Psychotherapist warns of the risks of overspending when shopping online

Christmas this year has been all about online shopping.

Scratch that – the entire year has seen a massive rise in our online purchases.

With lockdown keeping us cooped up at home with no outdoor entertainment and shops closed, many of us found ourselves hitting the ‘buy’ button for everything from groceries to loungewear to booze.

And at Christmas, a desire to avoid the Covid-unsafe crowds has pushed lots of our gift buying into the online world.

But while online shopping might help to keep us safe and at home, it comes with its own risk.

Jason Ward, senior psychotherapist and DBT specialist, warns that many of us may fall into a dangerous trap of overspending in the lead up to Christmas, which could leave us in piles of money-related stress and even debt.

The temptation to spend online might not be good for our mental wellbeing – and all the messages we receive online through social media and in our inboxes don’t help to strengthen our power to resist.

‘Christmas shopping online can often provide a quick fix to put us in a better mood, temporarily,’ Jason tells ‘However, evidence shows that compulsive spending can ultimately make us feel much worse over the longer term; leaving us with feelings of guilt and shame if we know we’ve spent too much, or we’ve spent money we didn’t have.

‘Social media is a key culprit, often driving targeted ads to our devices urging us to buy now.’

Jason notes that the risk of an online shopping addiction is all too present. You might slip into impulsive, addictive shopping behaviours without even noticing.

‘These ads activate desire and excitement, as well as nurturing a craving, and the release we initially feel by clicking that buy button releases a powerful neuro-transmitter in the brain called dopamine; the brain’s feel good messenger,’ he explains.

‘Unfortunately, this feel-good hit we experience in the brain when we hit buy something is also associated with many other addictive disorders akin to drug and alcohol dependency.

‘Buying Shopping Disorder (BSD) is on the rise thanks to the convenience of online shopping, and we are now seeing an increase in admissions to rehabs across the UK for BSD.’

That’s worrying stuff. So what can you do to save yourself from the overspending trap?

Jason recommends these steps:

  • Get support from Debtors Anonymous if you feel your spending is out of control.
  • Tell your secret to friends and family, as disclosing you may have issues of overspending online can take the power out of the impulse.
  • Stick to a budget and plan your purchase this Christmas; tell your family what your budget is this year and stick to it.
  • Reduce your screen time by 50% and your bank balance will thank you.
  • Ask yourself if you really need this purchase or if it is your BSD impulse that is driving you.

It can also help to keep a journal of the times you feel tempted to spend money, and have a delay rule.

With any purchase, sleep on the decision before checking out. If it’s really important, you’ll still want it the next day, but a lot of the time you’ll find the impulse has faded.

And don’t let guilt and shame prevent you from taking an honest look at your spending habits.

It’s vital that you know exactly how much you’ve spent, what debts you have, and what your budget is for the Christmas period and beyond. Knowledge is power, and often being confronted with the cold, hard figures of what you’re spending can be enough to give you an urgent wake-up call and avoid future problems.

If you want more tips and tricks on saving money, as well as chat about cash and alerts on deals and discounts, join our Facebook Group, Money Pot.

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