Reasons We Go Shopping: 8 Explanations As to Why Your Subsconscious is Spending All of Your Money

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 12: Shoppers look among women’s fashion at a Primark clothing store a day after the store's opening on July 12, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Primark is expanding aggressively in Germany and is becoming a serious competitor to other low-cost clothing store chains. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Source: Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Ah, shopping. Even those of us who can’t afford to buy anything find ourselves doing it. Recent research shows that 50 percent of Millennials regularly browse online for things they have no intention of purchasing… think of it as 21st century window shopping without the walking. But man, when we do commit to a swipe of a credit card — bank statement be damned! — we feel that familiar rush of adrenaline, and we convince ourselves the high is worth the comedown.

So where does that feeling come from, even when we’re broke? Even when we’re tired? Even when we don’t feel like fighting the crowds or facing the harsh fluorescent lighting of a department store dressing room?

Sure, we shop for the obvious reasons — wanting to nail a job interview look, or having nothing to wear to Great Aunt Mabel’s funeral but a hot pink power suit. But there are other very strange, very subconscious reasons you might be feeling that invisible pull toward the mall.

The good news? Your spending habit might not be entirely your fault, or at least not the fault of your conscious self. The bad news? Your subconscious self is wreaking havoc on your purse.

Here, in no particular order, are all the answers to that vexing, age-old question: Why did I buy that?

1. BECAUSE YOU'RE OVULATING

During their most fertile time of the month, women are more likely to prioritize — at least on a subconscious level — looking good in order to attract potential mates. And as much as my inner feminist just recoiled at writing that sentence, I cannot argue with biology. You might think this particular wiring might have us all heading straight for the nearest, sexiest sample sale approximately 12 to 16 days after our most recent period, and you’d be right. Women are more likely to purchase, ahem, asset-flattering outfits at this time — call it the ovulation effect. But here’s the kicker: landing a man might be the end-game, but the immediate reason for showing off the goods? It’s actually motivated by other women… and an unconscious desire to outdo female competition. No, the publication of this particular research may not have been our gender’s finest hour, but hey, the menstrual cycle does funny things to a girl. Just don’t be surprised if you happen upon an “ovulation sale” the next time you’re at the mall; experts say “the current findings may have practical implications for marketers.” In other words, it’s only a matter of time before retailers start capitalizing on your fallopian-tube action.

 2. BECAUSE YOU WANT TO SEEM LIKE A GO-GETTER

You may think your motivation for buying that holiday party outfit is purely oh-my-god-how-cute-is-that-skirt, but researchers say purchasing luxury goods sends a subtle message: you’re an ambitious woman. You’ll also be perceived by your peers as “of high status,” according to The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Dressing for the life you want? Try shopping for the life you want.

3. BECAUSE RETAIL THERAPY IS A THING AFTER ALL

When you feel out of control, you may be tempted to make a to-do list and take up meditation. But you could be better off channeling Cher Horowitz and hitting the mall. Turns out, studies defend this Valley girl type of coping mechanism, because the act of selecting between merchandise helps us feel in charge of our own lives. Excuse me while I celebrate the best news of all time: science says we should shop.

 4. BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN TRICKED

Remember that time you were walking to work or the gym or your favorite coffee shop, with no intention of purchasing anything along the way? You know, the time you felt some strong and inexplicable tug into a shop en route and before you knew it, some zombiefied version of yourself was buying something you didn’t even know you wanted. What is this shopping sorcery to which you’ve succumb? It’s called sensory manipulation, whereby retailers prey on your subconscious to sell you more. They incorporate the color blue into their merchandising to make you feel welcome, or the color yellow to put you at ease. And they may even play soft music or incorporate smells of pumpkin and lavender to further disarm you; people will pay $10 more for a pair of Nikes in a room that’s scented, after all.

 5. BECAUSE IT BRINGS JOY

Forget what your mother told you: money can buy happiness — and feel-good endorphins — if you know how to use it. You could spend $500 on that Tadashi Shoji number you’ll wear once, or you could split that money up and purchase several items that will get more play in your wardrobe rotation. The latter decision — buying more things for less money — has mood-lifting properties, according to Harvard researchers. Also smart? Delayed gratification. Admire that sweater from afar for a bit before you sport it, and you’re more likely to appreciate it — and life in general. Finally, say our Harvard guys, be wary of comparison shopping, which “can distract from product attributes which may be important for a consumer’s happiness.” Do all of this, and you’re on your way to a shopping-induced happy place.

 6. BECAUSE IT HELPS THE BRAIN

No kidding, bargain hunting isn’t just good for the budget, it can improve your memory. Tell that to your SO next time he complains about Alexander Wang appearing on the credit card bill.

7. BECAUSE YOU'RE HAVING A DRY SPELL

If you’re tempted to splurge, it may be that you’re jonesing for certain brain chemicals released during pleasurable — ahem, intimately pleasurable  moments. Turns out, dopamine release isn’t just a side effect of sexy time. But anyone who has happened upon the sale section at Bergdorf’s can tell you that.

8. BECAUSE YOU NEED TO EXPRESS YOURSELF

The next time you’re feeling the twinges of buyer’s remorse, remember this: if, at one point in time, it made you feel good to buy that fringed leather utility belt or this Star Trek-inspired top, own that purchase with pride. Because if you’re like most women, you don’t shop based on what fashion says is fabulous, but based on what makes you feel fabulous. And that, whether subconscious or not, is a beautiful thing. 

Images: Getty; Giphy

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