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I need to be honest here.
I live for that feeling. Walking into a store—especially a big box store like Nordstrom.
I love the smell, the music playing subtly in the background, the perfectly dressed and sized mannequins. The beautiful clothes and home items that are brand new, promising me feelings of satisfaction and enoughness with their perfectly placed price tags.
I love the feeling of thinking I need something new and being able to go out and buy it.
According to Forbes:
“By definition, impulse buying is the act of purchasing something you weren’t planning to after feeling the sudden urge to get that item. You’ll feel the impulse side of things before you participate in the buying.
It’s the gut reaction you have when you walk past a cute pair of shoes on sale or see that T-shirt with your team logo in a store window. You didn’t know you needed it until you saw it. Basically, in one instant, you’re ready to shove your money at the store just to gratify that impulse.
Whew! Sounds pretty impactful, no? It’s hard to ignore the feeling, but it’s doable.”
When I was a kid, there were many things I coveted in others that we couldn’t afford.
I remember stepping out of my apartment one day and finding a 10 dollar bill laying there in plain sight. I snagged it up excitedly and ran to tell my mom. She took me to K-mart and I got two shirts at five dollars each! One was white with a three-quarter length sleeve, a buckle on the right shoulder, and netting material on the sides. The other was a white cap sleeve with a pink ribbon and had some lace on the shoulder.
I popped back into third grade the next day with my new shirt and I felt like a million bucks; nobody could have told me anything that day. I had a strut in my step and felt cool and popular. I felt like smiling that day; I felt confident and self-assured. Other kids looked at me and said hi to me who normally wouldn’t have.
In my brain, I correlated my newfound confidence with a material possession. Clothes make me happy. Having enough clothes will solve all of my problems. Looking good is what matters. New clothes = success.
I noticed, as early as first grade, which kids had Nikes and compared them to my Payless Pro-wings. I knew they were different and that I was somehow less than. I hated going to K-mart with my mom and felt embarrassed, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew from school. She said, “Well, just remember, if you see someone you know here, they are here too.”
Shopping for me filled a childhood void. I remember my aunts and grandma taking me shopping and I felt so special, so worthy. I loved the colors and textures and being able to pick something out just for me.
So do I love clothes and fashion? Yes, that’s part of it. I do love shopping and clothes, fabrics, and textures, but the truth is, I love the rush and thrill of using my card to pay for things. I love feeling like I am enough in the eyes of the cashier and people I see (who are usually complete strangers).
That is strange to say, but by the simple act of making a purchase, something registers in my body and brain that tells me I am enough—I am worthy. It is a deep-seated lack that is temporarily filled with a new purchase.
From a psychological perspective, I lacked nurturing and love growing up, and so I continually try to fill that void with material possessions. Since I know this about myself, why don’t I just stop and get control of the urge and impulse to fill myself up externally?
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
The truth is, I love wearing new things and while my husband can go years without a purchase and cares little about his outer appearance (and I would go on to say he felt loved and nurtured as a child), I must shop to feel like I am a productive member of society, and like I am enough. Consumerism at its finest hour.
So how does that work? Well, it doesn’t.
I’ve had to make some huge strides for the last decade to change my spending ways.
Here are some examples:
1. I went to Debtors Anonymous-A 12-step group, working to get to the root of spending addiction, impulsive/compulsive spending, and underearning (working for less than what you are worth), which is a self-esteem issue. The goal in DA is to stop incurring unsecured debt.
“Compulsive debting is a disease. We have found that it is a disease that never gets better, only worse, as time goes on. It is a disease, progressive in its nature, which can never be cured but can be arrested.
This disease affected our vision of ourselves and of the world around us. It led us to believe that we were “not enough” – at home, at work, in social situations, in love relationships. It also led us to believe that there is not enough out there in the world for us. The disease manufactured a sense of impoverishment in all that we did and saw. In reaction to this, we withdrew into a dream world, fretted over money, and avoided responsibilities.”
2. I joined Dave Ramsey and cut up all of my credit cards in a group full of people.
Dave Ramsey is a popular money guru and used to have classes at churches all over the place. He has a book and video program for around a hundred dollars. It was hard but worth it. I still don’t do it nearly 100 percent.
3. I talked about money in therapy. Most people go to therapy to talk about relationship issues, but guess what? For most people, money is a relationship issue. When couples have different spending habits, it can wreak havoc on their marriage. Bring it up out into the open and talk about it with a therapist.
4. I am horrible at budgeting, but it was suggested to me to write down everything that I spend. It is eye-opening to see how often the few dollars here and there add up.
5. Have a plan. I can’t just go shopping for the fun of it anymore. I have to have a reason to walk into a store (especially Target). I have a list, and I stick to it. If there is something I see and am dying to have, I make myself leave. If I am still thinking about it the next day, I can think about it and go back, but more often than not, once I am back home and out of the store, I completely forget about that item and am glad I didn’t purchase it.
6. Plan for big purchases. This is something I’m still working on. I want what I want and I want it now. Why plan? YOLO! No; smart money people would tell us to have a plan. To think ahead when it comes to big purchases like a trip or a sofa.
But, they offer payments with 90 days same as cash. It’s still debt, and I can’t do it. I admit I finance a car, and Dave Ramsey would say to only pay cash for vehicles, but I’m not there yet.
7. Stop comparing. I don’t know others’ financial situations, and what it looks like on the outside is usually a facade. When I am buying something to impress others, or after seeing someone else with whatever it is on social media, I have to check myself (before I wreck myself).
I see people with the newest house, car, furniture, or vacuum on social media, and I have to have it. It’s the best form of advertising—but it’s not.
Planned purchases with research are ideal, and if we’re going around buying everything that everyone else has, where does that leave us? We don’t all have the same budget. We don’t want to be clones.
Stop and think for yourself. Do I need this? Is this item going to bring me the desired status I am seeking from others? Am I buying this because I like it, or because my friend has it and I will think I’ll be good enough if I have one too?
Most all of all, learning to find my worth and value intrinsically, not through material possessions outside of myself has been the most valuable tool.
I still feel that wild impulse to go buy something, and shopping online is a struggle for me because it’s way too easy to push that “buy it now” button, but overall, I have been much more accountable financially to myself and my family. I have to tell my partner what I’ve purchased and how much it cost when my whole body wants to hide it and fudge the numbers.
I am still a work in progress, but learning that what I’m seeking can’t be found in a store is essential to my well-being. Learning that my worth isn’t based on what I’m wearing and that, hopefully, people will still like me for who I am, and not what I adorn.
One of the promises in Debtors Anonymous is, “We will live within our means, yet our means will not define us.”
Let’s take that to heart and stay focused on our internal worth. We are worth so much more than racking up debt and spending impulsively. That is what the stores want us to do. They perfectly craft the lighting and music. They perfectly place items in spaces that will draw us to them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in being a pawn in their sales game. I want to be thoughtful and meditative about purchases and create a minimalist lifestyle.
More is not always better. Let’s work to keep it simple.