An award-winning study by researchers at IIT Kharagpur suggests that men are equally prone to impulse buying as women, but women feel more guilty about shopping. This holds true for working women as well, who are, ostensibly, spending their own money on themselves. The survey checked for factors like need recognition, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decisions and post-buying behaviour. Who can claim to never have given in to an irresistible urge to buy something unnecessary, only to regret it immediately afterward?
At the risk of being accused of having a staunch, heteronormative point of view and alas, also of committing the sin of subscribing to stereotypes, in my own meandering experience I have found women do, indeed, shop more than men. And almost all without exception, lie about it. Personally, I have never given a straight answer when somebody actually has the temerity to ask me how much something cost. But there is no dearth of the annoyingly inquisitive. One can always dodge these questions with deliberate vagueness, like mentioning a sale or claiming the item as a birthday gift. What’s tougher to explain is why do grown-ups feel bad about spending their own money? I wish I could say it’s because we’re wracked with guilt because a lot of what we buy is produced by low-paid, exploited workers in the poorest parts of the world but the real reasons I’m afraid, are far more frivolous. It’s all very well to consider solving your problems with honest contemplation but an over-the-top shopping binge fixes things immediately. (Albeit, temporarily.) Shopping is something to do. Besides, it’s not exhausting like a museum, or a run in the park or the hundred other activities we engage in to stifle boredom. You go home with a gleaming new package with your chosen goodie all wrapped up. What’s not to love?
The protagonist in the very watchable Confessions of a Shopaholic observed, quite cannily, that shopping made one feel like the world is a better place. Audrey Hepburn echoes the same idea when she emerges out of a yellow cab to gaze longingly in a shop window in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to say with a sigh, nothing bad can ever happen in there. Shoppers, in a sense, are like gamblers who downplay their losses and inflate their winnings (even to themselves). Similarly, there’s a significant gap between what people think they spend and what they actually do — and it’s at least double. Young Indians, especially, carry the burden of the frugality of past generations but live in a culture of glitzy display windows and mobile apps advertising the latest deals on Amazon. In our heads, we still believe anyone shopping too much is vacuous, inane, and shockingly immature, so we’re crushed by our own misconduct when we do. There’s no escaping guilt. Guilt for working too hard or not hard enough. Guilt for buying too much and desecrating the planet, or for furtively hiding the price tag before anyone comes home. My thought is if you’re not buying conflict diamonds, or mink furs, or blowing up your children’s college fund on shoes, resolving an inner conflict about acquisitions is made simpler by the thought that we’re all going to die, and none of this really matters. Might as well enjoy it. Unfortunately old habits are tough to break so we are still caught up in justifying
A very successful, single, 35-year-old hotel professional told me her mother called her every morning to tick her off about spending Rs 800 a day on a dog day care. She felt guilty about her dog being lonely while she was away at work but felt equally guilty when her mother reminded her of the money she was wasting. The pet day care owner, meanwhile, sends all his clients hundreds of images on WhatsApp of what their pets are doing — napping, eating, and swimming — almost like he was aware of their gross misattribution of funds and fully expected them to take the very rational decision of withdrawing immediately. Luckily enough, one man’s self-indulgence can be another’s austerity and it takes all kinds of people, spendthrifts included, to keep the world spinning. For some of us, the road to self-actualisation is a long and winding one, reached only after a few diversions of silly spending, and shopping sprees.