Breaking Free from Shopping’s Shame and Compulsion: Reduce Your Spending

Illustration illustrating a person breaking free from shopping chains, symbolizing overcoming shopping's shame and compulsion to reduce spending.

Abandon any sense of moderation, and you will find that the greatest joys also bring the worst suffering.


During this time of year, discussions about materialism often increase in frequency. Many of us believe our spending has gone out of hand, especially considering that Black Friday began even earlier than normal this year (on Thursday night).

I’ve heard from many sources that we need to limit our spending to essentials alone, but I can’t help but wonder if moderation, rather than extremes, would be the answer.

When we’re feeling upset or stressed, the thought of making a big shift might be enticing. However, swinging from one extreme to another seldom results in a sustainable solution.

Rather than just buying one item to fill an emotional gap, the issue is that we purchase many things to satisfy many different needs.

Is there anyone who could use some jewelry? The same may be said of a picture. A software program, perhaps?

Not at all, yet these items are made by decent, skilled individuals. We may show our appreciation for the hard work of others and share in the delight of their creations by buying their works if and when we are in a position to do so.

Buying something nice to wear, show off, or use on occasion doesn’t put someone in debt. The only time we have problems is when our spending becomes habitual and excessive.

And if we don’t force ourselves to go into debt, purchasing presents for other people might bring us both a lot of happiness.

Every year, my four siblings and I fill our stockings with little gifts for a total of twenty dollars, with each of us contributing five dollars. The free candy, hairbrushes, and journals aren’t necessary, but everyone enjoys participating because of how simple it is.

We don’t have an issue since we’re a consumerist society. It’s that we don’t always think about why and how much we eat.

Similarly, advertising isn’t inherently evil since everyone has to sell something in order to make a living. This might be anything from a physical good to an online course or service.

Ads that prey on our worst anxieties while simultaneously planting new ones are the real threat.

When I resided in New York, I worked as a part-time telemarketer and made $350 per week.

I didn’t have a television at the time, so I didn’t see many commercials, but I did spend a lot of time at Internet cafes, where pop-up advertisements constantly reminded me that all I needed was a new pair of shoes, a new face cream, or a new piece of technology to make me happy.

I was already feeling overwhelmed by my isolation, my discontent with my career, and my general lack of hope, so this impact just made me more tempted to go for my credit card.

Since then, I’ve realized that I can control what I take into myself. We must take personal responsibility for our thoughts, beliefs, and actions, no matter how aggravating it may be that advertising often plays on our concerns.

I’ve learned to find a happy medium with my spending habits, treating myself on occasion without getting carried away or becoming a spending habit.

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Asking yourself the following before making a purchase will help you reduce your spending.

  • Do I sense an emotional gap that I’m attempting to fill?
  • Can I take any action to proactively deal with these feelings?
  • Is this something I should not buy on impulse?
  • Am I purchasing something because of deceptive marketing that makes me think I need it to be happy?
  • How can I maximize my pleasure with the least amount of effort?
  • Is there any chance that this thing would really make me happier if I used it?
  • Is there a more pleasurable way I might spend this cash?
  • Can I get my money’s worth (in terms of how much I like it and how often I use it)?
  • Will I still be able to pay my bills if I make this purchase?
  • Can I pay cash for this, or do I need to use credit? If so, how certain am I that I will be able to pay it off by the due date on the bill?
  • Will this purchase assist someone I care about while also supporting them financially?
  • Do my morals agree with those of the company’s creators and sellers?

And now, a few questions in the spirit of the season:

  • Do I feel like I have to buy an expensive present just so the recipient doesn’t get the wrong idea about how much I value them?
  • Is there any other way I might express my appreciation without going over budget?
  • Should I feel obligated to match the other person’s level of spending?
  • Can I let go of that expectation and instead try to give them something of real value that they’ll appreciate?
  • Is my pride telling me that spending more will make me appear better?
  • Can I stop worrying about how others will perceive my generous financial contributions and instead put my energy towards really making a positive impact?
  • How can I help someone outside the scope of the monetary value of my gift?
  • Is there anything I can make that they would value if finances are tight?
  • What if I spent that money on a shared event instead, one that brought greater pleasure and connection to more people?
  • What makes me believe that the people who love me would suddenly start to evaluate me differently depending on how much money I spend on them?

These are just a few examples of the kind of questions that may help us become more self-aware of our shopping habits and guide us toward moderation, both in our regular lives and during the Christmas season.

Because certain marketers will always use scare tactics to increase their bottom line, answering these questions might be challenging at times.

But information is power, and by challenging our assumptions about our internal experiences, we may learn to alter the behaviors that result from them. We may train ourselves to spend wisely and consciously, helping one another monetarily as we are able and appreciating the work of our fellow humans.

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