Can You Control Your Impulses This Holiday Shopping Season?

A new study from Oxygen Media reveals the widespread problem of dangerous shopping habits among Americans

The busiest shopping season of the year is barreling toward us -- and that’s bad news for Americans who can’t control their impulses. (Spoiler alert: That’s a lot of us.)

Oxygen Media just launched a new docu-series, My Shopping Addiction, about people with out-of-control spending habits who face their problems with the help of a clinical psychologist. And in combination with the new show, Oxygen released a study conducted with Research Now that examines the holiday spending habits of U.S. consumers, and it revealed that close to half spend more than they can afford during this time of year. And 36 percent say they have gone into credit card debt just to buy gifts.

Most Americans spend more during the holiday season than any other time of the year, with 81 percent saying they feel obligated to give gifts to those who give to them. More than half of those polled said they spend more than $500; and a quarter of respondents said they spend more than $1,000.

Both genders are big spenders. Women spend more on holiday gifts for children, close friends, co-workers and service people. Men spend more on holiday gifts for a significant other and for parents -- and they prefer to buy things for themselves than for others. (We’re sure there’s a joke in there…) But women seem to love a bargain: 80 percent report buying holiday gifts on sale.

Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and addiction expert featured on Oxygen’s new docu-series My Shopping Addiction – a show about young people with serious spending problems -- says that women may be in particular danger for falling into deleterious shopping patterns because of the tendency for positive reinforcement among their peer groups.

“There is shame [directed toward women who over-shop],” says Durvasula. “But the rush they may feel when somebody says, ‘Wow, you look fabulous,’ beats the shame.”

Because shopping is legal and socially acceptable -- compared against illicit drugs, for instance -- an addict can carry on in a dangerous pattern for a long time while the positive reinforcement continues. Durvasula points out that food is also legal, but when food addicts become overweight, they often cease to get positive feedback from peers. “But when you're shopping, the very thing you're doing that's harming you, the rest of the world is going to say, ‘Hey, you look fabulous,” she notes. “[The habit] is kept in place not just by the person, but by the world around them, and that makes it all the harder.”

And the holiday season, of course, confronts us with such an array of shopping opportunities that the level of temptation reaches "a fever pitch,” says Durvasula.

But take heart: You can avoid the pitfalls that cause you to overspend. First, Durvasula advises, plan ahead -- feeling rushed at the end of the season often leads to grabbing random items from shelves. Second, make a budget and stick to it -- consider spending only cash instead of concealing the damage on credit cards until later. Shop at times when you don’t feel depleted since that dragging feeling can lead to sloppy impulse buys. And consider shopping online to help manage temptations.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, now is an especially great time to consider new ways of gift giving altogether. Instead of material gifts, consider charitable giving in loved ones’ names. It’s a great way to create a budget and turn your spending into a tool to help the greater good.

Check out Oxygen’s new series, My Shopping Addiction, Mondays at 11 p.m. EST.

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.


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