That Guilty Pleasure

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Do you hide your shopping from your loved ones? Or always regret what you buy? When a guilty pleasure turns into plain old guilt, it might be time to take a closer look at your shopping habits.

“It doesn’t matter whether I need or want the item, when I see something I like, I get caught up in the moment and before I know it, I’ve gone and bought it.”

Says Vivian, who seems stuck in a never ending cycle of buy, regret and return. There’s Sara who is afraid of her husband finding out that she’s bought herself yet another pair of shoes and hides them at the back of her closet. And then there’s Charles who goes online shopping — and can’t stop.

What these three have in common is something that most of us, at one time or another, have experienced. That stomach-churning sense of guilt when we’ve gone shopping and bought something on impulse… and then regretted it.

But guilt has always been part of the shopping experience. Scientific studies have shown that the act of shopping produces chemical reactions in the brain similar to when one indulges in chocolate or smokes a cigarette. When shopping feels good, that’s the dopamine in your brain speaking.

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And that guilt you feel when you’ve swiped your credit card one too many times? Scientists who have studied shoppers say that the simple act of paying triggers a response in the prefrontal cortex of the brain — a response that has also been documented in smokers who have just finished a cigarette.

So should you even be feeling guilty? After all, guilt cuts two ways. On one hand, it can be a healthy response to the feeling that you’ve done something you should not be doing, or it could just be you being too hard on yourself.

Here are some ideas on how you can gauge for yourself whether you should be feeling guilty — or not.

Guilt Well Earned.
Guilt can be a good thing. It’s a sign that our moral compasses are working and is essentially our conscience motivating us to change our ways.

A person might feel guilt, and rightly so, when he or she breaks a promise to another person.

For example, when you have given your word to your partner or family not to make any frivolous purchases this month…and you end up going home with a brand-new computer game or handbag that you don’t really need.  Maybe you can justify the purchase to yourself (it was on sale, you deserve it, etc.) but ultimately, you’re breaking your word to the people you love, and that’s not cool.

Guilt can also strike, and rightly so, when you’ve put limits on other people but don’t live up these same standards yourself. Such as when you nag your children or partner to save money, and then go out and indulge yourself.

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Another sign that your guilt might signal a problem is when you find yourself lying to keep your shopping or the amount you’ve spent on any particular item a secret.

Let It Go.
When money is tight, it can be difficult to justify even the smallest expenses. But there are some instances where you just need to let the guilt go!

When your finances are in order — if your bills are fully paid up, you’re setting aside money each month for retirement, and you’ve set aside a budget for treats — there’s no reason why you should feel bad for shopping. After all, we work to live, not live to work!

Another instance in which it is alright to treat yourself is when you’ve been working more than your fair share — and your year-end bonus reflects it. Yes, you should set aside a good portion of this money for the future but this is also your chance to go for that big ticket item you’ve had your eye on for months or indulge in a fancy meal. After all, you’ve earned it!

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Lastly, it’s not a bad thing to spend when you actually need to. Say you’ve been promoted and you need new work clothes to suit your new role — go ahead and revamp your closet. This counts as a necessity.

Ultimately, the trick to avoiding that guilty feeling when shopping is to manage your money wisely. Pay off your debts, make a budget, stick to it, and there should be no reason why you shouldn’t allow yourself some freedom and flexibility to have fun.

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