Impulsive and Compulsive Spending
By Crown Financial Ministries
Americans are daily bombarded by advertising messages that attempt to entice consumers to indulge themselves with whatever product is being sold.
Advertisers play on the insecurities of consumers and tell them infinite ways their products will satisfy needs and dissatisfactions. Consumers in turn spend with a vengeance.
However, this consumption does not add up in favor of the consumer.
Of course, not everyone overspends on a regular basis. Most people would admit to having spent beyond their means at some point or another, but this does not classify them as impulsive or compulsive spenders.
Yet it is becoming increasingly more difficult to identify unhealthy spending habits, because impulsive and compulsive spending appetites are legitimized by our popular “plastic” culture, which not only encourages credit card debt but also presents it as “the normal and accepted American way.”
A good way to reduce debt is to develop discipline in spending.
That may include taking away all so-called security: cutting up credit cards and not taking out any bank or family loans. Then, develop a balanced budget that will control spending.
“Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:11). People must learn to handle the smallest things God has placed under their authority—their money—before He can trust them with greater things.
The following are guidelines that if followed should help control spending.
- Establish self-discipline. Put all spending under God's control. With God’s guidance, any bad habit can be broken.
- Once spending has been brought under control, determine how much needs to be spent each month in every area of the budget and stick to the budget.
- Be accountable to someone for a period of time. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
- Establish a “want-to-buy” list. Then wait seven days and find two additional prices for the same item. If there is still a need or want for the item after a week, go ahead and buy it. Nevertheless, only one item can be on the “want-to-buy” list at a time.
Although self-discipline is the best way to control spending, too many people are caught in a cycle of impulsive spending that seems to have a life of its own, beyond the limits of self-discipline.
Tahira K. Hira, a professor of family and consumer science at Iowa State University says, “Low self-esteem appears to be related to impulsive spending. Couple low-self esteem with lack of knowledge of current personal financial status, combined with other savings barriers such as procrastination, stress and insecurity, and the result is a greater focus on paying for needs today and forgetting those for tomorrow….The key is getting a grasp of cash-flow management. Those who don’t know extend their income with credit cards.”
Impulsive buyers buy on a whim, make unplanned purchases, usually lack self-control in buying situations, and lack clear priorities in spending, which results in overspending, unnecessary additional debt, unused articles, and family arguments.
Most impulsive spenders sabotage their own prosperity with the “I want it now syndrome,” which is characterized by spending beyond their incomes. This in turn leads to persistent fear, unremitting debt, and depression and feeds into a downward cycle of worry and low self-esteem…. the instant gratification of impulsive spending…deepening debts…more worry…more spending…
The best way to overcome short-term buying impulsiveness is to (1) leave the presence of the item; (2) price the item in three other places; (3) keep tight control on the use of credit cards; (4) buy only what is needed and practical; and (5) have spending priorities.
Discipline is the key to controlling impulse buying, long term. “By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19).
Before buying on impulse, list the item on an Impulse List, talk about the item with your spouse, obtain comparison prices, and wait seven days before purchasing the item.
Most impulse purchases can be eliminated by this discipline.
When people do not feel confident in themselves and have very low self-esteem, they may look to factors outside themselves as sources of value.
Compulsive spending is a means by which people fill the vacuum in the heart that should be filled with a sense of personal acceptance.
Listed below are 10 signs and symptoms that characterize compulsive spending.
- Shopping or spending money as a result of being disappointed, angry, or depressed.
- Having emotional distress or chaos in personal and family lives because of shopping or spending money.
- Having arguments with others regarding shopping or spending habits.
- Feeling lost without credit cards.
- Buying items on credit that would not be bought with cash.
- Spending money feels like a reckless or forbidden act.
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, or confused after shopping or spending money.
- Lying to others, especially the spouse, about what was bought or how much money was spent.
- Juggling accounts and bills to accommodate spending.
- Feeling of powerlessness and helplessness to overcome the compulsion to spend.
Although genuine freedom from compulsive spending is a fruit of the Spirit in that God offers the power to have self-control through His Son, Jesus Christ (see Romans 6 and Colossians 3), there are some viable steps that can be taken to help correct the problem.
The first thing is to understand the nature of the problem: the emotional needs and personality traits that have given rise to compulsion.
Second, develop and implement practical applications that include balancing outgo with income (do not spend unless there is money to spend), budgeting, setting goals, and getting quality financial counseling.
Third, eliminate credit buying. Compulsive spending is many times an addiction to credit cards. It generally takes 30 days to break someone from any addiction such as drugs, alcohol, and so on. Credit cards can be included with this group.
Therefore, either destroy the credit cards, place them in a drawer out of sight, or give them to someone for safekeeping, and do not use them for 30 days. Within those 30 days it will become apparent that life goes on without the need for credit cards.
The U.S. Commerce Department says that U.S. personal-savings rate hit an all-time low of -0.2 percent in September of 2000 and as of January 2003, savings has not returned to a positive level.
That means that Americans are spending more than they earn, which leaves less than nothing for saving.
Since impulsive and compulsive spending patterns can often be justified or rationalized in our current society in which these unhealthy spending cycles are encouraged rather than discouraged, savings will most likely continue to decline and debt will continue to increase until self-discipline and self-control are established and the impulsive/compulsive spending precedent is brought under control.
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