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A friend, let’s call him Aaron, used to buy the latest everything including sneakers, clothes, gadgets and more. He estimates that he spent five figures in the span of a year. 

He said, “I was mentally distressed and didn’t even know it. I was spiralling. There were a lot of factors in my life causing depression. And spending was my way to cope.”

The pandemic has affected Canadian shopping habits. Brick and mortar sales may have fallen, but online shopping skyrocketed. Statistics Canada found that between February and May 2020, online sales surged 99.3%. 

It’s not always clear what leads to our over-spending. But, buying for an emotional rush can be a symptom of a larger problem.

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What is impulse buying? 

Have you ever shopped because you were bored, stressed, unhappy or even to celebrate? That’s impulse buying – also known as emotional spending. 

Researchers at Butler University found that emotional spending happens as a way to exercise some control. Especially during periods of negative emotions or poor self-esteem. They also found that people get a hit of happiness hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine when they spend money. 

During the pandemic, Canadians were encouraged to shop and support local businesses. And ads continue to shape our desire to click and buy. So, it’s no wonder people turn to shopping as a way of making themselves feel better. 

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How can you deal with impulse buying?

Let’s walk through 9 ways to cope. 

1. Identify triggers of emotional or impulse spending.

Take time to figure out what triggers your urge to buy. 

Aaron says that during periods of emotional and mental turmoil, he saw shopping as therapy. To help identify triggers, consider journaling, especially when you feel negative emotions.  

Journaling is the act of writing down what you’re thinking and feeling. It can help you deal with your negative emotions so you’re less likely to spend.

Aaron says, “I was forced to confront my triggers because it was becoming damaging to those around me. I cancelled credit cards that my wife didn’t have access to. I sold things that we deemed unnecessary. And, I tried to share the feelings that cause me to impulse shop.” 

2. Try new hobbies.

They can help you work past the triggering emotions and help you avoid spending.      

Look for low- to no-cost activities like walking, exercising, drawing, or writing.

3. Remove fast access to spending.

You can do this by:

  • disabling your PayPal account,
  • removing your credit card information from websites,
  • turning off auto-saved banking information, and
  • cancelling any unnecessary credit cards.      

If you’re using cash, limit your spending by taking out a set amount. Then, leave your debit card at home. Having to find your cards to make a purchase will prevent spending during heightened emotional periods. That breathing room can help you step back, identify your mood, and choose an alternative. 

4. Create a budget that works for you.

And don’t make it too strict. That can cause you to spend more because you’ve left no room for the odd treat. People who are prone to impulse buying and don’t have a reasonable outlet can overspend. So, budget a little wiggle room.     

You can use an online budget calculator to help you manage your spending. Just remember to create a flexible budget that works for you.

5. Set new financial goals.

Having a list of new goals or financial priorities can help you resist impulse buying. It could be:

  • a major home purchase,
  • a trip, or
  • saving toward retirement.

Whatever you goal is, write it down. Keep the list where you can see it when you get the urge to shop. 

If you’re saving for a big goal, you may want to work with your advisor. A Sun Life advisor can help you create a savings plan that works best for you. If you don’t already have one, you can find an advisor near you.

6. Try a no-spend challenge.

There are several challenges that could help motivate you to avoid spending. They often have established goals that can provide the structure you need.  

Popular challenges include:

  • not spending any money for a day or for a week,
  • avoiding impulse purchases on clothing, and
  • not going to the grocery store until you’ve used everything up. 

Whatever you do, make sure to start small. Don’t spend for a day or two. Then, work your way up to bigger goals. It also helps if you have a place to put the money you saved. It could be in a high-interest savings account or emergency fund.

7. Try to avoid advertising.

It’s everywhere. But, there are ways to avoid it. 

To help prevent impulse shopping, consider:

  • unsubscribing from retail emails and avoid visiting stores or sites,
  • installing an ad blocker, and
  • avoiding Instagram, Facebook or YouTube because of advertisers and influencers promoting products. 

8. Treat yourself smartly.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t buy yourself something occasionally. In fact, it can boost your mood. Just make sure that you’re buying for the right reasons. And that you’re not using shopping to cope with something more serious. 

Make a plan for your shopping. Then, create your budget and keep that list with you so you don’t get tempted. 

9. Get professional help when you need it.

A serious shopping addiction can affect your:

  • finances,
  • credit score and
  • relationships.

If you feel like you may have a shopping addiction, reach out to a mental health professional. 

If you have benefits at work, you may also have an Employee Assistance Program. This program can provide you with access to mental health services. E-therapy or virtual counselling can help you deal with impulse buying. 

Let us guide you

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Need to find a mental health care provider?

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This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical or financial advice, or a substitute for that advice.