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Buyer's remorse: what to do when you just can't say no

What is it about that little red 'sale' sticker that conjures up so much excitement and anticipation? Is it a genuine reflection of the individual's excitement to be saving money on everyday necessities? For some this might be true, but for shopaholics? Nuh-uh.

Understanding shopaholics

To understand a shopaholic is to understand the mind of someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a loving and genuine human being. Their need to spend is symbolic of their passion for the activity, their generosity in providing for others; and tendency to self-medicate through the thrill of the experience itself. However, romantic notions aside, there is perhaps a point at which a harmless activity intended to celebrate pay day, bond with loved ones or simply fill a few hours becomes compulsive.

Let's face it though, shopping isn't what it used to be. It's much, much easier which brings about all sorts of potential issues – the most obvious of which being that the new lipstick you need for that office party next week quickly becomes a new dress, new hair product, matching accessories ... and what about your feet? Ok, you've twisted my arm 'special member offer' ... a new pair of shoes also. You gravitate through your online experience as though your gazing in to Brad Pitt's baby blues ... subconsciously and with a touch of envy. What was supposed to be $50 ends up being $350.

Cue the buyer's remorse.

What is Buyers Remorse?

According to Wikipedia, buyer's remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase, frequently associated with the purchase of an expensive item. Whilst it may seem, at first glance, that these feelings of regret arise purely from overspending, the condition may also stem from a fear of making the wrong choice, guilt over extravagance, or a suspicion of having been overly influenced by the seller. The seasoned shopaholic will find any number of ways to feel disappointment and regret about their purchases, however central to these is the common link of price. Did I spend too much? I've got bills to pay! I can't believe I got sucked in! What will my husband say?!

Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin states that the emotions that arise as a result of buyer's remorse " ... reflect the engagement of the avoidance motivational system. This system helps you deal with any negative things that might happen in your world (such as debt)." This suddenly puts your overspending in to context, doesn't it? We know that money is the number one source of anxiety in Australia, so the guilt or regret felt as a result of buyer's remorse triggers the same response as guilt – albeit on a smaller scale. Regardless, it is just as useful to understand where it came from than it is to address it.

So, where to from here?

Practical tips to keep in mind when temptation rears its ugly head

  • Understanding that you have more control than you think over your actions. Your locus of control (that is, the extent to which you feel you can influence events and outcomes) is not a fixed state. Challenge yourself to forego that new handbag or winter coat, and every time you succeed you will grow in strength.
  • Train your brain to become more aware of your temptation to shop. Are your bored? Stressed? Upset? Give what you are feeling one of these labels, and replace your shopping behaviour/temptation with another behaviour that gives a 'happy hormone' hit' – e.g. take your dog for a walk or sit down to watch your favourite show on ABC iView
  • Avoid the 'danger zone': sit and reflect for a moment and try to identify if there is a particular geographic location, shop or website that where you know you would be vulnerable to an impulse purchase. Don't punish yourself, because we all need to spoil ourselves every now and then, but set some ground rules for when/why/how much you are willing to do so.
  • Write yourself a list and stick to it! It may sound simple, but the act of writing a shopping list doesn't apply just to your groceries. Write down your intended purchases and be extra vigilant in sticking to them. Call a friend or family member to warn them if you feel yourself veering off track!
  • See a therapist if you feel it is something you are struggling to control, or is having negative impacts on your family. It's 2017 people! No shame in a bit of self-improvement. Seeing a trained professional can help gain greater emotional awareness and healthy emotion regulation strategies to help you 'think before you act'.

Long story, short ... don't blame yourself as that only encourages the urge to self-medicate. Instead, learn to replace what's not right with another feel-good behaviour that actually addresses the problem (meditation, exercise, catch up with a friend for coffee). When the urge strikes, do something else more constructive and enjoy the process of discovering what that could be.

Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, financial situation or needs. You should make your own enquiries, consider whether advice is appropriate for you and read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or Product Information Document before making any decisions about whether to acquire a product

This article relates to the 
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