The secret to helping compulsive shoppers curb their spending may be as simple as getting organized: A new study has found that people who did not keep track of their purchases and credit-card statements were more likely to make compulsive purchases.
For the study, Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, and his colleagues surveyed more than 1,600 participants about money-management skills and shopping habits. Key predictors of compulsive shoppers included a lack of money management and poor credit management.
Additionally, the researchers found that credit cards were a big force in driving shopaholics because they allow consumers to put off paying their balances. Shoppers who did not pay credit-card bills on time or exceeded credit limits were also more likely to shop compulsively.
"Compulsive shoppers tend to be people who bury their head in the sand and ignore the credit card bill," said Howell. "We also found that these individuals keep on buying because they are looking for that 'buy high,' hoping their purchases will lift their mood and transform them as a person."
The researchers also found that compulsive shoppers also reported enjoying the buzz they got from making purchases. Respondents said they could improve their life, confidence, appearance and reputation with purchases.
"A lot of research has shown that shopaholics tend to have materialistic values," Howell said. "Our results explain why materialistic people shop compulsively."
In addition to providing insight into the motivations of compulsive shoppers, the research also may be a big help to the estimated 10 percent of adults in Western countries that have a compulsive-shopping habit, especially since the researchers estimate that the number of shopaholics is only growing.
"We know that a person's values impact their shopping habits, but values aren't the easiest thing to change," Howell said. "Even if you are still materialistic and you have the desire to acquire more possessions, it's how you manage your behavior that counts. Our findings suggest that you can keep your shopping under control by paying attention to your credit card and checking in with yourself about whether you are shopping for emotional reasons."
The research was co-authored by former San Francisco graduate student Grant Donnelly and undergraduate student Masha Ksendzova, and was published in the Journal of Economic Psychology.