Women Spend More When The Going Gets Tough

A new survey found that 79% of women said they would go on a spending spree to cheer themselves up, concluding that some women use shopping as an emotion regulator, “a way of anesthetising themselves to negative feelings or dissatisfaction with life.” Ironically, this means worrying about money could lead women to spend more.

Spending During A Recession?

SO – if you find yourself wrecking the budget during a financial crisis – when you should be more concerned with keeping money matters in check – you’re not alone. Of course, this doesn’t let you off the hook! The survey – conducted by Professor Karen Pine, from the University of Hertfordshire – uncovers the fact that women are more inclined to spend themselves out of misery when they’re financially strapped, than the times when they’re not. A lack of money is stressful, and the way many women deal with stress is to, well, spend more! Thus, ironically, the recession could actually force more women to overspend.

As I’ve studied addiction over the years, I’ve seen similar behaviors. Of the 700 women in this survey, four out of ten of the women named ‘depression’, and six out of ten named ‘feeling a bit low’, as reasons to go on a spending spree and overspend. This can either lead to, or be symptomatic of, what I’ve come to call financial infidelity – spending money you don’t have behind a partner’s back. Or, if you’re single: simply spending money you don’t have in violation of your budgetary restrictions!

Just as an individual may turn to an illicit love affair to provide the biochemical feelings of connection and experience the thrill of a new romance, over and over again, so, too, they may turn to risky financial behavior for stimulation to give them a high, and get them out of a “funk” or a depression down-turn.

Can Spending Be A Drug?

Not all the women in the survey felt cheered up by the shopping experience. One in four had experienced feelings of regret, guilt or shame after buying something in the week prior to the survey. And seven out of ten women had worried about money during the same period.

The behaviors that stimulate the feelings that drive many to shop when they shouldn’t can easily become addictive, and that’s when it moves into more dangerous territory. As the survey suggests, the ability to regulate emotions is crucial for mental and physical wellbeing and humans adopt a variety of means of doing so, including drugs and alcohol. Shopping is one method increasingly adopted by women, and a Stanford University study identifies one in twenty Americans as compulsive shoppers.

Shopping when feeling depressed is akin to the behaviors that are triggered by other types of addiction. Take stock of your emotions, and the times you feel most prone to engage in a little “retail therapy.” If you’re indulging in spite of your budget – or worse, because of it – you may be headed down a dangerous path that will be unhealthy both financially and emotionally. Work to re-wire the pattern of thinking that leads you to shopping, opting instead for spending time with friends, trying something new like taking a class, head to the gym, or use your energies to volunteer. Work to divert your energy and attention into something positive – the possibilities are nearly endless!


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