Curbing the Urge to Shop

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The urge to shop starts out so innocently. It's possible to convince yourself that you need to buy just about anything. Here's how I curb the urge to shop.

The other day I went into Target. Target to me is the giant money suck. I’ve always been convinced that once you walk through those automatic double sliding doors, your brain is zapped from whatever mission you were originally on, and you are now free to wander aimlessly and find a bunch of things you don’t really need, but want, to put in your oversized shopping cart.

My original mission was a simple gift bag, baby shower card, and some tissue paper, but I ended up walking out of there with a new dress, capri workout pants, workout top, and cotton tank top. How did that happen? Lest you think this sounds like shopaholic tendencies, I can assure you I’m anything but a shopaholic, but even I fall prey to lifestyle inflation, and get sucked into the lure of “pretty things” to wear, furnish my apartment with, and new gizmos and gadgets. I swear you can justify buying anything if you really try.

Where Did the urge to shop Come From?


The urge to shop all starts out so innocently, as it did in my case. I have someone coming to live with me for two months who is paying me $300/month to get his feet wet living in Los Angeles. Since he will essentially be sleeping on my couch, I was trying to come up with ways to have him not live out of his suitcase, and to create some privacy for him. So I started off looking for dresser drawers and room dividers on Craigslist.

I didn’t find anything, so I started going to websites like Amazon, Ikea, and Cost Plus just to check things out. Having made more money this month, you start to let down your guard just a little. But wanting is a slippery slope!

Suddenly I start looking around my apartment and think of all the cute things I’d really like to fill it with. Oooh, new pillows would be nice. And that bamboo plant that was supposed to be “unkillable” that I killed anyway, should really be replaced with a fresh new plant (that I’ll probably kill eventually anyway). Yes, that will make me happy!

When the rush for new, shiny things takes over, it has the potential to kill the vision of why money is important in my life.

So How Can You Curb The Urge to Spend?


Well, here is what is currently working for me anyway.

1. Remember the why in why you’re buying stuff. Greg from Club Thrifty wrote a great article about that recently. When I was in Target trying on the dress, I knew I wanted to wear it to my friend’s baby shower. I wanted that “fresh look” that everyone would notice. It dawned on me later that I was buying the dress for other people, not me. Yes, I’d love to freshen up my wardrobe, but it’s way, way down the priority list right now (at least cute, trendy clothes are). I have a couple of dresses, and even though I’ve worn them a million times, let me be frank by saying, “who cares!?!?” I doubt seriously if my friends would like me any less if I didn’t wear something new.

So, checking in with your priorities is key to stopping the urge to spend. Heck, if I had millions of dollars I’m sure one little dress from Target is a drop in the bucket, but I don’t have millions, and I need new tires on my car. I also need to have more money in my emergency fund, retirement, etc.

But hey, if you are going to buy that dress, remember to buy it for yourself, not anyone else.

2. Put the pause on shopping and get creative. I was really hesitating buying that dresser and room divider for good reason. A good sale can convince you to buy anything, which is why I try to avoid sales unless I’m shopping for a need, in which case that’s just a smart way to buy stuff. When it came to my dresser, I know this living situation is temporary, and hate being stuck with stuff I don’t really need. So I took a Saturday and went to town, organizing my apartment and re-arranging things so that there was space inside some bathroom cupboards to put clothes, and using an old file cabinet that was in my bedroom for even more storage. I then took a small fold up table from outside and put it in my room, so that when I’m not working on video-related projects and need my kitchen office, I can go to my bedroom and write there, giving my roommate more privacy. It’s not going to win design awards, but again, this is only a temporary situation, and I spend exactly nothing.

The urge to shop starts out so innocently. It's possible to convince yourself that you need to buy just about anything. Here's how I curb the urge to shop.

3. Avoid stores and catalogs. It’s really easy when you’re bored or curious to just go “check things out,” kind of like I did when I went online to Cost Plus. Marketers do an amazing job of making you think life would be so much better if you purchased this or that. That’s why they get paid the big bucks.

For some reason I keep getting the Athleta catalog, and on the front is a super toned girl with flat abs wearing a cute top. One glimpse inside and I’ll be convinced that buying one of their tops is going to give me a six-pack. Needless to say, the catalog goes straight to recycling.

Shopaholic or not, every once in awhile we all fall prey to buying wants over needs. When that urge arises, pause, take a deep breath, and know that nothing has to be purchased today. If you really want something, it will more than likely always be available.

By the way, I returned the dress. The workout stuff I can justify because I spend hours in workout clothes and I was having to go to the laundromat more often, and my time is just too precious for that. 🙂


What are some ‘wants’ you’ve bought recently? How do you cub your urge to shop when it hits? What do you like to do instead of shopping when you’re tempted to splurge on a purchase you don’t need?

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Tonya Stumphauzer

Tonya is a video editor/producer and writer living in Los Angeles who enjoys beach volleyball, playing ukulele, and running. Visit her blog Budget & the Beach!


  • I really, really want to buy a new laptop. I have been thinking that for the past few days, but why should I buy a new laptop? I still have my old laptop with me that’s still working fine.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      It might be a good idea to start a laptop fund, that way when you REALLY need one you can justify it!

  • Hannah says:

    Athleta finally hasn’t figured out my most recent address! The only problem is that I’m starting to want new swimwear, but if I buy it from Athleta, they will know me again.

    When I start looking at clothes online or at Target, I know that what I really want is to feel fresh and new. At times like that, I always try to dig out some nicer outfits and make a point to put product in my hair for a few days. This usually allows me to overindex on compliments for a few days, but by the end I’m exhausted and back to “campy” apparel.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      ha ha I’m the same way as a freelancer. I’d like to “do” my hair every day, but then again, a ponytail is much faster! BTW an Athleta store is opening up a mile away. Oh boy!

      • Hannah says:

        I don’t know if I would be able to resist buying more clothing with an Athleta one mile away from me, but maybe I would get super tan (no) and develop sweet abs, and also somehow have ocean tousled hair.

  • Target is such a money suck, isn’t it??? I’ve been training myself to just get in there, get what I need and get out so that I don’t get caught up in the vacuum. They have so many cute things there!

  • Target is like that for us too! I always buy something stupid there – I have no idea why!

  • Michelle says:

    I have been avoiding most stores in order to curb my urge to shop. Not only am I trying to save money, but I am trying to be more minimalist since I tend to hoard things!

  • Kim says:

    I’m glad we don’t have a Target close by. Walmart just doesn’t hold the same appeal.

    I did have a moment of weakness last week though. At TJ Maxx, I was getting clothes for my daughter and bought myself an outfit. I pledged to buy no clothes this year but wanted something new for vacation. If it wasn’t 70 miles to the store I would take it but maybe it will remind me to stick to my guns from here on out.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      Yeah that’s a good store too. And Kohl’s. They have ALL those store nearby here. Good thing I generally hate getting in LA traffic.

  • I think Target must pump something through their air ventilators because it is so easy to buy more than you intended. 🙂 When possible, I try to avoid shopping when I’m feeling overly emotional because as you said – it’s easy to justify purchases, particularly if I’m in a “I deserve it” mood.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      Ha I posted that in another comment. So if you ever see me in the MB Target feel free to tackle me if you see a lot of stuff in my cart. 🙂

  • I feel fortunate that I rarely feel the urge to shop, but I have a number of clients who feel this way and when they do, I advise them to stop and ask why if they are mindful of it, but also to give themselves a spend budget so that they can indulge in the urge, but at a set amount.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      I wish I had more wiggle room to include money for clothes, but when it comes to everything else I need not much left. But thankfully I’m not that much of a shopper so whew!

  • Kathy says:

    In addition to avoiding stores and catalogs, I would add, avoid fashion blogs. I have a very favorite blogger who is a horrible influence on me. She is gorgeous, looks great in her selections, and her style is 99% the same as mine. The problem is that her blog is designed for what to wear to work in an office and I’m retired! I don’t need anything I see, yet am constantly lusting over her newest outfit presentation. Fortunately, I can almost always resist the urge to spend and when I do give in, I generally go for one of the lower priced version she also suggests.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      I’m really kind of jealous of those who are so amazing with fashion and so put together. If I make a billion someday I’d definitely hiring a stylist!

  • For me, it’s IKEA, our Target (Aus) isn’t as good as yours. Luckily IKEA is a three hour round trip so I don’t visit more than once or twice a year.

    Generally I just try to avoid being exposed to temptation – I’d rather not test my willpower too often.

  • Great post! I need to refer back to this one from time to time, haha. 🙂

  • Shopping for “stuff” really is weird when you think about it! I’m not turning into a minimalist, but I look around my place and all I see is stuff and clutter. I’ve gotten so much better about ONLY buying items that I really want.

  • For me I think it comes down to being prepared. When I’m not prepared, I end up spending more. When we go to Target to get groceries we always stick to our list, in part because I’m in the mindset of “let’s get this stuff and get out of here as quickly as possible.” There isn’t time to browse, or I don’t make time I should say. So really being prepared has saved me time and time again.

  • Lisa says:

    My mom told me when I was very young that the candy at the checkout station is a trick the stores use to make you buy what you don’t need. I remember that when I am tempted by a gorgeous display or beautiful packaging–do I really need that skin treatment or do I just want the sleek bottle it comes in? I look for the marketing strategies (“tricks”) and would feel foolish if I fell for them. That idea curbs a lot of the impulse buying.

  • Tre says:

    There is something about Target. You walk in needing one $5 item and leave with a shopping cart full of stuff. I just try to avoid stores.

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