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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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How to Say "No" to Impulse Buying

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Rebecca Davis.

Redbook Magazine Logo Behold! We reveal the secrets to shopping willpower.

Welcome to spending season - that heady period from October through December when catchy holiday displays and special offers abound. There you are, innocently window-shopping, when you spot a pair of fabulous pumps - 20 percent off! - that you just have to have. Impulse purchases like this are big business: More than 40 percent of the clothes women purchased in the first quarter of 2006 fell into that category, according to research by the trade association Cotton, Inc. And a whopping 60 percent of all purchases are spur-of-the-moment, reports the Marketing Science Institute (MSI). You're not safe from temptation online, either: In 2002, nearly 40 percent of e-purchases were impulsive. It's not that you have zero self-control - it's just that buying yourself a little (or big) something has an almost hypnotic effect. "Shopping can provide a pick-me-up and make you feel more in charge of your life," says April Lane Benson, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in compulsive-buying disorder. A better idea: Take charge of your wallet by resisting the urge to splurge. Here's how.

Window-shop without money.

Shopper's high - that lift people get from hitting the mall - comes from dopamine, a brain chemical that's emitted when you do something pleasurable (such as eating a giant slice of pizza or having sex). And that euphoric feeling is especially potent when the enjoyable activity exposes you to something new - like all that gleaming merchandise you haven't seen before - according to research by Gregory Berns, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine.

Think about it: The first time you have sex with a new partner is generally more exciting than the 100th time. That's because more dopamine is being released into your brain.

To take the "newness" out of the buying experience, window-shop first without your wallet. Then, you can return to the store with a clearer head and some self-control. This extra step takes a little more time, but the savings are worth it.

Don't make shopping a social thing.

Shoppers who hit the stores in groups of three or more made 7 percent more impulse purchases than those browsing alone or in pairs, according to research from the MSI. If you really want company (say, a pal who can tell you if that dress makes your butt look big), pick one friend who isn't a big shopper so she can keep your spending in check, advises Benson, who has created a compulsive-buying treatment program (

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