How to Kill Your Shopping Habit

Image by Becca McHaffie

Image by Becca McHaffie

By Evamarie Joubert

Social media can be a blessing and a curse. It has existed long enough that we have not only seen how it has created new pathways to success and amplified the voices of those who have been ignored by traditional media but we have also seen the negative effects of its’ dark side. Mainly, its corrosion of mental health and its impact on the ways we consume. 

A quick Google search will show you how pervasive these negative effects are, with numerous statistics showcasing how platforms like Instagram are increasing the rate of anxiety and depression among millennials and Gen Z. Also, how social media platforms are designed to keep us addicted, making us more susceptible advertising, and ultimately causing us to lose our ability to focus as well as connect with one another and form strong relationships. 

What is not often discussed is how social media specifically contributes to overconsumption. Since social media platforms are free, the only way to generate a profit is to barter our time in exchange for ad dollars. Advertisers, then bombard these platforms with targeted ads or sponsorships via influencers, all constantly encouraging us to buy the latest makeup, electronics, and clothing through their hauls and sponsored reviews. We are constantly being sold to and it’s working.

In my opinion, this can be attributed to three main reasons… 

First, we live in a capitalist/consumerist society. America loves big business and big business thrives when we are spending money. So the end goal of these companies will always be to separate us from our cash as a means to enrich themselves and brands are only getting smarter. As technology improves they are able to implement invasive marketing tactics that target us more effectively by using consumer fears, insecurities and desires to it even more enticing to buy.

Second, social media breeds FOMO. Since everyone is constantly sharing their highlight reel, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you buy the same pair of shoes, camera equipment, or go on the same vacation you can feel the same level of happiness or live the same life that’s being displayed on screen. Unless you are actively avoiding this constant onslaught of marketing, it’s inevitable that you will give in to the feelings of missing out at some point.

Third, our society has an obsession with appearing wealthy. This obsession largely stems from the media we have been fed from a young age. For millennials specifically, shows like My Super Sweet 16, MTV Cribs, and exposure to rappers who gloat about their wealth and the power it grants them have reinforced that the appearance of extreme wealth is important. One could even argue that the traditional ideals of the American Dream, which largely reference a middle class lifestyle, have been inflated to reference that of a millionaire. It’s no wonder that this influence has reared itself in the pressure younger people feel to present themselves as well off and successful, because why should anyone pay attention if our lives if we don’t appear exceptional? 

However, in recent years, there has been pushback on mindless consumption and materialism as a whole. Which has resulted in a shift in how people are approaching social media and the way they consume. Meaning, people are actively trying to curb their habits. A closer look will show the thousands of people who are making an effort to take their lives back and become more mindful of how they use their time, spend their money, and decide what’s valuable to them. 

In my experience, I decided to decrease my spending when I realized I wanted to move to Italy. I knew that my spending habits were preventing me from saving the money I needed and I had to make a change. Previously, I had been spending my money like water. If I wanted something, I bought it in an instant and I struggled to say no when invited out for drinks or dinner. I knew this couldn’t continue so I made a commitment to stop shopping for a minimum of three months and place the money that would’ve gone to clothes or food – my weaknesses – directly into my savings account. Eventually, in the span of 9 months without shopping I had saved $10,000. It was a tough learning process but I was able to implement positive habits, like practicing delayed gratification, that helped me to understand what was truly valuable to me. 

However, even today my desire to buy more things still creeps up every now and then. Although I’m much better equipped to face it and can resist the urge to buy things I don’t need. While I understand that breaking the shopping habit can be difficult, it’s even more challenging if you don’t have a plan set in place. So, here are some tangible steps to stop the seemingly never-ending need to consume. 

1. Start with a detox 

To learn how to shop responsibly, you may need to quit all together. This will be difficult at first but it is the best way to stop spending money. Decide how long you will go without shopping. It’s probably best to go with a period of either three, six or twelve months depending on how strict you want to be. In this time, you’ll need to avoid going to malls and browsing shops online until you feel the urge to shop subside. Once you’re able to get used to not shopping, you’d be surprised at how you can walk into a store and not feel the desire to buy anything. 

2. Make a List 

Every four to six months make a list of the things you really need/want for the year. Break them up into categories and mark which items are the most important and get those first. This will help minimize those impulse buys and ensure that you’re only buying items you really enjoy and want to have in your home.  

3. Find other hobbies.

While you’re not shopping, you will need to distract yourself. Join a club, throw a dinner party for your friends, go to the park. Anything that will keep your mind off of shopping and consuming things you don’t need. The goal is to remember that it’s the connections we have that matter, not the things that we own. Prevent yourself from buying anything that’s not going to bring you joy.

4. Leave room in your budget for minimal impulse buys. 

While the overall goal is to avoid impulse shopping, it’s good to be realistic. Give yourself the space to make reasonably priced impulse purchases for the month. This doesn’t mean this money has to be spent each month, but if in the case something comes up, you won’t be hurting the bank. 

5. Remember this is a process 

While it’s great to want to limit consumption and make smarter decision with our funds, it’s important to remember that there will be slip ups. Pulling away from the clutches of materialism and desensitizing ourselves from the pressure to buy isn’t easy. Take each day as it comes and realize that acting with intention will help you achieve your goals.