When I was a boy, my family had a series of dogs: a Saint Bernard, a Shih Tzu, a Golden Retriever and a whole host of mutts. Because dogs will be dogs, and because we lived in the country far from anything, our dogs would sometimes begin barking…and continue barking for minutes. Or hours. When this happened, my dad would shake his head and say, “That dog is barking for the sake of barking.”

Barking for the sake of barking started as yet another silly father-ism (I’m sure your family has some too), but it morphed into something more. Whenever somebody did something irrational, we’d say they were “blanking for the sake of blanking”.

As most of you know, I used to be a compulsive shopper. I lived beyond my means. I used credit cards to fund a lifestyle I couldn’t afford. Though my wife and my family tried to get me to change my ways, I wouldn’t listen to reason. And, of course, one day my father told me, “J.D., you’ve got to stop. You’re shopping for the sake of shopping.”

He was right.

Shopping for the Sake of Shopping
As a younger man, I spent to feel better about myself. I spent to keep up with my friends. I spent to have the things I felt that I deserved. And often, I would spend for the sake of spending. What do I mean?

Many times I’d leave the house with the sole purpose of shopping. I wouldn’t have anything specific in mind to buy — I just wanted to spend money. I wanted the satisfaction of bringing home something new. I’d decide I wanted new comic books, for instance (even though I hadn’t read everything I already owned), and so spend a Saturday afternoon dropping from shop to shop. I’d come home with $50 or $100 of new comics, most of which I’d never read.

Or other times, I’d be in a store, and I’d just buy things almost at random. They were things I wanted, sure, but wanted only in the mildest sense. For example, maybe I thought a voice recorder looked interesting, so I’d buy it — and never use it. Or I’d grab a couple of impulse items in the checkout line.

When I did these things, I was shopping for the sake of shopping. Somehow, in some way, this spending made me feel better. It was the act of shopping itself that made me feel good about myself.

Well.

Obviously, that’s not sustainable. It’s no wonder I found myself in debt, and that I stayed there for so long. It was only as I began to control my urge to shop for sport that I was able to start digging out of debt.

Now good habits are ingrained. I find it difficult to go shopping, even when I need to. It used to be a way for me to feel better about myself; now I derive satisfaction from other activities, like exercising or learning Spanish. That’s not to say that I never make impulse purchases (because I do), but spending is no longer a way to boost my self-esteem.

High Fidelity
It has been a long time since I went shopping for the sake of shopping. I intentionally steer clear of recreational spending. But last week my friend Paul dropped a line to see if I wanted to go record shopping with him. Against my better judgment, I agreed.

Long-time readers know that I’m something of a Luddite. Though I love the bleeding edge of modern technology, I also cling to the past. I have a record player (actually three — two are still at the house with Kris) and hundreds of records that I’ve acquired over my lifetime. Despite the advances in technology, I’ve always had a record player — since I was five or six years old.

For a long time, it was tough to buy new records. Sure, I bought lots of old vinyl at garage sales and thrift stores, but new albums? They just didn’t exist. That’s changed over the last few years (yay!). As people like Paul re-discover the joys of vinyl, there’s a growing market of old fogies like us who actually enjoy the nicks and pops. They impart a sense of nostalgia.

So, Paul and I headed out on Thursday to do some record shopping. We visited a handful of stores to leaf through the record bins, looking for black gold. He walked away with several treasures. In the olden days, I would have done the same. This time, though, I was proud of myself. Even though I was shopping for the sake of shopping, I was smart about it.

  • I shopped from a list. Before we left, I made a list of a few albums I wanted to buy. I stuck to that list.
  • I didn’t let myself get caught up the emotion of the experience. I was having fun. In the past, that would have been a recipe for disaster. The fun would have made me want to spend more, and that would have led to shopping momentum, etc. This time, I kept my emotions in check.
  • I ate first. Some of you may think this is silly, but I’m one of those who tends to overspend when hungry. On Thursday, I was ravenous as we set out. I made sure we stopped for lunch before we entered a record store. I’m glad I did.

Ultimately, I bought only one album: Carole King’s classic “Tapestry” (which I’m listening to even as I type). I spent only $3 and came home with a record that was on my list. Ten years ago? I would have come home with a dozen or more records, most of which would have gathered dust. Ten years ago, I would have spent for the sake of spending. I don’t do that anymore, and it makes me happy.

Do you shop for the sake of shopping? Have you in the past? What tricks do you use to cope with an urge to spend? Or are you one of those lucky folks who can wander through a mall without ever being tempted to by anything?