Fuelling addiction: why compulsive shoppers will pay the price in this cost-of-living crisis


Alongside yearly celebrations like Guy Fawkes night and Remembrance Day, November is renowned for housing Black Friday, an event originating in the US which has since taken the world by storm. In light of surging gas and electricity costs, UK residents are being forced to cut back on unnecessary spending, and recent projections estimate that locals are set to spend £4.4 billion less on non-essentials this Christmas. But with Black Friday encouraging consumers to splash the cash with an array of deals, offers and discounts, where does this leave those with a history of shopping addiction?

In this four-part series, we will be covering the current financial crisis and its impact on addiction. Here, we outline some of the clearer, and more hidden costs that this upcoming holiday can bring to those who struggle with shopping addiction.

UK public in for a seasonal shock

Shopping website Amazon is responsible for introducing Black Friday, a cash-fuelled consumer holiday, to the UK in 2010. However, with the cost-of-living crisis, it is likely that these non-essential spends are to go on the back burner, with many residents too strapped for cash to participate in the payout.

With everyday necessities like household bills and food shopping increasing faster than the average household wage, many of us have seen our bank accounts emptied, even after one trip to our local supermarket. In fact, in August 2022, nearly 90% of food banks reported an increase in demand since April, with many locals finding it impossible to cope with the ever-growing cost of everyday goods.

However, for those battling a shopping addiction, this upcoming consumer holiday could act as a trigger for them to fall back into destructive habits, spending money that they do not have compulsively, despite the negative impacts this can have on their finances.

Are temptations all around for the addictive shopper?

Whether out on the streets or through our devices, it is impossible to go about the day without running into some sort of market or retail store, in clear view of beautifully presented items and gifts, just a card-tap away from being ours. With most transactions now cashless, the simplicity of contactless cards can be deceptive, tricking us to in such a way that we forget that these small purchases have a way of adding up in our bank accounts.

With the majority of us becoming increasingly cautious about our money we are spending to get through this crisis, those with shopping addiction will have no such strategy. We have all occasionally witnessed small temptations giving way to unnecessary purchases, but for those with compulsive shopping disorders, they become overtaken by their impulses, powerless to abstain from triggers like discounts, sales, and all the allure this shopping season can bring to us. Unfortunately, the enticing nature of Black Friday sales can put compulsive shoppers in a dangerous situation, with the price of such consumer holidays leaving them in a state of financial collapse, unable to pay for everyday essentials like bills and electricity as a result of their excess spending.


Buy now, pay later schemes can make impulse buys even simpler

Whether you struggle with a compulsive shopping disorder or not, services like Klarna and Clearpay add an extra element of temptation to anyone looking to spend over the holiday season. Providing an opportunity to purchase items without having to pay immediately, these fees are instead taken in smaller instalments from shoppers’ accounts on a monthly basis. With almost a quarter of UK residents using services like Klarna, recent findings discovered that consumers took out an additional £1.9bn of credit in February to pay off their debts, which is the highest level of borrowing in five years.

When we consider just how irresistible the prospect of Klarna or Clearpay could be for even your everyday consumer, imagine just how dangerous these services can be for a shopping addict. Caught in the clutches of addiction, schemes like this one can push the individual even further into their habit, prompting them to take the risk and buy, despite these spends putting a major strain on their finances.

The cost of shopping addiction more than money

For shopping addicts, the desire to spend uncontrollably is often a side-effect of mental illness, brought upon by stressful events or unresolved psychological issues. For example, someone might have undergone a major life change which causes them anxiety, seeking solace in shopping for emotional reprieve to cope with life’s issues.

Unfortunately, these compulsive shopping binges can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction. For example, someone caught in active shopping addiction may feel overwhelmed by the cost-of-living crisis, overcome by intense regret or guilt about their uncontrollable spending. Unable to adequately manage these thoughts, they can slip back to destructive habits to distract themselves from the issue, shopping in greater volumes and accumulating more debt in the process. These hefty bills and debts will then lead these individuals to become more stressed, thus repeating the cycle of shopping addiction.

For addictive shoppers, keeping up such expensive spending habits can bring an array of untold consequences if these behaviours are left unmanaged. Some individuals may be left so defeated by debt that they are unable to pay their bills, with credit card charges mounting and pressures rising along with the cost-of-living crisis. More than just money, shopping addiction also has the potential to fracture relationships and leave loved ones frustrated and fearful, especially if financial pressures are also beginning to affect their assets as well.

It is often difficult for people to understand that a condition like shopping addiction can impact any of us at any time; that there are no set criteria for this compulsion and that it is more common than you might think. For instance, some of the more relatable traits associated with shopping addiction include:

  • Making unnecessary purchases, just to leave them unused or gathering dust around the home.
  • Believing that obtaining a certain item is going to improve your life in some way or make you a better person.
  • Turning to casual shopping to destress after a long or difficult day.

Can I break the dangerous cycle of compulsive shopping?

If you have found that the weight of shopping addiction is beginning to take its toll, remember that there is a way out, and you do not have to let this compulsion consume another moment of your life. Below, we provide some tips which can help to keep your spending habits under control.

1. Avoid shopping when you are emotional.
Each of us will have our own reasons for compulsive shopping, and many engage with these behaviours to fill an emotional void. Perhaps you are feeling out of control, anxious, or find it difficult to cope with the rising cost of living and the impact it is having on your life. Whatever the reason, a shopping binge will only exacerbate the problem. Therefore, if you find yourself feeling an intense desire to shop, rather than succumbing to the temptation, instead make a note of some of the emotions you are experiencing. Recognising the triggers to your shopping habits can make all the difference, preventing you from giving in and acting upon these thoughts again.


2. Turn to new hobbies for mental relaxation.
Shopping can often be the result of poor coping strategies, turning to destructive behaviours as an outlet to manage unwanted emotions or feelings. However, by looking into new ways to relieve your mind from these pressures, this can shift your energy to something positive, taking your thoughts to constructive activities. Some relaxing pursuits include:

  • Arts and crafts
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

3. Pay in cash, not credit.
One of the biggest threats for shopping addicts is contactless payments, spending in short bursts without keeping track of spending. With cash, this allows you to track your money more easefully, rather than swiping a card without knowing how much you have spent. In the same way, by destroying your credit card, or putting it somewhere out of reach, this will ensure that you do not spend money that you do not have.

4. Reach out for help.
Sometimes, our problems can be too difficult to manage alone, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, reaching out to our support networks can often be the best thing in lightening the burden, sharing our concerns and reaching out to others for guidance.

What next?

At UKAT, we understand just how much of a toll the cost-of-living crisis is taking on local consumers across the UK, especially for those who are also battling these difficulties alongside addiction. In times like these, it is important that you look after yourself, taking measures to protect yourself and your finances during such an unstable time.

If you are battling the urge to compulsively shop, events like Black Friday might seem well worth the risk, with such great prices making it easier than ever to grab a bargain without putting too much strain on your bank account. However, we ask that you take a moment and reflect upon how profitable these consumer holidays can actually be for your mental health. Ask yourself, how much do I truly have to gain from consumer events like this one? And remember, if you do feel the temptation take hold, there is strength to be found in others, and sharing your thoughts with those closest to you about some of your fears can make all the difference.