not only can they get free – they can find it easy to do so.


Co-occurring disorders

Substance abuse or other addictions

Individuals with co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse or other behavioural addictions, may be at higher risk for compulsive spending.


Neurobiological factors

Brain chemistry

Some research suggests that imbalances in brain chemicals, such as dopamine, may play a role in compulsive spending. This may be a factor in why someone does it – but it does not mean they cannot get free easily.


Personal habits

Online shopping

The ease and convenience of online shopping can increase the risk of compulsive spending for some individuals.
It’s important to remember that not everyone with these risk factors will develop compulsive spending disorder, and the severity of these factors can vary from person to person. Effective treatment can help even the worse cases to freedom.

How to stop compulsive shopping

1. Identify triggers

Compulsive spending, or compulsive buying disorder, can be triggered by various factors, and these triggers can vary from person to person. Some common triggers for compulsive spending include:

Emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or boredom can trigger compulsive spending as a way to cope with these feelings and seek temporary relief.

Exposure to advertising and marketing, particularly in a consumer-driven society, can stimulate the desire to shop. Sales, discounts, and marketing tactics can be compelling triggers.

Peer pressure as a result of social situations, friends, or family members who encourage or endorse shopping as a form of leisure or a way to fit in can trigger compulsive spending.

The ease and convenience of online shopping coupled with the ability to make purchases at any time, can be a significant trigger for compulsive spending.

The accessibility of credit cards, store credit, or buy-now-pay-later options can enable compulsive spending by providing immediate purchasing power.

Special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, or celebrations may trigger excessive spending, as people feel the need to buy gifts and engage in retail therapy.

Comparing one’s possessions or lifestyle to others can lead to a desire for more, triggering compulsive spending to keep up with perceived social standards.

Individuals with low self-esteem may turn to shopping to temporarily boost their self-worth and self-image, particularly if they believe that acquiring material possessions will make them feel better about themselves.

Perfectionistic tendencies can lead to compulsive spending as individuals seek to attain unrealistic standards or ideals through the acquisition of items.

Some people may experience heightened urges to shop at specific times of the day, such as late at night when self-control may be lower.

Understanding one’s specific triggers for compulsive spending is an important step in managing the disorder. Developing awareness of these triggers can help individuals implement strategies to control their impulses and find healthier ways to cope with emotions and stress. Seeking professional help is often an effective way to address the underlying issues and develop better strategies for managing compulsive spending behaviours, even better if you are able to eradicate compulsive spending behaviours.

2. Unsubscribe & delete store apps

Unsubscribing from and deleting store card apps can be a practical strategy for managing compulsive spending and reducing the temptation to make impulsive purchases.

3. Get help

Talking to a trusted friend or family member can really help to put things into perspective and move forward to escaping from compulsive spending. Allen Carr’s Easyway have several options with regard to getting out of debt.

4. Make spending difficult

Making spending difficult for yourself can be an effective strategy to curb impulsive and compulsive spending. Here are some practical steps you can take to make it more challenging to spend money:

  • Create a budget
  • Limit access to cash and cards
  • Set spending rules
  • Use cash envelopes (a different envelope for each area of spend)
  • Unsubscribe and delete apps
  • Freeze credit cards
  • Delayed gratification (a waiting period before purchasing)
  • Use shopping lists and stick to them
  • Automate savings to achieve saving goals you set

Remember that making spending more difficult for yourself is not about depriving yourself but about being intentional and responsible with your finances. It can help you avoid impulsive purchases and prioritize your long-term financial well-being. If you find it challenging to control your spending despite these efforts, don’t panic – just seek help and support.

5. Challenge your spending

Share your financial goals and budget with a trusted friend or family member who can help hold you accountable for your spending.

When to seek help

The best time to seek support is right now! If you’re reading this – there is no doubt that you will benefit from it and once you do – the world will feel like a much better place for you.

Read more about how to get out of debt

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