Why Are We Addicted to Bargains?

Bargain Hunting - An AddictionIt happens multiple times a year, every year. At Christmas time, for birthdays, and especially on big saving days like Black Friday, the multitudes gather at major shopping centers, big name stores, and discount outlets to get the best deal for the biggest items currently in fashion. You have probably heard the horror stories of shoppers being almost trampled as stores open their doors on Black Friday, or of people so desperate to grab the last item off the clearance rack before anyone else that a simple shopping expedition turns into an all-out brawl right there in the middle of the aisle.

We know it happens, and we know that we do it, too, but why? Why are we so addicted to bargains? Scientifically and sociologically, there are many reasons for this “need” to purchase products and items at discounted rates.

Webster’s dictionary defines dopamine as “a monoamine that is a decarboxylated form of dopa and that occurs especially as a neurotransmitter in the brain.” That is a long, scientific way to say that dopamine is the feel-good hormone in your brain. Known as the “reward” drug, it is the chemical in your brain that releases pleasurable and satisfied feelings due to a myriad of behaviours. When you exercise, have sex, and eat good food, dopamine is released in your brain, giving you a happy feeling that makes you want to repeat those endeavours. Do you know what else causes dopamine release? You guessed it - bargains.

We have all experienced that rush when you grab that pair of shoes on sale. Instead of spending over £100 on those new boots you simply have to have, you get them for a steal at £60, and you instantly feel successful and brilliant. Every time you wear them you feel smart, because you know that you paid so much less than retail value for them. That is the dopamine in your brain giving you a happy feeling for your bargain, and this happens every single time you purchase something at a vast difference from regular pricing.

Many of us do not really consider shopping to be a sport, much less a competitive one, but that is precisely what it is. You are competing against every other shopper to get the best deal on the best items. Whether you shop online or in a store, you know that there are other people around you who are interested in the same products as you, and the environment immediately becomes charged as you have to fight (though perhaps not literally) to get the things you want.

Competition is inherent in human nature. We all want to win. Because of this, you may see that there is only one sweater left in your size on that clearance rack, and even if you may not really need it, you have an overwhelming urge to win - to get it before anyone else can. As you bring that sweater up to the till, you are proud of yourself for winning, pleased that you purchased your item for such a low price, and satisfied that you have made a good decision.

A semi-panicked state is also induced when shopping for bargains. Even though shopping at discount stores often takes up more time because you have to sift through all the things you do not want – just to find the things you do, and even though there is no guarantee an outlet store will even carry the item you walked in to initially purchase, we still find ourselves thriving in their environments and returning to the same stores over and over again. This is because we know the same deals will not always be there. Closing down sales/end of line items especially have this effect, because stores advertise that once these are gone, they are gone for good. This makes us all want to snatch up them up while we can, because we (if only subconsciously) consider ourselves “losers” if we do not get that bargain.

Does all this mean buying bargains is bad? Absolutely not! If you are going to spend money, you should spend it wisely, and paying full price for an item is definitely not smart-shopping. There are, however, a few tips to help you only buy the products that you do actually need, as opposed to things you simply want, but really cannot afford to buy.

First, do not go into a store without an inkling of what you need. Maybe you really do need a new pair of flats to wear to work - but do not buy those off-price heels simply because they have been marked down drastically. Stores have a way of making it seem like you are saving a whole lot of money, when really any money you spend is not money you are saving.

Second, use cash as often as you can instead of a credit card. With cash, you can literally see your money leaving your wallet, whereas a card makes it seem like nothing is really going away. Do not let your bank statement surprise you. If you are aware of what you are spending, you will only buy the things you actually need.

Third, look up the normal price of the item you are buying to see if it really is as great a deal as the store claims. Often, bargains are not really bargains. Advertisers are paid good money to come up with ways to convince consumers to purchase a certain product, and they are very good at their job. Pay attention to what the signs say, and do not let the “you will save hundreds” bid lure you into thinking you are saving a lot of money when, in reality, you are still spending far more than you should. If you would not buy the item at full retail price, you should maybe reconsider buying it at the ‘bargain price’.

Bargain shopping is addictive for many reasons. Competition, time-sensitive items, and our own bodies all encourage us to buy, buy, buy while the going is good. Do not feel guilty about chasing down the latest deals on the things you buy, because it is good to invest a little time in pursuing those deals, but do be smart about it. Maybe we will always be addicted to bargains, but if you watch your spending, it can still be a lucrative endeavour indeed.

As a final note, although this article gives you some insight regarding a light-hearted 'addiction to bargains', if you feel that you are truly addicted to shopping and that you may have a real problem, there is a great list of resources regarding what support is on offer on the netmums site here - so please take a look.


MoneySavingPigCan you relate to this?  Are you also addicted to bargains, or have you got a different opinion that you want to share? We love suggestions and feedback so please use the comment section below.

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