By Nicole R. Pramik
Shopping has evolved into a pastime. Can you relate?
Impulsive shopping involves making a purchase based on a deep-seated feeling that you simply must have it, resulting in a sense of euphoria that comes from making the purchase. But when the newness wears off, the cycle continues.
Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic observed that while we see purchases in light of their functional purposes, we also buy things for their symbolic value. Thus we perceive purchases in light of a deeper meaning, which can become warped. Impulsive shoppers trick themselves into believing that what they buy can bolster their sense of self-worth or give them a sense of control.
I know from personal experience the frustrating cycle of impulsive shopping. Yet once I recognized what I was doing and why, I was able to revise my spending habits and regain self-control.
Entering the Cycle
For many years I didn’t struggle with impulsive buying, as my parents instilled in me wise money habits at an early age. Yet my resolve slipped when I met George (not his real name). Despite early red flags, I allowed our friendship to continue, as this was my first in-depth relationship with a man who seemed genuinely interested in me. Hoping to impress George and convince him to move past the “friend zone,” I fell into impulsive spending habits.
I purchased clothes and pricey cosmetics so I could always be seen wearing something new. I got heavily into online shopping and frequented the mall almost every weekend. I gravitated toward purchases I thought would make me more attractive, relishing the high that came with owning something new. This continued for nearly two years; and while I never got into debt, I spent more than what was prudent.
People shop impulsively for a variety of reasons, from a desire to keep up appearances to numbing emotional pain by distracting one’s self to a materialistic drive governed by a see-it-and-grab-it mentality. My reason was to get George to be attracted to me. However, I realized he was not the good, godly man I had been longing for as he repeatedly disregarded my personal boundaries. I wisely ended the relationship yet still paid the price for my lack of self-control in my shopping habits.
I had spent more than I had saved. I was angry with myself and ashamed at being so careless with my money. Worst of all, I had constructed a negative mental stronghold regarding my self-image. I hung on to a lie that I had to transform myself in order to meet my future husband. But rather than work internally on becoming the type of woman such a man would want to marry, I strove to maintain an imaginary external appearance.
Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic said impulsive shopping habits can emerge “when we perceive a lack of control over situations.” An overworked, underappreciated employee might buy new tools or tech gadgets, as he can have a sense of control over their usage. Introverted teens might become addicted to in-app purchases or online gaming, as they at least have control over a simulated environment. A busy mom might purchase more toys than what’s judicious as a means of trying to control how her children perceive her. Feeling like we have little to no control drives us to find solutions, even if said solutions are to fill our lives with material items or purchases that don’t help.
This was true for me as I have always struggled to trust God with my love life. In order to feel like I had a sense of control, I shopped to improve the image of myself I constructed inside my head. While I have recovered from my impulsive spending habits, I am mindful of the thoughts that can feed that mentality. But through prayer and with biblical wisdom, I have developed some strategies that have helped me regain self-control in this area of my life.
Getting a Pulse on the Impulse
God laid it on my heart that I should shop with a future mate in mind. No husband would appreciate his wife going into debt or spending frivolously, so I decided to curb those habits now while still single. I’m inspired by the Proverbs 31 woman who was a good steward of her household’s resources, which caused her husband to praise her (vv. 28, 29). I aspire to be that kind of wife someday, so I decided to develop better spending habits now, as God also wants us to be good stewards of what he’s entrusted to us at all points in our lives.
I retrained my brain to know that wants are not synonymous with needs.
Buying things because we want them isn’t inherently wrong. God doesn’t ask us to live as Stoics, denying ourselves all sources of happiness. As Solomon observed, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13). However, personal enjoyment gleaned from shopping has to be done, not with reckless abandonment, but with self-control by being mindful of our resources and what we can live without.
I distanced myself from “trigger purchases” that caused me the most struggle.
So I took a break from the mall and limited online purchases by taking stock of what I already owned. Perhaps your trigger purchases might be tech gadgets, jewelry, cookware, video games, exercise equipment, or books. Those things aren’t sinful to buy; yet there can be too much of a good thing. By temporarily avoiding things that launch you into a spending spree, you can assess what you already own. This is a good way to learn to be content with and grateful for what you have, as God has promised to supply all of our needs—this applies to material needs as well as spiritual concerns (Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:19).
When I found myself torn over whether to buy something, I distanced myself from the item.
Sometimes that meant carrying an item through a store to give myself time to think about it; other times it was leaving something in an online shopping cart for a weekend. When distancing yourself from a purchase, ask yourself two questions: Can I afford it? If you need to save money toward a needs-based purchase, then it’s best to pass. Then ask, What am I buying it for? This allows you to assess your motivations. If you’re buying something—whether that’s a new sweater or a new smart phone—for personal enjoyment and you can afford it, that’s fine. But if you’re buying things to impress others, improve your sense of self-worth, or as a means to make you feel like you have a sense of control, then it’s not a wise or worthwhile purchase.
Shopping with Self-Control
Impulsive shopping is a seemingly harmless habit that can swiftly turn into an addiction. Thankfully for myself, the cycle ended before it could consume me. While learning how to manage our resources is a lifelong process, we can start by practicing self-control over what we choose to spend our money on and why. Closely examining our shopping habits is a valuable exercise in self-control as we learn to enjoy what we have now and gain a better appreciation for the things we buy later on. Though the Bible doesn’t teach us specifically how to shop, it does instruct us to be wise stewards and not abuse or misuse the resources God gives us.
In the same way, we’re called to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), which includes feelings of low self-worth, a sense that life is out of control, or the belief that what we buy defines who we are. By adjusting our thinking and curbing impulsive tendencies, we can better enjoy what we have and see our personal value in the internal light of the Holy Spirit, not under the glittering lights of a shopping mall.
Nicole R. Pramik is a freelance writer from Kentucky.