New Test Shows If You Are a Shopaholic
The high from shopping til you drop can quickly fade for shopaholics, who's spending can wreak havoc on their relationships and wallets.
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A new shopaholic test could tell if you should leave your credit card at home when heading out to the mall.

The test makes it clear that there's shopping and then there's over-the-top purchasing that can wreak havoc on a person's life. People who become preoccupied with buying stuff and repeatedly spend money on items, regardless of need, are commonly referred to as shopaholics. Scientists call it compulsive buying. 

The new test was administered along with a survey that revealed that nearly 9 percent of a sample of 550 university staff members, mostly women, would be considered compulsive buyers. Past studies had put the incidence of compulsive buying somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent 15 years ago, and more recently, at nearly 6 percent, the researchers say. Other research has found men are just as addicted to shopping as women.

The new test includes six statements, for which individuals answer on a 7-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree:

  • My closet has unopened shopping bags in it.
  • Others might consider me a "shopaholic."
  • Much of my life centers around buying things.
  • I buy things I don’t need.
  • I buy things I did not plan to buy.
  • I consider myself an impulse purchaser.

Respondents who score 25 or higher would be considered compulsive buyers.

"We are living in a consumption-oriented society and have been spending ourselves into serious difficulty," researcher Kent Monroe, a marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told LiveScience. "Compulsive buying is an addiction that can be harmful to the individual, families, relationships. It is not just something that only afflicts low-income people."

Wondering where your score lies? "An individual could respond to the six items to check whether they may have these tendencies," Monroe said. "However, as with any attempt at self-diagnosing, it should be carefully done and honestly responded to."

Monroe and his colleagues found that compulsive buying was linked to materialism, reduced self-esteem, depression, anxiety and stress. Compulsive shoppers had positive feelings associated with buying, and they also tended to hide purchases, return items, have more family arguments about purchases and have more maxed-out credit cards.

Previous scales for identifying problem buyers are lacking because they depend in large part on the consequences of shopping, such as financial difficulties and family strain over money matters, the researchers note. But for compulsive shoppers with higher incomes, money matters could be non-existent.

A dwindling bank account is just one of the upshots of shopping 'til you drop. Others include family conflicts, stress, depression and loss of self-esteem.

The shopaholic test is just part of the answer.

"There needs to be more research not only identifying people who have a tendency to buy compulsively, but also on developing education and self-help programs for people who are buying things they do not need or use," Monroe said. "It can lead to a waste of resources and to deterioration in families and relationships."

The research is detailed in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. Financial support for the research was provided by the J. M. Jones endowment fund at the University of Illinois.