12 Clear Signs Your Shopping Is Out of Control

Updated: Feb. 09, 2017

Could you be among the more than 15 million Americans with a shopping addiction? Here are some signs that your spending is crossing the line.


You have a closet full of clothes with tags on them

You don’t have to be adorned in new garb every day to be a shopaholic. In fact, it’s pretty common for a compulsive shopper to have items that sit unopened or with tags still attached—things that you’re “saving” for when you really need them, explains April Lane Benson, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. For women, these purchases often include clothing, jewelry, shoes, and accessories; men tend to buy bigger-ticket items like watches, cameras, and sports equipment, she adds.  Check out the sneaky ways stores trick you into spending more money.

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You can’t go a day or two without buying something for yourself

Even small purchases—like new lipstick (in the same shade you already have) or thank-you notes to add to the pile you’ve stocked away in a drawer—can signal problem shopping if they happen chronically. That’s because these unnecessary transactions, though small, demonstrate a lack of control when it comes to spending. “There are the big binge shoppers, and then there are the shoppers who are spending money where it’s a death by 1,000 cuts—in other words, no individual purchase is bad, but it adds up,” Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Smart Change: Five Tools To Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, told Yahoo Health.  Here are habits of people who are good at saving money.


You experience “shopper’s high”

Shopping addiction is fueled by a powerful cycle of emotions—and this includes that sense of exhilaration or “high” after making a purchase that can become addictive. Shopping releases the brain chemical dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Dopamine also plays a big role in drug abuse as well as other addictive behaviors like gambling. Some people even experience a sexual feeling during the act of shopping, according to researchers in World Psychiatry. Here are other signs you could be helped by therapy.


You experience a let-down or buyer’s remorse after a spree

We’ve all heard the saying “what goes up must come down.” When compulsive shoppers buy something the brain’s reward center is stimulated, giving rise to that euphoric feeling or “shopping high” they can become dependent on. But the high is quickly followed by a lowered mood after a purchase, explains April Benson, PhD, creator of ShopaholicNoMore.com. This can include feelings of disappointment, stress, guilt, and remorse. A true shopping addict, however, can rationalize any purchase if challenged—and this is despite remorse.  Here are other white lies we tell ourselves and others.


You’ve gotten in a fight (or two or 20) with your partner over shopping

Whether the argument is over mounting bills, unnecessary purchases, or hours spent browsing online, if your partner notes your compulsive shopping habits, it’s a good indication that you have a problem, Kimber Shelton, PhD, a psychologist based in Duncanville, Texas, told Addiction.com. When the cycle of shopping and spending has negative consequences on your relationships, it’s a telltale sign that it’s time to seek help. Another red flag: You’ve continually promised your loved one that you’ll stop or cut back—and you can’t.


You depend on “retail therapy” to cope with stress or anxiety

Shopping makes most of us feel better and, in fact, a survey from the coupon site Ebates.com found that more than half of Americans admit to “retail therapy,” or shopping to boost your mood. In moderation, this can be good for you; shopping can increase dopamine levels and reduce stress and anxiety. If you’re a compulsive buyer, however, you’ll begin to rely too heavily on these feel-good effects, which will become fleeting and quickly replaced with guilt or frustration over your inability to stop shopping. “Retail therapy becomes a red flag when it’s seriously impairing the person’s life,” notes Dr. Benson.  Here are better ways to cope with anxiety.


You feel anxious or irritable if you can’t shop

As with other types of addictions, compulsive buyers will experience cravings, or feelings so strong and exciting that they’re frequently uncontrollable. The shopping addict will even ignore the negative consequences of overspending, such as family conflict, bankruptcy, and legal difficulties. What’s more, when you can’t go shopping, you may experience withdrawal symptoms (like irritability or anxiety), and a feeling of regret for all the great buys that were missed. Here’s how cognitive behavioral therapy might help change your behavior.


You can’t focus at work or at school

Shopping addicts find themselves preoccupied with thoughts of shopping and become psychologically dependent on these thoughts. They spend a great deal of time strategizing the hunt: what to wear, what to buy, where to shop, how to pay for the items. A compulsive buyer thinks about shopping and buying so much, that it drains his or her resources—time, energy, and/or money—and results in a significant impairment in some aspect of life, explains Dr. Benson. Check out these tips to help you stay focused.


You’ve skipped work or social obligations to get your shopping fix

A shopaholic has an extreme pattern of behavior in which the need to buy compulsively interferes with personal relationships, hobbies, work, and social obligations. It’s common, for example, for a shopping addict to choose shopping over work/school or times spent with friends and family. Studies also show that those with a high risk for compulsive buying disorder may be more interpersonally sensitive. This can cause them to feel socially shy and avoid social situations.


You’ve begun hiding bills and forging signatures

And/or you’ve become increasingly dependent on credit; for example, you’ve increased your credit line or signed up for new credit cards. Buying items that are beyond your budget or unneeded are hallmarks of shopping addiction. Problem shoppers are four times less likely to pay off credit cards in full. While splurges go on year-round, spending often intensifies during the holiday season and around the birthdays of friends and family. This is known as compulsive gift-giving.


You’ve started hiding your habits and purchases

Stashing bags in the spare bedroom closet or attic or covertly shopping online in the middle of the night or when your coworkers are on lunch break likely means that your shopping is getting out of control, especially if these behaviors are jeopardizing your relationships or employment. In general, studies show that shopping addicts tend to shop alone so it’s not too surprising that sneaking around is part of the behavior.


You’ve tried and failed numerous times to stop

True shopaholics feel compelled and torn because they are aware of the problem but unable to stop the behavior. That means that if you or someone you love is trying to overcome a shopping addiction, you’ll likely need to seek help. Although shopping addiction isn’t considered a bona fide addiction (though many therapists say it is) you can find counselors to help. If you’re looking for a 12-step group, Debtors Anonymous and Spenders Anonymous both offer regular meetings where you can share your struggles with others who are overcoming overspending. Here are other secrets addictions counselors won’t tell you.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest