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To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop

To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop

4.6 14
by April Benson

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Are you a shopaholic?
Do you use shopping as a quick fix for the blues?
Do you often buy things that you don’t need or can’t afford?
Do your buying binges leave you feeling anxious or guilty?
Is your shopping behavior hurting your relationships?
Have you tried to stop but been unable to?

If so, you are not alone. Nearly 18 million


Are you a shopaholic?
Do you use shopping as a quick fix for the blues?
Do you often buy things that you don’t need or can’t afford?
Do your buying binges leave you feeling anxious or guilty?
Is your shopping behavior hurting your relationships?
Have you tried to stop but been unable to?

If so, you are not alone. Nearly 18 million Americans are problem shoppers, unable to break the buying habits that lead them into debt, damaged relationships, and depression. If this describes you, or someone you care about, the help you need is here.

Drawing on recent research and on decades of working with overshoppers, Dr. April Benson brings together key insights with practical strategies in a powerful program to help you stop overshopping. As you progress through this book, you’ll take back control of your shopping and spending and create a richer, more meaningful and satisfying life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This warm, wonderful book provides a road map for making the journey from overshopping to full recovery and life balance. I particularly enjoyed the use of mindfulness techniques. Every overshopper needs this book!”—Olivia Mellan, Overcoming Overspending

“An extremely helpful book. Dr. Benson provides a practical, step-by-step method for recognizing, controlling, and finally stopping a shopping problem. I recommend it without hesitation.”—Lorrin Koran, MD, Stanford University Medical Center

“If you are a compulsive or chronic shopper—as millions are—this book may well save your sanity, your relationships, your marriage, or even your life.”—Jerold Mundis, author of How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously

“This book instructs wisely about the problem of compulsive buying and how it might be reasonably overcome.”—New England Psychologist

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 2: What Hooks You and Unhooks You
Triggers and Aftershocks, Values and Vision

In the previous chapter, we looked from a broad psychological perspective at what lies behind overshopping. Now our focus narrows to the immediate precipitants, which we call “triggers,” and to the negative consequences of overshopping, which we call “aftershocks.” In this chapter, you investigate and document your personal triggers and aftershocks—and then you begin to connect the dots between them. You look at the overshopping sequence—triggers ➝ actions ➝ aftershocks—whose three elements unfold like a little Rube Goldberg machine: a squirrel drops a nut on a lever, the tripped lever releases a trapdoor, and a ballerina drops down onto a miniature hay bale. Triggers lead to overshopping, and overshopping leads to aftershocks.

Once you’ve worked with your triggers and aftershocks, you look at them within the context of your values and vision. Then, so you can make an informed decision about stopping, you identify and balance the benefits and costs, learn what to do when your heart and head disagree, and discover ways to maintain and boost your motivation. Finally, having learned about getting hooked and unhooked, you arm yourself against the inner grinches that may kick and scream (and try to steal from you) as you stop overshopping.

The Urge Strike: What's Triggering You?
A trigger is a starter, some stimulus that elicits a response, something that stirs you up, an itch that makes you want to scratch. It’s anything that inclines you in particular toward shopping: something you see or hear or think or feel or experience or remember that stimulates you. It can be as pointed and specific as a Sale sign or as all encompassing as the loss of a loved one. A trigger can lead directly and immediately to the action of buying—you pass a store window with an eye-catching display of the exact shoes you’ve coveted—or it may initiate a chain of intermediate steps that culminate in buying. (It’s worth noting that being in an emotionally or physically vulnerable state predisposes you to being triggered. Hungry, angry, lonely, tired—these and many more physical and emotional states are times to pause, to halt rather than do something impulsive. On a day when you’re feeling physically strong and in high self-esteem, it’s much less likely that your usual triggers will set you off.)

To organize our consideration of triggers, I’ve divided them into five types—situational, cognitive, interpersonal, emotional, and physical—and offered common examples of each in the self-recognition exercises below. As you read through the questions, statements, and phrases below, check off any that apply to you (even if not exactly). Then, dedicate a page in your Shopping Journal for a list of your triggers, copying any important ones from this exercise. Write only a word or a few words on each line, just enough to jog your memory, but make the list as clear and complete as you can. Put your most potent and/or typical triggers toward the top, and put down as many as you can think of. You might even want to paste in a visual reminder, something you’ve cut out from a magazine, perhaps, or a price tag, a receipt, a sketch, a business card, a piece of fabric—anything that will remind you of what you need to steer clear of. Throughout your work with this book, add additional triggers to the list as you discover them.

    Common Situational Triggers
  • If you see a Sale sign in a store window or get an announcement of a sale in the mail, do you have trouble passing it up?
  • Do you almost always buy something new when you have an important party or event to attend?
  • Do birthdays and other holidays lead you to overshop, either for yourself or for other people?
  • Do you feel compelled to buy things you see in magazines or on television?
  • Do you spend a lot of time looking through catalogs?
  • Do you see someone wearing something and decide you have to have it?
  • Does rainy, cloudy, or snowy weather bring out the shopper in you?
  • Does being homebound (for whatever reason) cause you to shop?
  • Does merely being at the computer tempt you to shop online?
  • Does being off from work with no plans set you up for overshopping?
  • Do you overshop when you go on vacation?
  • Is your living space so cluttered and disorganized that you buy things you think you need but in fact already have?

    Common Cognitive Triggers
  • “If I don’t buy this DVD now, I’ll never be able to get it.”
  • “I’ve done a terrific job on this paper; I deserve something special.”
  • “I feel so guilty for yelling at my daughter that I’ve got to buy her that jacket she wants.”
  • “I’ve kept my cool with my teenage son this week; I need a reward.”
  • “Those sneakers [or earrings or gloves or boots] are so cool! I want a pair, too.”
  • “I look terrible! Some Botox and some new makeup would help. This is an emergency. I’ll put it on my credit card.”
  • “My Volvo has no sex appeal. I really want a Mercedes.”
  • “When I find pants that make me look thin, I’d be a fool not to buy them.”
  • “This high-end attaché case spells success to everyone who sees it. It’ll get me new accounts.”
  • “I’m not going to retire for at least twenty-five years. Why start preparing now?”
  • “I’ll never save up enough money for a trip to Japan. I might as well liquidate my vacation account and buy that fabulous designer suit.”
    Common Interpersonal Triggers
  • Do you shop when you’ve had a fight with a friend or a family member?
  • Does someone’s commenting negatively—or positively— about your appearance send you shopping?
  • Does wanting to fit in or impress your peers drive your shopping?
  • Does being with a particular friend predispose you to go to the mall?
  • Does seeing someone else get something you want lead you to overspend?
  • A favorite salesperson calls to tell you that there’s something new in the store, “with your name on it.” Are you off and running?
  • Is retail therapy your favorite response to a demanding or sick parent or child?
    Common Emotional Triggers
  • Life is looking pretty dull and gray to you. Does shopping always connect you with a brighter emotional shade?
  • Something or someone is really annoying you. Do you shop to forget about it?
  • It’s hard to shake the sadness that you’re feeling in your gut. Does this send you in search of mood-enhancing bargains?
  • You’re feeling underconnected and lonely. Do you go shopping to be around other people and then find yourself buying?
  • Do you habitually use people you pay—personal trainers, for example, or beauty experts, yoga instructors, dance teachers— to fill some kind of emotional void?
  • You’re excited, maybe even euphoric. Does a mood like that send you shopping?
  • You remember a happy experience—maybe even a good shopping trip. Do you shop to try to re-create those feelings?
  • You feel stressed and overloaded. Do you find that one way to decompress is browsing (which in your case all too often leads to buying)?
  • You often judge yourself: whatever goes wrong seems to be your fault. To drown out some of the self-blame, do you submerge yourself in stuff?
  • You’re constantly hounded by thoughts about what you should or shouldn’t be doing and what you should or shouldn’t have done. Have you found that one of the only ways to keep such thoughts at bay is to get in touch with your inner shopper?
  • You feel embarrassed or ashamed about some aspect of your behavior, character, or lifestyle. Do you use shopping as a way to try to cover it up?
  • Whether vaguely or distinctly, you’re anxious and restless. Does shopping seem to calm you down?
  • Do you think you have to keep buying gifts for friends, family, or coworkers, either in order to be liked or because you believe you owe it to them?
  • You’re constantly comparing yourself with other people.
  • Is shopping a way you try to silence your feelings of envy, jealousy, or inadequacy?
    Common Physical Triggers
  • You’re trying to watch your weight, and you’re feeling hungry.
  • You shop in order to avoid eating.
  • You’ve got a stress headache, and, rather than take care of yourself by lying down or taking aspirin, you figure you’ll distract yourself by browsing in a store with soft music.
  • Your lower back is acting up again; one way to forget it temporarily is to spend an afternoon at the mall with some friends.
  • It’s 3:00 a.m., and you’ve been tossing and turning for hours. Why not put on the TV and see what’s happening at QVC or HSN?
  • You’re out with friends after work, and you’ve had a few drinks. On your walk to the train station, you see a pair of shoes you have no business buying, but the alcohol has affected your judgment.

And Then What Happens?

Aftershocks are the undesirable consequences of overshopping—the costs, whether financial or otherwise. Until now, the consequences of your overshopping, even if they haven’t been positive, have been positive enough for you to continue with this behavior. The fact that you’re working with this book, however, suggests that you’re beginning to recognize and face the aftershocks.

Shopping aftershocks span at least as wide a territory as triggers;
I’ve organized them into seven categories. The financial impact of your overshopping behavior is the most concrete and most countable aftershock, but it’s merely the visible tip of the iceberg. Lurking beneath are other, sometimes even more important costs—costs to your relationships, your emotional life, your work life, your physical body or your living space, your personal development, and your spirit.

Meet the Author

April Lane Benson, PhD, is a nationally known psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. She has appeared on several national television programs including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and the CBS Evening News.

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To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
dkoehnke More than 1 year ago
As an over shopper myself I can honestly say this book is amazing. I already know that I overshop but I never thought of why and she does an amazing job of telling you why you over shop. what triggers the urge and how you feel when you get the urge, when you shop, and when you get home. when reading this I found my self thinking yep, thats exactly what I feel. Then she walks you through how to combat the urge to splurge and how to controll yourself when you do go out shopping. I think the best part is she understands that shopping makes me feel GREAT and I need a pick me up of somekind, so I find a new way to make my self happy! I havent finished the book and I dont think i will ever be done rereading it and using all the great steps!
O--O More than 1 year ago
This book doesn't only point out the problems of overshopping but it fixes the problem from the root. And the techniques provided are applicable to different kinds of addictions from compulsive eating to compulsive shopping. This book is more of an interactive book. It contains different exercises that allow you to think through and it also had audio files online that you can use to help you. Dr. Benson also included charts that'll help you organize your spending and that allows you to evaluate your purchases. If you follow through with the practical strategies and easy techniques throughout yourself you can not only control your shopping but you can also create a more meaningful life. With alternative ways of dealing with negative feelings you gain so much more. i would recommend this book to anyone who has issues with overshopping.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For someone who is absolutely an "over-shopper," I would say this book is priceless. Ironically, someone seeking help for compulsive spending may find it contradictory to go out and spend $16.95 on a book helping you to stop spending; however, it's worth it. If there was a "guru" of compulsive shopping it would be Dr. Benson. Knowledge, experience, and personal insight give her the reliability and proper knowledge base to guide others and help those of us out there who know credit cards are our version of crack or heroin how to cut the addiction and helps find the root problem behind impulsive and compulsive buying. This book also includes various journal and data log templates which are very helpful. Absolutely the best book on the topic; finally made me feel like I'm not the only one dealing with this.
Pandababy More than 1 year ago
Take one (former) shopaholic. Give her a Ph.D. in psychology and ten years experience treating over-shopping. Publish her book about how to get free of the vast consumer conspiracy surrounding us, and you have Dr. April Lane Benson and her vital new book: To Buy or Not to Buy. This is not a comfortable book for me to read. I find my behavior unmasked and as undeniable as my shoulder-length gray hair. Have I used shopping to feel better about myself? Yes. Have I used shopping to avoid confronting a situation I want to avoid? Yes. Have I used shopping as a weapon to express anger? Yes. Sometimes yes to all of the above, and other questions in chapter one. Like a trip to the dentist, confronting my negative behavior and the psychology behind it can be painful, but also healing. I love this book, because there is healing in getting the rot out. Dr. Benson offers a way to find authentic happiness to replace the false esteem of keeping up with (or exceeding) the 'Joneses'. She points out the relentless consumerism driving our economy, with tentacles invading our conciousness through stores, malls, television, catalogs, Internet and even cell phone shopping. She uncovers the true cost of credit card purchases, and documents the ways invisible forces demand that we buy "more more more and now now now". Knowledge is power. Self-knowledge is the power to change. To Buy or Not to Buy is a tool that can enable us to get free of our compulsive shopping. If you are confident that you don't have any shopping addictions, I challenge you to go to a bookstore and browse her book - consider the many ways we can fool ourselves into buying things to fill an emotional hole rather than a material need. I recognized some of my buying patterns in her analysis, and also patterns of friends and relatives. Our materialistic society is even more insidious than I suspected. There is compassion and not condemnation in Dr. Benson's words. I recommend her book and I will be spending the next three months working through all the exercises. I have two pages of notes this morning, a start to the journal she recommends keeping. There is no such thing as an insignificant cavity - as we all know, sooner or later it will destroy the tooth. I am going to be working on the occasional - but not insignificant - ways that I over-shop, and expect that the result will be good, even if the process is sometimes painful.
fionastory 11 months ago
This book is targeted to people with severe compulsive buying addictions. It covers the entire process of dealing with addiction; from the first steps of recognition to the last steps of mental exercises/habit changing, and even dealing with relapses. One of the main strategies employed throughout the book is the use of a shopping journal, in which shopaholics record everything they purchase, the reasons for each purchase, reflections on recent shopping outings, and even the deep-seeded causes of their addiction. One of the main components of the book is about these deep-seeded reasons that people shop. Benson introduces a series of mental exercises that allow readers to categorize their behaviors and ultimately pin down the causes of their behavior. This section is absolutely crucial to the process because readers can see exactly what they need to do in order to counteract their impulses and eventually curb their addiction. Overall, I was surprised by how much I learned from this book, especially because I do not personally have a shopping addiction. The lessons regarding conscious spending and really analyzing the reasons for buying things are important for everyone to know. I especially found interesting how many can trace their spending habits back to their own childhoods and early exposure to money. For example, those who had babysitting jobs early on or even received allowances often handle money much more efficiently than those who only started making money for themselves in college or later. In addition, I appreciated how genuine each exercise felt; it was easy to see that Benson is truly an expert in her field and knows how to get results.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this book is very helpful for people who do not know how to control their shopping habits like myself. I would recommend this book to all over shoppers. Job well done Dr. Benson !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! She got her message across without being too "preachy" and I thought that her suggestions/ tips would be very helpful. She had a very warm and soft tone. Once I began reading, I didn't want to stop. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dolivera More than 1 year ago
This is the ultimate guide to reducing and eventually completely eliminating your urge to over shop. As the type of shopper who spends hours on end looking for  "good deals" over the internet this book really helped a lot. Although my personal situation is not as developed as others while reading this book I began to truly understand what drives me to buy and how to prevent it. The various interactive "shopping journal" questions significantly increased my urge to continue my fight against compulsive shopping.This book helps to rebuild yourself into a controlled shopper without replacing one bad habit with another, the process of first identify the true reason behind our shopping and then acting by resolving those problems really works. Wether you are just begging to realize how much time and money you are spending on shopping or your completely caught in the grasps of over shopping this book will help! I highly recommend this book to compulsive shoppers any age, male or female, and remember the hardest part is admitting you have a problem so pick up this book today!
mariacMC More than 1 year ago
I think this was a really good book. I love how she shows you step by step what you doing wrong and what you have to do to fix it. I do not have copulsive buying disorder but I had to read this book for a class and im glad I read it now I know fersure I won't even have this disorder. This book reminds me of the movie "Shopoholic", which is also a very good movie.
TheGoddess More than 1 year ago
This was an overall good book, very interesting at times. I liked how the author, Benson, dove into the psychology aspect of why we may shop so much since I am currently taking AP psychology at my school. I also liked how she appealed to those of a more spiritual nature in an attempt to heal oneself when discussing solutions. She definitely organizes the book well and even gives the reader a series of checklists to fill out so that they can identify the things that cause them the most trouble in regards to compulsive shopping. It also helps the reader identify whether or not they are a compulsive shopper and the reasons why they may be. The only thing that I may not have liked so much is that at times it gets a bit repetitive, but like I mentioned earlier, it is an overall very good book. I had to read a book for an econ class and I chose this one because I hoped it would help me since I buy things I do not need a lot of times and it has. However, I didn't know that it was for hard-core compulsive shoppers, the kind that are in financial debt and have their relationships ruined over this kind of stuff, and would recommend the book either for them (it'll definitely help you) or for people who are just interested in the psychology behind buying or interested in people who have serious shopping problems. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love books a lot, but I'm very picky sometimes. I had to read this book for economics and i fell in love with it because i feel like it really relates to me and this book teaches you how to shop wisely and when you need to stop shopping, and now when i go shopping i think about these guidelines. This book really teaches you about compulsive shopping and how to stop.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was easily read. I read it in 4 days and I hate reading. I had to read this book for a class and ended up recommending it to everyone. Whether you have an addiction or not, this book is worth reading. It helps with saving your money, knowing your own body, living for yourself, and so much more life changing advise. I give this book an A+. You may not think you are an over shopper untill you read this book.
XX More than 1 year ago
To buy, or not to buy: that is the question: The consequences of not taking control of one’s ingrained behavior can lead to suffering outrageous misfortune. The author’s empathetic prose helps the reader take an introspective look at prior events and current problems of over shopping. Through means of behavior modification, the reader can achieve a healthier fiscal lifestyle.