Holidays Beckon: What's an Overshopper To Do?
Tuesday, December 08, 2009

By: April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

Consciousness is the watchword for problem shoppers, particularly as the holiday season approaches, and most particularly amidst all the over-optimistic talk of economic recovery.  Consciousness means not allowing yourself to shop as a way of trying to satisfy emotional needs. It means becoming aware of what triggers your shopping urges and genuinely acknowledging their consequences: financial, familial, at work, and with friends. And it means distinguishing your wants from your needs, as well as recognizing that many of those wants have been foisted on you by a massive and highly sophisticated marketing machine, rarely with your best interests at heart.

Since retailers make much of their year’s profit over the holidays, expect to be bombarded with highly stimulating ads these next months. Given the deeply sluggish economy, sales will be tantalizing. What’s an overshopper to do? Keep it real. Make a plan. Decide on a reasonable amount you can spend, and then decide just how you’ll slice that pie. When you shop, keep in mind the repeated result of studies: “shared experiences . . .  offer greater value than material buys. Pleasant memories don’t fade in the wash or go out of fashion” (Lee Eisenberg, Link).

And whatever you buy, be the driver; don’t be driven.  I recommend that problem shoppers carry a card with them and answer these six questions before any purchase:

1. Why am I here?

2. How do I feel?

3. Do I need this?

4. What if I wait?

5. How will I pay for it?

6. Where will I put it?

And if you're buying for someone else, instead of "Do I need this," substitute

"Does the receipient need this and will he/she use this?" and for "Where will I put it?" substitute "Where will the receipient put it?"

Do this honestly—and every time—and you’re on the road to shopping sanity. Above all, don’t fall prey to the myth of product transformation. Though marketers have taught us to think otherwise, things don’t transform us: not the shampoo, or the clothes, or the jewelry; not the fountain pens, the cars, or the houses. We are who we are—and if we want to change ourselves, we need to move from mindless buying to mindful being.

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is a nationally known psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. She has been in private practice in New York City for over 30 years and works with individuals and groups, both in person and by telephone. She is the founder of Stopping Overshopping, LLC, the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and editor of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Benson please visit her site by clicking here.