In the 1960s American psychologist Walter Mischel did a study about self-control called “The Marshmallow Test.” Essentially, he offered children a choice: you can have one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later on. Logic would dictate that you should wait, because you’ll get more treats, however the majority of children in the study chose the smaller reward, because immediate gratification was more appealing.
The same parallel can be drawn to credit cards and shopping addictions, overspending and immediate gratification. In many ways, credit cards have become enablers for spending addictions, because they are a tool to connect the consumer with that appealing chance for rewards right now. This is dangerous if you’ve got an addiction to spending.
“Shopping addictions are just like substance abuse or gambling. For a variety of psychological reasons, people with shopping addictions spend compulsively because they think it will make them feel better,” says Jeff Schwartz, executive director, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada.
Schwartz continues, “In order to combat spending addiction, you’ve got to set yourself up for success; put your credit cards away; commit to cash lifestyle and get some help to understand your behaviour and your motivations.”
Let your head rule your heart
Scientists have studied what happens in the brain when you are offered an immediate reward. When thinking about an immediate reward, the part of the brain that regulates emotion lights up; when thinking about a reward in the future, that part is quieter and the part that regulates logic is more active. The emotional reaction is also much stronger in the brain than the logical response.
The problem is that spending addiction is fueled by emotional impulse and the emotional lure of immediate gratification of that need is stronger than logic. Spending for some people delivers a high, much like gamblers or substance addicts experience.
You’ve got to train your brain to look past the reward right now to reap the rewards of the future.
Break the cycle
Not surprisingly, letting logic dictate your spending is a process that includes steps. You can start by shelving those credit cards and building a budget. Taking away the means to fund your addiction cold turkey will remove the opportunity to go further in debt.
When shopping, commit to walking away from a purchase every time. Go through a checklist when you’ve removed yourself. Do I need this? Do I have cash on hand to pay for it? Is this something that I can save up for and buy in the future?
This gives you time and space to process your purchase, relying on your logic.
Why are you spending?
When you suffer from a spending addiction, getting rid of your credit cards is a way to stop the debt cycle, but you’ve got to understand why you are turning to spending in the first place.
Like with all addictions, getting support from professionals, friends and family to identify the cause of your addiction and provide you with coping strategies is essential to your long term well-being.
Has an addiction to spending created a debt crisis for you? It’s not too late to change your habits and get rid of that debt for good. The first step is to take control. Contact one of our trained credit counsellors at or visit our free online debt analysis.