Do You Shop When Stressed? I Broke the Cycle and You Can Too

Malinda Fusco

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I stared with wide eyes at the numbers on my screen: $1,972.72

That was how much money I owed on my new Amazon card. Dread settled over me. How could I ever pay that off? How did this happen? How did I not max out the card yet? In another tab, Amazon was open, waiting. After contemplating how big of a hole I had dug myself in, I clicked over to Amazon…A new pair of shoes would make me feel better.

“I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it”

This is the story of how I went thousands of dollars into credit card debt and still managed to convince myself that I needed things like sit up bars and new pillowcases.

In other words, this is a story of delusion created by stress and online shopping.

A new hammock? Add to cart.

A set of earrings? Add to cart.

A kitchen mixer? Add to cart.

A TV. A paper towel holder. A video game. A book. A pair of leggings. Add. Add. Add. Add. Add.

This continued for months. It was like that song by Ariana Grande. You know the one. “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” Except, I wasn’t using my money to pay for these purchases. I was using the Amazon Credit Card, which felt dangerously better than using my money. So, what I actually ‘got’ was credit card debt. Thousands of dollars of credit card debt, to be more accurate.

My boyfriend and I refer to that time as my ‘Amazon Shopping Spree’. When we find random things in the house and can’t remember where they came from, we will half-jokingly say they came from my ‘Amazon Shopping Spree’. The reason it’s ‘half-jokingly’ said is because 50% of the time it is from when I was held captive by the vicious cycle of online shopping and stress.

The Problem

Stress and online shopping are a truly difficult loop to escape. Many people turn towards online shopping in times of stress. It’s all too easy to hit ‘add to cart’ and ‘complete order’ from the comfort of your home or cubicle at work. But after that short little burst of happiness that you get from ordering those earrings or mixer, the stress comes back. Worse than ever. Buyer’s remorse sets in. A higher credit card statement appears next month. You want more things. Couple that stress with the challenges we all face every day from family, relationships, and work — soon enough you may find yourself back on Amazon again because if I get this new book I’ll be happier. Happier means less stressed. Right?

Wrong! But don’t panic. There’s a way out of your whirlwind love affair with Amazon. I could simply say ‘stop stress shopping’ but that’s easier said than done. Instead, here’s three practical ways to break the cycle for good.

Tip #1: Wait 48 Hours

Seriously. Wait two full days, then consider if you still need that item. I’ve done this and a lot of the time I don’t end up completing the purchase. You can add the item to your cart if you’d like, but do not buy it for at least 48 hours. This method will dramatically cut down on impulse buys. Impulse buying is when you don’t plan to buy something, and instead purchase it on a whim. So, if you wait 48 hours, you’re cutting out the impulse part of the equation. It’s not going to eliminate all of the unnecessary shopping, but that nail polish that you absolutely needed will seem a lot less necessary after a few day's time.

The hardest part of this tip is to avoid justifying breaking the rule because you ‘need’ the item right now. Been there. Done that. Just wait the 48 hours.

Tip #2: Use Cash

It’s really easy to overspend when the money’s put on a credit card and you don’t feel the pain of the spending right away. I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this. Cash is tangible. You can see it leave your wallet. Yet, no one carries cash around. I do have some handy dandy science in my corner for this recommendation too. Studies show that people are much more likely to overspend when it’s on a credit card versus cash. This specific study discusses people paying up to 83% more when using a credit card compared to cash.

I now have a weekly allowance for anything outside of bills/groceries/utilities/grown-up things. My weekly allowance is my “fun money”. I typically use it in restaurants or books. But it’s budgeted, and I give it to myself in cash. This is so important! Nowadays, when I buy anything ‘extra’ for myself, I use cash. I can see the money leave my wallet. It helps me manage if the cost is worth the benefit. It also helps me see how much money I’m spending each day/week/month. This might seem dramatic, but I’ll tell you what: It. Works.

Tip #3: Manage Stress

The first two tips are focusing on reducing the shopping aspect of this cycle, but stress is just as important to manage. After all, it’s half the battle.

Stress is a strange beast. It starts small, ignorable if you looked the other way. But then it grows. It turns from a small ember to a roaring, destructive fire. That’s why you have to stomp it out before it gets out of control. There’s lots of things you can do to reduce and manage stress. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Take a walk
  • Make a to-do list
  • Chunk larger projects into smaller, manageable steps
  • Try yoga
  • Count your breaths
  • Meditate
  • Take a power nap
  • Get on a sleep schedule if you don’t have one
  • Eat some veggies
  • Exercise
  • Make time for something you enjoy
  • Make time for things you need to get done, even if it’s just 30 minutes
  • Talk to a mental healthcare professional

Don’t try all of these at once, obviously. But add a few into your routine. I started a sleep schedule that gives me 8 hours of rest at the same time every day. Even if I’m not tired, when it’s time to sleep, I lay down and go to sleep. My body has gotten used to it, and now I’m getting 8 hours consistently. That’s amazing for stress reduction! Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein talks about the importance of a sleep schedule for health and stress.

I’ve also taken a liking to to-do lists. I use my phone and I keep track of it. I’ve found an odd satisfaction in checking something off and being able to see that I’m being productive. It’s the same as seeing the money leave your wallet. Visuals are huge.

The Takeaway

Waiting 48 hours, using cash, and managing stress have helped me stop wracking up credit card debt and break the cycle of online shopping and stress. The key is to use these strategies consistently. It’s hard. We live in a world where you can have items delivered in two days with prime shipping. Trust me, I understand how tempting that is, but that new coffee maker, egg cooker, candle, etc., will not alleviate your stress. I can promise you that much.

I’m slowly crawling my way out of credit card debt, but at least I’m not accumulating even more. My Amazon Shopping Spree has come to an end, and so can yours. So wait to make a purchase, use cash, and control your stress. Break the cycle. Happiness follows.

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