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Feature Articles: Miscellaneous


Compulsive buying disorder

Robert Self, former Personal Financial Planning student; Edits by Ryan Law, M.S., AFC, former Director – Office for Financial Success, Department of Personal Financial Planning, University of Missouri


Found in 5.8 percent of Americans, 80 percent of whom are female, “compulsive buying disorder is characterized by an obsession with shopping and buying behavior that causes adverse consequences.” 1


While you may not suffer from a compulsive buying disorder to the point that it has adverse consequences in your life, most of us are guilty of spending money we don’t have for things we don’t really need, whether it is that magazine that catches our eye in the checkout line or that new movie on the flashing display when you walk in the store.


One thing is clear – the way products are packaged, displayed and placed in stores is intentional and meant to catch your eye. Companies spend millions of dollars each year preying on our inability to say no. So how do we counteract these urges to buy? How do we train ourselves not to pick up that shiny item we all know we must have? There are many ways to combat this and here are a few strategies:


  • Make a list and stick to it! Making a list before going anywhere is easy and practical. Whether it is a list of things to do that day or a list for the grocery store, it will help you stay on track and be productive. The trick is actually sticking to the list. A good strategy is to refer to the list before going into the store so that you know exactly where to go and you can head straight there — this prevents you from roaming through the store, which leaves you vulnerable to distracting, enticing displays.
  • Leave your credit cards in the car and only take in the cash you need. Avoid spending more money than you should with the justification of putting it on your credit card. Make it easier on yourself by not even bringing the cards in with you.
  • Set a time limit on how long you stay. This may seem a bit rudimentary but it really can help. Setting a time limit prevents you from browsing and finding that one item you can’t live without. Use your best judgment and make it a practical time limit, like 20 minutes for a quick trip to the grocery store.
  • Take a friend, preferably one who does not share your enthusiasm. It can be a lot easier to stay on track if you're not alone in the store. Your shopping companion can remind you of what you're in the store to get and can add a second opinion on any purchases. A companion who doesn't enjoy the same type of shopping or spending as you is most beneficial in this situation.
  • Only go when you absolutely need something, not just to browse. Going to a store to just “have a look” is a set up for failure. Only go when you absolutely need something. And even then use the other strategies mentioned above — make a list, only bring in the money you need, and bring a friend who will keep you on track.




This article was adapted from a Financial Tip of the Week blog from the MU Office for Financial Success. For weekly finance tips, subscribe at


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Last update: Wednesday, July 22, 2015