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How Your Shopping Habits Are Formed

Updated: Feb 9, 2019

Use examples from my childhood to start reflecting on how your shopping habits formed and figure out why you spend the way you do.

Kira Bushman Jan 16

As a young girl with two working parents, I was lucky enough to have my grandparents around to take care of my sister and me. Their mild Kentucky accents were ironic given that those sweet-sounding, long vowels were often part of some veiled Southern criticism. But I loved them nonetheless.

Besides being quick to criticize, they were also more than willing to give out unsolicited money advice. Between them and my mother, who taught elementary school Junior Achievement courses and works at Fidelity Investments to this day, I could observe how tight budgets and being thrifty can take you far. From my father, who had all he needed and didn’t see any issue splurging on the finer things, I learned that you have to use your hard-earned cash to indulge sometimes.

Why am I waxing poetic about my childhood in a blog about shopping habits? Because that’s how your shopping habits are formed. According to a 2018 PBS News report, children form money habits as early as age 7. At that age, you probably haven’t even started school. Potty training and jars of mushy food aren’t even that far in the past. Hell, you probably can’t even read the word “finance” without sounding it out.

According to a 2018 PBS News report, children form money habits as early as age 7.

Luckily, the shopping habits that stuck with you at 7 years old don’t have to be your shopping habits forever. Spending on fashion and beauty can be especially hard to reign in. Trends are always changing, and you always want to try something new.

If you think you handle money poorly when it comes to clothing, it’s healthier to reflect on why you spend the way you do instead of just dwelling on how bad it makes you feel. To help you start thinking through it, I’m going to explain a few of the spending habits that work for me and how they came to be.

Fashion Shopping Habit #1: Save on the necessities.

“When I was growing up, it was the Depression,” my grandma would tell me, “and all I got was socks for Christmas.” I usually heard this story as an explanation for why, for the sixth time that year, my mom’s mom was giving me huge bundles of new socks and underwear. Of course, they were on sale — she rarely bought anything that wasn’t — but our drawers were still full from her last haul.

I complained about this a lot as a kid. What 10-year-old wants underpants for the holidays? Now, at 23, my grandma still sends me socks and underwear. It’s one of my favorite gifts. Being around this type of thrifty spending on necessary, everyday items means that I still buy my underwear in packs of 6 today (unless, of course, my grandma just sent me a pack).

Fashion Shopping Habit # 2: Looking is half the fun.

My mom has always loved shopping. I’m still kind of astounded by the number of days I spent at the mall with her as a child. We didn’t even have to buy anything. It was just the act of looking at all the stuff, feeling all the fabrics, swatching all the makeup, and drinking smoothies in the food court that held half the appeal. I still do this now. I go to the fanciest malls around and spend hours just looking. Some may find this boring or too tempting for their wallets, but to me, it’s like looking through thousands of square feet of a real-life fashion magazine. Learning to look but not buy has helped me save for bigger and better things while still feeding my thirst for fashion.

Fashion Shopping Habit #3: Balance your saves and splurges.

Like her mother before her, when my mom did buy things, they were usually on sale. Sometimes, though, a little retail therapy was in order. I remember being in high school when she was really stressed about something, so she went to Tiffany & Co., bought herself a ring from the Gatsby collection, and came home as carefree as ever. Psychologists may not condone this treatment, but it worked for her when she needed it.

These huge splurges were pretty rare. That was the most important part of what I learned from my mom about spending on fashion: balance. If you save most of the time, it’s okay to splurge on occasion.

Fashion Shopping Habit #4: You deserve it.

My dad was less thrifty with his money than my mom or my grandma. They would criticize him for it, but he had what he needed. He was just more willing to indulge himself. You see, even though my mom taught me a lot about balancing spending and splurging, she still had the habit of feeling shame for “unnecessary” big purchases. To an extent, that definitely rubbed off on me.

Fortunately, my dad’s attitude showed me another way. I didn’t have to feel bad for buying myself something if I could afford it. If I relaxed a little, I might even feel like I deserve it! Coupled with balancing purchases, losing the guilt about spending is a habit I’m still learning.

Reflecting on parts of your childhood like these — talking with your parents about money, hearing about your grandparents’ financial struggles, or even just tagging along with your family when they go shopping — will reveal the profound impact they’ve had on the way you spend today. When you recognize that impact, it will put your fashion spending habits in a whole new light. So next time you’re looking at that new dress and feeling some kind of way, ask yourself if how you feel now is how you felt when you were 7.

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