Curbing the Urge to splurge can help save the family budget – and help teach kids lessons for life.
It isn’t pricey Manolo Blahnik boots or Prada handbags that tempt Michelle Delgado to grab her wallet and car keys and head out for a little recreational shopping. It’s the little things—lipsticks, books, the latest CD’s—that get her shopping juices bubbling, says this 40-year-old mother of two.
“I’m a huge Target shopper,” says Delgado, who finds a leisurely stroll through the aisles to be a great diversion when she has a few hours to herself. But those Target runs can be dangerous to the family budget, she says.
“I go there for necessities—household supplies, toiletries,” she explains. But then a discounted outfit for her 8-year-old daughter beckons. A lipstick in just the right shade hops into her cart. (“I’m a lipstick fiend,” Delgado laughs. “It’s a sickness!”) Or she decides to treat her 5-year-old son to that new Disney DVD.
“Each item, by itself, seems pretty inexpensive,” she says. “But then when I check out and the total is $96, I start thinking about how I really want to stick to a budget more.”
Delgado isn’t alone, of course. “Americans shop for recreation,” says Jonni McCoy, author of Miserly Moms (Bethany House; 2001) and Frugal Families (Bethany House; 2003). “It’s a part of our culture.” But we certainly don’t have to buy into everything the culture promotes, she says. McCoy’s Web site, www.miserlymoms.com, offers “10 Tips to Financial Success.” And there it is, at #2: “Don’t Shop.” For recreation, that is.
Just like dieters who, of course, still need to deal with food, habitual shoppers can’t go cold turkey on opening their wallet. As Delgado points out, we all need toilet paper, soap—and a least one or two tubes of lipstick.
“So start using the ‘need or want’ strategy,” McCoy suggests. “Before you spend a single dollar on anything, ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this item, or do I just want it?’ You may find that many of the items we purchase, we do so just because it ‘caught our eye’ or it was ‘an impulse buy’ or ‘my friend bought the same thing,’” she says. “All these excuses just add up to wasteful spending. You can probably get by without another sweater or a new pair of jeans, so just buy what you absolutely need and pass on those items that aren’t necessities.”
Sounds simple, right? But many psychological factors can contribute to the impulse to spend money, according to Eileen Gallo, Ph.D. a psychotherapist specializing in money issues, and her husband, estate-planning attorney Jon Gallo. The couple lectures on the psychological and emotional issues of money and has written Silver Spoon Kids (Contemporary Books; 2002), about the importance of communicating with our children about money in healthy ways.
And make no mistake, they say: We are teaching our children volumes as they watch, day after day, how we handle shopping and spending. “We have to stop and think what messages we’re sending our children if we have to buy, buy, buy. If we always have to have the latest thing,” says Eileen Gallo. “Just because the neighbors got a new SUV doesn’t mean you have to have one,” adds Jon Gallo.
At its worst, compulsive shopping can threaten marriages, destroy a family’s credit rating and jeopardize its financial future. The signs and symptoms of compulsive shopping can include the following, according to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Illinois:
- Shopping or spending money as a result of being disappointed, angry or scared
- Having spending habits that cause emotional distress or chaos in one’s life
- Having arguments with others regarding shopping or spending habits
- Feeling lost without credit cards
- Buying items on credit that would not be bought with cash
- Feeling a rush of euphoria and anxiety at the same time when spending money
- Feeling that spending or shopping is a reckless or forbidden act
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused after shopping or spending money
- Having many purchases that are never
- Lying to others about what was bought or how much money was spent
- Thinking excessively about money
- Spending a lot of time juggling accounts and bills to accommodate spending
According to the Institute, experiencing four or more of these situations can indicate a problem with shopping and spending.
For many women, plain old-fashioned boredom often results in too many trips to the mall, according to Jon Gallo. “So take the kids to the library. Volunteer with your family. Take a yoga or spinning class,” he says, adding that sometimes we have to stretch ourselves a little bit to climb out of that rut.
McCoy agrees. “Challenge yourself to find other ideas for recreation with your family,” she says. Hike in the local mountains, go kick a soccer ball around at the park or pack a picnic and head outdoors. All these activities can provide positive distraction and help keep the shopping urge at bay.
Perhaps most important, our experts agree, is reminding yourself what money and shopping should really be all about. “It’s important to think of money as a tool, not an emotional release,” says McCoy. One way to do that is to remind yourself that impulse shoppers play right into the hands of savvy marketers who play on our emotions, desires and fears. “Market research shows that for every minute we spend in a store, we spend two dollars,” McCoy says. “We are inundated with impulse-shopping messages.” The best defense? “Stay away!”