Compulsive Returners

A sometimes unrecognized (or unacknowledged) form of overshopping is compulsive returning. Here, the overshopper regularly attempts to undo her habit by taking impulsive purchases back to the store for a refund. This, however, is an extension of the problem rather than a solution to it.

The compulsive returner fails to understand that in shopping, as in physics, material things and energy are interrelated. Though she may somewhat mitigate the financial consequences of her compulsion, she does so at a very high price in time and energy. It’s not unlike the high cost of credit card debt, where you end up paying double, triple, or worse for the items you’ve charged. With compulsive returns, you end up spending two, three, or more times the energy and hours. And these resources are far more precious than your money—they’re irreplaceable.

Compulsive returners combine two seemingly contradictory tendencies: they’re highly impulsive, yet they have a great deal of difficulty making up their minds. In addition, they’re often in denial, completely out of touch with the huge expenditure of time and energy their habit costs them. If this sounds like you, your road to recovery may well begin with letting go of returns. Making it a personal policy not to return can compel you to face up to your overshopping—and help you prevent it, instead of squandering time and energy trying to undo it. And when you do shop, this policy will force you to be more decisive and will lead to better decisions.

If you can’t make up your mind—if you think you might wind up wanting to return the item—don’t buy it! Leave it there! (You can always come back later if, upon reflection, you’re really sure you want it.) Above all, don’t kid yourself. Compulsive returning is overshopping. You’re merely discharging your batteries instead of charging your credit card. As if this weren’t enough, there’s now another pressing reason to stop habitual returns. The practice costs stores money, and they’ve begun harnessing computer resources to put a stop to it. Though store policies still vary widely, many retailers now track both returns and returners. If you abuse the privilege, you’ll find them saying firmly—and embarrassingly—“no” to your returns. Skip this awkward scene. Buy thoughtfully, and don’t make returning your safety valve.

By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Read More