If you’re anything like me, online shopping has become the go-to for everything from groceries to baby necessities. With access to all we could ever want or need at our fingertips 24/7, it can be difficult to tell if we’re actually shopping out of necessity or if it’s become an all-too-easy habit.
I know the line between the two can become quite blurred for me, so let’s take a momentary break from filling our virtual carts in order to take a deeper look at our habits. Read on for ways to understand, and take control of, the behaviors that may be creating financial stress in your life.
Online Shopping: Convenience or compulsion?
There’s no doubt that online shopping has made acquiring goods so much easier, especially during a pandemic. We’re able to buy most anything from the comfort of home, avoiding long lines and crowded parking lots, and receiving packages right to our doorstep almost instantly.
It’s all wonderfully convenient, but it can also become dangerous territory. The first step in being able to tell the difference between purchases of convenience or compulsion involves gaining a clear, honest picture of your shopping behaviors. Below are signs that you may be teetering on the edge of compulsive shopping behaviors, but remember that there’s no shame in this game. By offering yourself understanding and compassion, you can begin to take small steps to help you to get back on track.
- Noticing a preoccupation with shopping
- Buying unnecessary items or a plethora of needed ones
- Trouble resisting, or the inability to resist, online shopping
- Impulsive purchases
- Noticing a fleeting rush after buying things (and also noticing that shopping high isn’t enough, or the reward has a particularly short lifespan)
- Financial problems caused by excessive shopping
- Experiencing buyer’s remorse
- Feeling shame that leads to embarrassment and efforts to hide your shopping behaviors
- Using shopping as a coping skill
- Spending a great deal of time shopping or even browsing for excessive periods of time
- Your shopping habits begin to cause distress or impairment for you or those around you
How online shopping affects mental health
Picture you just loaded up your online cart from your favorite brand or retailer (I’m envisioning my go-to Amazon). Next, you’re hovering your finger or mouse over the “proceed to checkout” button and before you know it, the screen in front of you is celebrating your purchase.
There is comfort in buying something, a reward in tracking the package, and satisfaction upon delivery. The problem is that this temporary high can lead to an all-too-real crash. If you’ve exceeded your spending budget, once that initial rush is over, you’re left with a messy financial situation. You’re also more likely to experience feelings of shame, anxiety, or even depression. Know that you’re certainly not alone in this scenario – many of us have used shopping over the last two years to harness some sense of control and predictability.
Tips for establishing healthy online shopping habits
- Find your triggers. Try paying attention to what is going on within you and around you when you shop online. Are you trying to feel better about yourself or relieve negative emotions such as boredom, stress, or anxiety? Are you experiencing poor sleep or unhealthy eating? Are you scrolling your favorite sites at a certain time of day or in certain circumstances (maybe after a glass or two of wine, after scrolling social media, or when you’re lying in bed at the end of a long day)?
- Try sitting with discomfort. I know this one isn’t easy, but it can make a huge difference. If you tend to react impulsively to situations, practice identifying your urge to respond and then sitting with that discomfort so that you can choose a less impulsive and more productive or fulfilling response. Being able to notice and tolerate negative emotions and stressful situations will serve you well in all areas of your life.
- Create a self-care schedule. Once you have more information about what leads to your online shopping habits, you’ll be able to determine what you can do instead of shopping. Saying an affirmation, meditating, going for a walk, or calling a friend have all worked as healthier substitutes for me. Sure, it’s not the same rush, but that also means there’s no crash. Over time, it helps to see how substituting healthier habits can really lift our mood. Creating a self-care schedule can help you to feel more in control of your life and reduce the time available to shop online. It might even help to write down how often you spent browsing and buying online so you have a visual of how you had been spending your time and gently adjust from there.
- Give yourself an allowance. It’s not easy to make lasting changes, so don’t worry if you can’t break this habit overnight. It can help to set an allowance for yourself. Let’s say you’re going to allow yourself to browse or shop online for 15 minutes per day. You can cut that time back gradually, then instead of giving yourself time daily, you can stretch it out to every other day. Over time, you’ll be able to reduce the allowance to something you’re comfortable with. You can also do this by giving yourself a set amount of money to spend each week or month and holding yourself to the limit. Ask a trusted loved one or a mental health professional to help support you if you’re struggling to stick to the boundaries.
- Avoid using credit cards. If you’re worried about piling on debt, try avoiding credit cards and “buy now, pay later” options. You can avoid using money you don’t have by making your credit cards more difficult to access or by committing to in-person cash purchases.
- Make a list and stick to it. Really drilling down to the items that you need will help you avoid making any unnecessary or impulsive purchases. Before buying something, try asking yourself “Is this a want or a need?”
- Adhere to the save/give/spend method. This tried-and-true method asks that you save 20% of your income, give 10%, and spend 70%. If you’re experiencing a great deal of debt that is causing you stress, make sure you’re tending to paying it down so that you can feel more financially liberated and consider reaching out to a financial planner to help. Giving is of course optional, but it sure does feel good to help others in need. Remember that the 70% of spending includes your cost of living, not just the more frivolous purchases.
While we’re not huge fans of dramatic resolutions, taking steps towards healthier habits in this new year is a great place to start. So, the next time you’re feeling the itch to scroll and shop, try incorporating a few of these suggestions to see if they work for you. Here’s to less shopping and more self-care in 2022.
By Natalie Septer, Mental Health Coach
As a Sanvello Coach, Natalie is passionate about supporting people as they navigate life — in the good times and the bad. Her role is to help enhance self-awareness and equip clients with the tools necessary to live their best life. When she’s not seeing clients, Natalie is a yoga instructor, a podcast aficionado, and a mom to three boys. For self-care, she loves to read, journal, and exercise.