Impulse Shopping: A Controllable Handicap
A good friend and former client of mine was always cheerfully depressed in our regular financial review meetings. Inevitably at each consultation she had either made no headway on her debt repayments, or even worse had dug herself a little bit deeper into the red.
Her weakness: impulse shopping. All too often she found herself in a store searching for a black skirt for work, and walking out with a red shirt, blue skirt, three scarves, and two pairs of jeans - but no black skirt. Then off to the next store looking for a coffee table, walking out with bags upon bags of other items she "needed" but didn't actually need.
To her, the need was to walk out of a store with bags in her hands. Even if she didn't find what she wanted, there was some part of her that was satiated from an afternoon spent shopping if she could return home with all sorts of new loot in her possession. You could say her eyes were bigger than her pocketbook.
Inevitably, she would feel terrible about her purchases within a week. But by that time she had ripped all the tags off, used or worn the items, and made them part of her life such that even though they were constant reminders of her inability to afford them, she couldn't let go of them.
And in this way my friend passed many debt-ridden years of her life: living amongst rooms upon rooms of "stuff" she didn't need and couldn't afford in order to have the satisfaction of a day spent shopping and buying.
Impulse shoppers: if this is a tune you know well, you are not alone! There is indeed something strangely satisfying about carrying all those beautiful paper bags out of the store, taking your loot home, and finding a place for that perfect ornament, pair of shoes, or kitchen utensil.
But if your pocketbook doesn't agree, there is a solution, which my friend discovered and has been using successfully for years.
Two Day Rule
Feeling satisfied with the day's purchases, my friend will carefully set her shopping bags in a corner of her home and not touch them for two days. This is a hard and fast rule, not to be broken. As much as she needs what is in those bags, she cannot even look in them for two days.
After the two days are up, she allows herself to pull the items out of the bags, but not to take any tags off. She lays them out for a third day to admire her wares and to truly decide if she needs the items she bought.
The other trick to this scheme is that my friend only buys items from stores with a cash refund policy. Reason being, after the three day trial period, she inevitably returns most of the items she bought on impulse. A few prized possessions might make it through this rigorous process, but if they survive the trial period, she is happy to keep them and absorb the financial consequences of doing so.
I am in no way advocating a shopping spree with subsequent returns of the items purchased as a financial plan or solid financial advice!
But I will say that my friend managed to dig herself out of a mile-high pile of retail debt by recognizing her weakness for impulse shopping, and using this disciplined approach for managing it in the best way she could. Just like yo-yo diets, using extremes (like stopping something cold turkey) to manage a problem is rarely a viable long-term solution; creativity and a little discipline can be much more effective, and possibly even fun.