To say that I had just been eyeing Charlotte Chesnais’s layered, vermeil drop earrings would be one of the many understatements of 2016. I practically stalked them, checking The Line and Net-a-Porter almost daily, but at $680 and $755, respectively, I couldn’t pull the trigger on the sculptural designs—my bank account was already depleted and I had yet to purchase any of my Christmas presents for my 12-person immediate family.
According to Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of financial planning company, LearnVest, and New York Times bestselling author of Financially Fearless, the average family spends about $463 on each other during the holidays, while that same family has less than $400 in savings. Embarrassingly, my single-person household mimicked those statistics.
My said purchasing power or perspective of it changed in December when the statement earrings were marked down 40 percent to $272. Scared to lose them forever—they were perfect for the New Year’s Eve plans I didn’t have—I feverishly marched over to The Line’s Greene Street location in New York City, tried them on for the umpteenth time, and pulled out my credit card on the spot. Oh, and did I mention, I also managed to scoop up Chesnais’s silver, yellow, and pink orbital-esque works of art, too? I mean, I could give those as a gift.
Indeed, some might say I could be an emotional shopper—in fact, my friend Brendan often asks, “Where did you get that?” and “when did you buy that?” when he noticed anything new I was wearing. Granted, he was previously a litigator. But he wasn’t wrong in his line of interrogation, I didn’t need those earrings, much less could afford them, but buying them made me feel good—kind of like the effervescent first sip of Veuve Clicquot. And if I was feeling any sort of stress or sadness, wandering into a store, whether it was Zara or Totokaelo, usually yielded poor financial choices, kind of like aimlessly walking into a Whole Foods when you are hungry.
Still, I wasn’t alone. More than 5 in 6 Americans admitted to impulse buying in a survey conducted by CreditCards.com last year. And the perfect opportunity for game-time purchases happened for most people when things go on sale.
“Sales are effective because they tap into our sense of fear,” says New York-based clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis. “When we are afraid that we are going to miss out on an opportunity, we are usually pretty motivated to act quickly.” Manisha Thakor, director of wealth strategies for women at Buckingham Strategic Wealth & the BAM ALLIANCE, agrees, saying, “Sales introduce a dangerous cocktail of emotions: Savings! For a limited time! You are smart if you buy on sale!” So, I was basically screwed from Black Friday well into the new year.
Lisa Morse, a clinical psychologist in New York City, likens sale or compulsive shopping to other problematic addictions like alcoholism or binge eating. “If you want that glass of wine and you have no problem with alcohol, you might really enjoy your glass of pinot noir,” she says, “but if you have an alcohol issue, you’re going to have the glass. It’s going to make you feel temporarily better, and you are going to want more and more and more, and ultimately not satisfy the reason you were drinking to begin with.”
Do I care more about that sale or owning my apartment?
That’s not to say that all of us have shopping addictions, myself included, but it’s easier to engage in these kind of behaviors when now more than ever there is such a focus on materialism, greater access to credit, and 24-hour access and anonymity in online shopping. Morse captures the latter perfectly, saying, “Being able to sit at your computer at 3 a.m. in the morning and spend thousands of dollars eliminates that barrier to entry.”
Fittingly, playing offense is Tobel’s way of measuring if you can really afford said impulsive purchases and if they actually do make you feel better. “Not having a financial plan is a plan—the plan is you’re winging it,” she says. “It becomes so much less emotional when you really think ‘What do I care more about?’” Trust me, during that Net-a-Porter sale, I wanted 40 pairs of shoes and 4 dresses, but I ended up asking myself, “Do I care more about that sale or owning my apartment?”
Which brings me back to those gold Charlotte Chesnais earrings: Did they bring me more pleasure than say that $272 would have in my savings account? In that instant, they certainly did, but as days went by, I felt guilty about it—guilty for spending money I didn’t have and guilty for not spending it on others. After torturing myself for a few days, I finally registered the words “Final Sale” on the receipt and wore my finery proudly—first, with a fellow editor for a drink at the The Bowery Hotel, and then the very next day for my nephew’s violin recital. See, I told myself, they were worth it. But shortly after I arrived to the Upper East Side venue that Saturday morning and whipped my hair out of my face, a fellow violin enthusiast informed that while she loved my earrings, I was missing one. And, she was right, somewhere along my 13-block walk on Park Avenue, it must have fallen out. God-given proof: Impulse buying certainly was a bitch.
This article was originally published on Allure