The blue suede shoes sit on the elevated pedestal in the department store, calling to you. At last, the perfect complement to the outfit you purchased last month. You hesitate for a moment, afraid to turn them over and see the price…
Understanding what happens in your brain when you spend money on something you really like can make a big difference. This lets you know how to keep your spending brain balanced and your wallet happy – while still enjoying those trips to the mall. Because I love my blue suede shoes.
This is Your Brain on Shopping
Deep in our brain are pleasure centers and pain centers. Spending money on something we like gives off a feel-good hit of dopamine. This wonderful neurochemical is part of the spice of life; it’s the same chemical that floods our brain when we bite into a perfect piece of chocolate cake.
Dopamine is really active when we do things that are new, novel, or exciting. And often, shopping fits this bill. We are “hunting” for something new, and when we hit a sale or find a really great deal it is very exciting and triggers a boost of dopamine.
Then comes the pain. You turn over the perfect shoes and see the price tag. Ouch! And when you pull out the cash to pay for them, you really feel the pain.
It is actually healthy to feel both the pleasure of the purchase and pain of paying for it. We get into trouble (overspend) when we float away on the pleasure and hide from the pain of paying for something.
Stores know how to amp up your pleasure centers with mood music, nice salespeople beautiful surroundings and, of course, those amazing shoes on sale.
If you put the shoes on a credit card, the payment is divorced from the transaction, so you don’t feel the “pain” of paying. Let’s face it, you know in the back of your mind you aren’t going to pay that bill for a couple of weeks. And even when you do, the shoes will only be one item among many. So while you may be in shock when your credit card bill arrives, you still won’t really “feel” the shoe purchase. And you will already have (over) spent on the shoes. You have oversaturated in pleasure and not let yourself feel the pain of paying.
Simply put, credit cards unbalance the brain.
(In addition, credit cards induce money fog. Many purchases are lumped into a single payment, making it difficult for our human brains to think about and plan our purchase rationally.)
Here are some basic strategies to help you be in control and not overspend:
- Don’t put your pleasure spending on credit cards. Use your debit card for clothes and things you enjoy. This way you feel the purchase and will be more mindful of what you spend. Keep your credit card for times when you are not prone to overspend, such as car repair.
- If you do use your credit card, track your spending in a credit card register right away. Tracking your purchases in your spending plan software almost instantly balances your brain. (MoneyMinder Online, financial software, was designed to help users track their spending, including credit card spending, for just this reason.)
- Find other ways to boost your dopamine levels so you are less likely to do it by shopping.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying shopping and buying things you love. If you allow yourself to feel your purchase you will keep your brain balanced, healthy, and happy.