I returned to Israel from the US last Tuesday.
If you’ve been following me you know that my dad has been navigating some health issues recently. So my sister and I flew in to Los Angeles from our separate places in the world to shower our dad with daughterly love and support.
It’s been more than 25 years since Sis and I have been together in LA. Being the giddy sisters that we are (ask me sometime about the Gumby Patrol, cuttlefish, and Weeble & Wobble), it was clear from the get go that we were going to have lots of fun in our old stomping ground, go shopping and “do some damage.”
First stop: Barrington Park at 7:30 in the morning where we swung high on the swings reliving adventures of yesteryear. If the grass hadn’t been wet and muddy, we probably would have slipped behind the fence and into the gulley where we once played hide and seek and where I snuck my first cigarette at the age of ten (yuck!).
Next stop: Gap Kids. I purchased super cute (sale!) items for each of my grandkids. From there we moved on to Ross Dress for Less. I filled my shopping cart with tops for my girls, shirts and socks for my boys and a birthday present for #4 son whose 11th birthday was on Shabbos.
By the end of the day I was finished, and overwhelmingly grateful that I could do the rest of my shopping online. Tomorrow.
Bright and early the next day, and before I allowed Sis and me to go out on more adventures, I hopped on to Amazon (dot) com. Undershirts for the boys and men – check. Underwear for the boys and men – check. Neutrogena products for dear daughter – check. The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist for me – check.
I sent my husband an email with the subject line: “I am soooo done shopping!” And inside I wrote: “I think I have konked out from swiping my card.” (yes, spelling mistake included).
And that’s when the emails started coming in from the family:
“My shoes just died. Can you get me a new pair?” Sure, send me a link.
“My school bag is falling apart. Can you get me a new one?” Sure, send me a link.
“We need some good dental floss.”
“Can you get me this lip balm that I really like?”
“I need static spray.”
And so on. and so on. and so forth.
I made a day trip to San Francisco to meet my trainer and mentor Karen McCall. In the lounge of LAX while waiting to board the plane, I was emailing back and forth with my married daughters. And clicking the Amazon Buy button.
Yes, they were choosing the items. They were paying attention to the prices (I hope). And they are going to pay me back (right, girls?!) But nevertheless, I felt like I was in this hypnotic, frenzied state. And totally disconnected from what I was buying.
And it hit me front and center – it is way too easy to buy stuff online. You can do a lot of damage in a very short time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be said in favor of online shopping. It is super convenient and comparison shopping enables you to get exactly what you want at the best price. You can shop late at night when brick and mortar shops are closed. And you can shop in your pajamas. There’s no wasted time or gas travelling to and from the stores and malls where you face the very real risk of buying extra in-store items. And let’s not forget the quick pick-me-ups you might snag along the way like coffee, smoothies and protein bars.
Agreed. There are tremendous benefits to online shopping.
But there are also three massive booby traps waiting to ensnare you:
1. When you shop online you have to use credit cards. I know. They’re quick and convenient. And they keep you disconnected from the money you’re spending, the consequences of your spending decisions and, I would argue, they throw you completely off balance.
And it’s even more destabilizing when sites like Amazon have all your details on file. You don’t open your wallet. You don’t physically connect or hand anything over. You Buy Now with 1-Click.
A little brain science: among other parts, your brain is comprised of a pleasure center called the nucleus accumbens and a region that registers pain, loss and disgust called the insula. Research in the field of neuroeconomics shows different brain activity when you pay with credit cards and when you pay with cash: paying by credit card lights up only the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of the brain, while shopping and paying with cash lights up both the nucleus accumbens and the insula.
It’s like your brain was designed to help you stay connected with your shopping and your spending decisions and to maintain balance between pleasure and pain.
But we mess that up when we use plastic and when we Click.
We are biological creatures. We respond to and even crave stimuli that give us pleasure. So the purely pleasurable experience of paying with plastic transforms us into lustful beasts that desire more and more and more.
Studies show that when you pay with plastic, you’re likely to spend 20% to 30% more than if you pay with cash.
Credit cards embolden you to keep buying and to over-shop, throwing you off balance into the awaiting snare.
2. The Thrill of the Kill. Picture this: you’re surfing the net in search of a great deal on clothes, laptops, cellphones or whatever. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes later. You find it. The lowest price. The flashiest object. One click and it’s yours.
And you revel in that feeling of accomplishment. The kill. Yes!
A surge of dopamine. Your nucleus accumbens, your pleasure center, lights up.
And if there was any pain or remorse to be experienced, that rush of pleasure anesthetizes you against it.
Conquer (“kill”) and credit card. Online shopping becomes a double whammy of pleasure.
Until the credit card statement arrives and the pain of paying your bills sets in. But it is totally disconnected from the buying pleasure you experienced weeks ago.
You’re out of balance again, ensnared in the trap of online shopping.
3. Lack of Connectedness. We are biological creatures, yes. But as humans, we are also social creatures that gather in families, tribes, communities and nations. We have a sophisticated form of interacting with each other called speech. We were created by G-d to be with other people.
We need connectedness. We need interaction. We need human contact. Shopping in real stores connects us with real people, filling a real human need.
And when we get ourselves out of the house and into the stores, we move our bodies, we engage our minds, we interact with other people and we activate our senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch. In-store shopping is a complex human experience.
Tapping into our humanity invokes checks and balances on our behavior.
But in our electronic world of Facebook, Twitter, and online shopping, human interaction is quickly being diluted and destroyed. We’re morphing into human shopping machines where instant gratification is replacing complexity and depth. And we are left with a gaping hole in our souls. Which we try to fill.
By buying more stuff.
The painful fallout from our modern way of shopping is an array of cunningly sophisticated ways of disconnecting you from your money and your life.
Stop. Pay attention and notice.
Here are 6 ways to reconnect with your spending and help you reclaim balance in your life:
1. Make a list of items you really, really need. Plan how much you’re willing to spend on each item. Set spending limits and stick to them.
2. Find an accountability buddy to help you stay in line with your spending. It can be a spouse, a partner, a good friend or a trusted advisor. Choose someone you feel comfortable calling and who will hold you accountable to your self-imposed spending limits.
3. Use a timer to set limits on your online shopping adventure. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Get up from the computer and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
4. Use the online shopping cart and Click the Pause Button. Put the items you want to buy in the cart. When you finish shopping and before you hit the Buy Button, Pause. Get up and walk away. Come back in a few hours or tomorrow. Let the excitement and pleasure of shopping dissipate. When your brain and your body have had a chance to come back into balance you will be better able to make level-headed and mindful buying decisions.
5. Calculate how many hours you need to work to pay for each item in your cart. When you eagerly press the Buy button you Click away money, disconnected from the time and energy – you will never get back – it took to acquire it. Spend some time understanding the real cost of your spending decisions. Is it really worth it?
6. Spend time – not money – with people. Make a conscious and conscientious decision to disconnect from your phone and your computer. Go for a walk in nature. Read a book out loud to your kids. Give hugs to your loved ones and bake cookies together. There are many, many low cost and no-cost ways to fill the very real human need to connect with others on a deep and satisfying level.
And if you’re having trouble navigating the traps and challenges of online shopping and credit card debt, reach out for help. Sometimes a professional money coach experienced in the fine art of crafting and sticking to a spending plan makes the best accountability buddy. I coach folks around the globe. I can help you reconnect with your money and design a sustainable, meaningful life you love.
And that’s money well spent.