Delving into the spending habits of women

Most of us love to shop, but what motivates us? And have we changed our habits since the recession? Rose Mary Roche reports.

Despite their regular consumption of fashion instore and on-line, three in five women claim that they don’t have anything to wear.

Women acknowledge that shopping can be an illicit thrill (one in seven women regularly hide purchases from their husbands or partners).

With the sales upon us, and festive expenditure (socialising, gift-giving) still in full swing, most women are now in peak spending mode for the next week at least.

While surveys show that Irish people are consistently among the top spenders on Christmas, with an average spend of €600 to €1,000 per person, how specifically do women approach their spending, particularly on looking glamourous for the social season?

And post the economic melt- down and with the tentative re-emergence of consumer confidence, have Irish female spending habits been altered for good?

Debbie O’Donnell, acting head of Daytime at TV3, acknowledges that her spending has changed considerably: “Before the recession I was a big shopper but I wasn’t a mum then either. I have a huge love of dresses, Irish designers in particular and I bought a lot of extravagant gúnas at that time. I definitely tightened my belt during the recession.

“As a nation we have moved away from thinking that buying expensive clothes is ‘cool’ and valuing what we have instead. This is a good thing.”

Revamping and recycling clothes is key. Most women, regardless of budget, love to shop, but just how much do women spend on their wardrobes?

Research by Goldman Sachs in the US in 2013 found that women gradually spend more as they navigate their 20s and 30s peaking at 45 and declining thereafter.

The study estimated that women spend 5% of their take-home pay on fashion and that over her lifetime the average US female spends €114,000 on clothing and accessories (buying over 3,000 items of clothing and 145 handbags).

Cheap credit, the emergence of fast fashion at temptingly low price points and a social media culture that promotes endless selfies all contribute to the desire for a constant cycle of new clothes.

The relationship that women have with shopping is complex, emotional even intense. At its most extreme it can defy logic, sunder relationships and evoke rollercoaster highs and lows.

For some women such as fashion professional Lisa Fitzpatrick spending is calmer and more considered: “I’m really a savvy shopper I buy what I need and really love. My motto is if in doubt I can do without. I look after my clothes, shoes, bags so well that I can take them out year after year, especially coats.”

Retail therapy isn’t just a jaded cliché, research has shown shopping is often indulged in as a type of ‘self-therapy’, Tammy Faye Baker legitimised her spending by declaring: “I always say shopping is cheaper than psychiatrists.”

It can be a painfully expensive therapy. The brain’s physical reaction to shopping can mimic its response when physically attracted to another — the pupils dilate, the heart–rate increases and there is a rush of dopamine released into the bloodstream, the hormone that deals with emotion and reward.

Levels of dopamine are usually controlled by the brain’s ‘thermostat’ but when individuals over-secrete the hormone it can lead to impulsive behaviour that promotes enjoyment without considering the consequences.

In extremes an addiction to shopping develops and individuals run up huge debts regardless of their income or ability to pay.

A shopping addict is defined as someone who shops compulsively, that definition encompassing those who shop when experiencing emotional distress, trophy shoppers always shopping for the perfect item, bargain seekers who buy items they don’t need simply because they are on sale, serial collectors who have to own “one of everything in each colour” and those who like to be perceived as big spenders.

Incredibly, a drug, memantine has been cited by the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, as being tested to help shopping addicts with their compulsive behaviour.

Addiction aside, shopping lets women de-stress in a uniquely female way. Elayne Boosler the US comedienne has quipped: “When women are depressed they eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.”

So before you embark on your sales spree, absorb the words of Vivienne Westwood:

“Buy less, choose carefully and make it last.”


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