The Economics of Emotions

Shopping is a Mind Game

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We may think of ourselves as savvy shoppers, but emotions play a bigger role in our spending habits than we might realize. From stress spending to FOMO, here’s a closer look at what’s happening in our brains when we shop.

Money can buy happiness

Do you use shopping as a mood booster? You’re not alone. Over half of Americans say they’ve participated in “retail therapy”, and studies have shown shopping can have a lasting positive impact on our mood. It can even reduce feelings of sadness, and help us feel in control when we’re overwhelmed.

Of course, that’s not the whole story…

The thrill of the hunt

Shopping floods our brains with dopamine, just like hearing your fave song or seeing your crush. But here’s the secret — it’s not the purchase that’s getting you hyped, it’s the build up. That rush can be addicting.

So, use your brain’s love of anticipation to your advantage! Saving up for a major purchase actually feels better than buying it right away on credit.

Say no to FOMO

Giving ourselves more time to anticipate a big purchase doesn’t just feel better, it also helps us make better decisions. Whether it’s a limited-time sale or hot meme stock, the idea of missing out sends our lizard brains into everyone-for-themselves mode. Back in the day, this helped our hunter/gatherer ancestors stay alive.

Today, it’s a recipe for buyer’s remorse.

Stress encourages us to impulse buy

Oh, and what’s the #1 source of stress? Money. Ahhhhh. So, stress-spending can get you caught in a feedback loop of impulse purchase → guilt and regret → more stress. Next time you’re feeling stressed, opt for a healthier outlet, like meditation or exercise. See if you’re still even thinking about that panic purchase once you’ve distracted yourself with something else.

Don’t Do shop angry

This doesn’t mean you should Hulk up before hitting the mall, but shopping while angry made it easier for research participants to stay focused on what they were shopping for, making them more satisfied with their purchases as a result.

Look, but don’t touch

Handling an item lets us take it out for a mental test drive. It also makes it difficult for us to imagine letting go. The takeaway here: don’t take it away 🤣

When you’re out shopping, keep your hands to yourself!