December 07, 2021

Compulsive Buying: Five Types of Shopaholics

We are blessed, both in this country generally and in Orange County in particular, with considerable abundance. It is not uncommon to float down PCH in a long line of BMWs, Maseratis, and Range Rovers; every other person you meet at South Coast Plaza wears a Rolex. In an environment like this, it is easy to see why we spend our downtime scrolling Saks.com. But how do you know when the fun kind of shopping has become more worrisome. How do you know when your buying has become compulsive—when shopping has come to feel like a need; when shopping has become a consistent release and escape from your feelings?

Just in time for the holidays, we give you the five faces of compulsive buying:

1. The Showoff Spender

Are you known to pick up the tab for the entire dinner party? Is your closet filled with logo items and brand names, whether you can afford them or not? If this description resonates, you may be a Showoff Spender. For this type of spender, spending is not merely spending but a reflection of self-worth, and a means of demonstrating how important or prestigious you are. 

2. The Bargain Addict

You are a hunter and your prey is a good deal. Of course, there is nothing wrong with frugality. The problem comes when finding the best price gives you a sense of control, power, and triumph. Your bargain addiction may even be related to childhood issues, with the seller standing in for a despotic parent who withheld love and affection and the buyer (you) finally “getting one over” on the withholding authority figure.

3. The Urge-Buyer

Do you “deserve” that new Gucci bag? Do you hit Farfetch when you’re feeling down, and the only thing that can console you are the new Dolce earrings? Moreover, does shopping make you feel elated but the aftermath is one of shame and anxiety? Yet another sign that you may be an Urge-Buyer is hoarding. Is your cupboard brimming with collectible coffee mugs? Is your closet full of clothes with the tags still on? Often this type of spending suggests a feeling of deprivation: a scarcity mentality. You may be trying to “fill” a void by gathering objects around you. Perhaps at one time in your life, or even still, you did not have enough. 

4. The Love-Me Spender

This type of spender is the Santa Claus of the group. You buy items for everyone you know, from close friends and family to mere acquaintances? Your goal, whether you know it or not, is approval and love. Unfortunately, the recipient may view your generosity with suspicion or unease, particularly if your relationship is not close. The unintentional converse effect of this type of spending is that it both comes from fear of abandonment and brings about the very abandonment you fear.

5. The Binge Spender

This type of compulsive spender has a simple MO: spend until there is nothing left, so the spender has no choice but to live simply. The end goal of this form of spending is self-punishment; “feeling bad” may be the actual goal. 

If you recognize yourself in any of these spending styles, seek help. Addressing your underlying issues is a smart path to recovery. In the future, with self-reflection and hard work, you can get to the place where a scarf is just a scarf and an antique vase is just a vase. As with any addiction, recovery is possible.