Trying to kill off a shopping addiction in Singapore is like trying to go vegan when you work at McDonald's.
With shopping malls on every street corner and shops jostling for space even in underground MRT tunnels, a half-hour lunch break in the middle of the workday or the commute home can turn into an unintended shopping spree.
Based on the rising bankruptcy numbers and the disturbingly high incidences of overspending as the main reason for having to seek credit counselling, it seems many people just can't control themselves.
I too know how it feels-the heart palpitations you get when unleashed in a store carrying items that are exactly your style, the thrill of heading home with your arms full of shopping bags stuffed with goodies. Here's how to break the addiction.
Maintain a list of things to do other than shop
Many of my friends have privately complained to me that they're constantly bored. There's nothing to do. They have no interests, their lives are just neverending reels of the same film-work, work, work.
It's thus unsurprising that boredom or, less stridently, a simple lack of anything better to do, often leads to shopping.
Nothing to do on the weekends? Let's join the swarms of other bored people in walking aimlessly through a mall. Feeling disengaged at work? Let's surf online shopping sites when the boss isn't looking.
If you find that you tend to drift into shopping mode by default, one way to combat this is to simply keep yourself busy.
Save on your mobile phone a long list of fun things to do so that once that restless feeling strikes you can immediately refer to it and then channel your energy into doing something else.
For instance, on my list I've got reminders to practise making pad thai, read stuff in Italian, do yoga on my $8 mat, finishing reading a million books, etc.
I'm sure you can think up a far more exciting list than mine, so do that and refer to it each time the shopping bug strikes.
Bring reinforcements when you have an appointment
I notice that each time I'm late for an appointment, the person I'm meeting always appears with a huge shopping bag on their arm.
I thus conclude that lots of people shop in between appointments or when they're waiting for someone else.
In that short space of time you can't plan to do anything more meaningful, so as usual the urge to wander into shops is strong.
Each time I take a long train or bus ride (eg. The two hour bus and MRT ride to Changi Airport or those overnight buses to Malaysia), I arm myself to the teeth with stuff to do.
Books to read, mobile apps to use, noise-cancelling headphones and so on. If you're the sort of person who could find something to buy in a warzone, you need to bring reinforcements.
That way, whenever you're stuck in limbo waiting for a friend to show up, you can just turn to your book or plug in to your iPod.
Make it harder to shop online
These days, you don't even need to have your credit card on hand to buy stuff. Online retailers like Amazon retain your credit card details so you can check out with a single click.
Obviously, this is good news for them, because it means you can spend money on their products virtually anytime and anywhere, whether you're commuting to work on the MRT, getting your hair permed or sitting on the toilet.
One day when brain implants get made you'll be able to purchase something simply by thinking about it.
Since online retailers are making it easier and easier for you to part with your money, it's up to you to make it hard again.
Unsubscribe from mailing lists, sign out of online shops you're constantly logged into and delete retailers' apps from your mobile phone. Remove your credit card details from your profile on online shopping websites.
The mere thought of having to reach for your wallet in order to buy something may be enough to deter you from making frivolous or unnecessary purchases.
Stem the inner discontent
Often, we buy things not because we really like them, but because something in our heads gets thrown into a panic and we end up believing we'll be disadvantaged or left behind in some way if we don't.
For instance, if you have a wedding dinner to go to and no dress to wear, you start to get stressed out and the next thing you know, you've blown $200 on a new outfit.
Or maybe you're feeling fat and decide to revamp your entire wardrobe to boost your self image.
When a shopping addiction stems from inner discontent, which I like to call "I have nothing to wear" syndrome, recognising the cause puts you way ahead of those other lemmings marching through the Orchard Road tunnels.
Perhaps your feelings of anxiety are caused by the need to always appear to be at the forefront of fashion.
Why does this happen? Is it because you are too fixated on obtaining the approval of others?
Once you identify the root causes of your shopping addiction, you'll know exactly what's happening when you get the urge to spend-and the that simple fact might persuade you to put away your wallet.
This article first appeared in MoneySmart at http://blog.moneysmart.sg/lifestyle/if-youre-one-of-the-many-singaporeans-addicted-to-shopping-heres-how-to-save-yourself/
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