How to Control Your Emotions When Shopping

When I was a teenager, I went back-to-school shopping with my best friend and got suckered into buying more clothing than I needed or had money for. 

The saleswoman was smooth and knew all of the right things to tell a 16 year old girl who was nervous about going back to school and looking just right.  That saleslady upsold me on everything—I even bought the matching socks and earrings at her suggestion.

An hour later, embarrassed and a bit angry, I returned everything.

I bought my clothes with my own money from my part-time job, and I simply didn’t have the money to buy that much.

My experience was not unique, but unfortunately, many people now don’t return the items or better yet, stop themselves from buying them in the first place.

We don’t think of shopping as walking through an emotional minefield, but many times that is just what the experience is like.

One of the best ways to combat this minefield is to take your emotions out of shopping, which is easier said than done.  However, knowing why your emotions come into play when shopping can help you better control them.

How to Control Your Emotions When Shopping

Ways the Stores Play to Your Emotions

Consider the following strategies used by stores to get you to shop more:

1) Offering sales, sales, sales!

Stores employ several tactics to make you think you are getting a good deal and, thus, make you shop more.

“Sales, markdowns, two-for ones, and outlet stores are all designed to hit our bargain-loving Achilles’ heel.  So are retail tactics we should be wise to, like buying an item for $29.99 because we tend to discount it to $20 instead of $30, says Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of the new book, Cheap:  The High Cost of Discount Culture” (

2) Taking advantage of your senses.

Stores appeal to your senses to get you to stay longer and buy more.

Have you noticed that grocery stores have the deli and hot food sections at the front of the store and department stores have perfume counters at the front?

Paco Underhill, a New York author of the popular book, Why We Buy, explains that the use of smell “gets our saliva glands developing, and when we are salivating, we are much less disciplined shoppers” (Daily Finance).  Also, pay attention to the music the stores play; the choice is not a random one and is designed to make you stay longer.

3) Giving you large carts.

Have you ever noticed how large warehouse store carts are?  That is because the stores would like you to fill them.

By contrast, pharmacies have smaller carts, but they are still large for the amount of items you typically by there.

4) Linking items for sale.

If you have shopped on Amazon, you have probably noticed that when you look up one item to buy, there is a section that says, “Other shoppers who have looked for this item have also looked for the following”, and then there is a list of other, similar products.

Likewise, a grocery store will include chocolate and marshmallows next to the graham crackers that are for sale to get you to buy everything you need for S’mores, not just the graham crackers.  Clothing stores also do this by featuring an entire outfit, rather than just the shirt that is for sale.  Paco Underhill explains, “If we were only in the business of selling this blouse, we would be out of business.  We very much want to link items” (Daily Finance).

Ways You Can Control Your Emotions

control emotions when shopping

If you can’t control your emotions when shopping you may find yourself with shopping carts full of stuff you don’t need and can’t afford.

In addition to recognizing the tactics stores use to play on your emotions and get you to buy more, you also need to know yourself.

Consider the following:

1) When do you most want to shop?

Is it when you are feeling sad or depressed or when you want to celebrate?

Take the time to recognize the emotions connected with your shopping expeditions.  Then, make a list of things you can do instead.  If you are feeling sad, avoid going online to look at things to buy and don’t drive to the store.  Maybe you could call a friend instead or watch a movie or take a walk.

Come up with a list of strategies that work for you.

2) Ask, do I really need this?

I don’t spend a lot of money paying full price for items, but I do sometimes find myself buying too much at garage sales or thrift stores because “it” is a good deal.

Now, I have a lot of unwanted stuff that I am in the process of decluttering by donating and selling.  Because I have to deal with all this “stuff” and know what a pain it is, I am less likely to buy more.  I simply ask myself, “Do I need this?  Will it just end up in the pile downstairs?”

3) Ask, does buying this help me reach my financial goals?

If you need to buy a professional suit for a job interview, than yes, buying a suit does help you reach your financial goals (though you don’t have to buy the most expensive suit available).

Other times, you may find that discounted doo dad will do nothing for your finances or your life.  Even if something is on sale, it is not a good deal if you don’t need it and it doesn’t help you meet your financial goals.

Bottom Line On Your Emotions and Shopping

We are all, to some extent, emotional shoppers.

Stores know this, and they use that knowledge to their advantage to get us to buy more.  However, you can control your emotions when shopping if you know why stores do what they do and why you buy what you do when you do.

What strategies do you use to avoid emotional shopping?

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Published or updated December 11, 2014.


  1. Best way to combat this is by making a list of what you need and sticking to it. If it wasn’t on your list when you went to the store then you probably don;t really need or want it.

  2. I need to have my wife read this. We buy things way too often because they are on sale, and end up never using them. We need to spend more on what we need and less on what we want.

  3. I always use a list and have prices in mind. It creates discipline and keeps the emotions out of the process.

  4. Emotions are always a part of the equation, but generally the key is to step back and ask yourself if you’d buy it if it weren’t on sale. There are rarely things that should be worth it just because they’re on sale. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll convince yourself you will use it all the time and… yeah… no so much.

    I’ve also been known to put an item back and finish wandering the store, or even leave and (if necessary) come back. I rarely come back.

  5. Miggy | Pinoy Money Tips says:

    I think it will also help if you brought cash instead of several credit cars!

  6. I also advocated getting a good night’s rest before shopping or work. My will power decreases exponentially with the amount of sleep I got the night before.

  7. I wish you posted this before I went to NY. JK I resisted those ten dollar hand bags on the street. They are a good deal though. My kids enjoyed their I Love NY mugs.

  8. Some of the discount stores and wholesale clubs create an atmosphere of “buy now, because it might be gone tomorrow.” That actually has happened to us, and I find that we stock up because we honestly don’t know if they’re going to keep the stuff we just found out that we liked. We even kid that they’re going to stop carrying the item BECAUSE we like it so much.

  9. I find one way to stop me from impulsively being convinced to buy something is to think about whether:
    a. Do I love it?
    b. Do I already have something similar?
    c. What I can wear with it?

  10. I agree based on both knowledge and experience when you most store appeal to your emotions to make you buy stuff that you don’t want to. I think like some of the other comments keeping a strict list would be a good idea. Another good thing would be to keep a check to see how you are spending. Like for eg in your case you knew you could not pay for what you bought with your pay. Similarly if people were to know that they are spending so much money on things they don’t need that might contribute to a decrease in unnecessary spending.

  11. Shopping is definitely an emotional experience and many of us are emotional shoppers because we haven’t learned how to curb our impatience. Shops play on our need for instant gratification, which affects our self control and our need to own things right now.

    I love your suggestions on how to contol our emotions when shopping. I wold also suggest distracting yourself as a way to stop compulsive shopping. Walter Mischel (1960) conducted a study with 4 to 6 year olds and found that kids who were aboe to distract themselves were able to delay gratification. So if you see that item you just must have, maybe you can distract yourself by choosing to focus on your breath for 5 minutes or call a friend for a few minutes. This refocuses the brain to think of something alse.

  12. I think asking oneself “Do I need it” is the most important question. If the answer is yes then great, however if the answer is no then consider if it is financially viable to buy the item.

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