Unpacking the shopaholic within: Can a serial saver become a reformed shopaholic? Image Credit: Nasir Khan/Gulf News

We explore the diverse ways people approach shopping, from those who battle spending urges to others who find joy in retail therapy.

Confessions of a Secret Shopaholic

By Dhanusha Gokulan, Chief Reporter

I don’t consider myself a conventional shopaholic. I can exercise remarkable restraint in my consumer habits for weeks and even months. I repair and reuse old clothes and bags, meticulously darn small tears in my formal attire, and opt for local cafeterias over Michelin-starred restaurants. I endure the inconvenience of connecting flights to long-haul destinations—sometimes spending 24 hours on a journey to Los Angeles that could take only 17 hours with a direct Emirates flight—and avoid driving long distances to save on fuel.


However, there are moments when my retail habits would make Elle Woods, the iconic fashionista portrayed by Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, pale in comparison. During these episodes, my wants transform into urgent needs. I embark on spending sprees, buying every new skincare product at Sephora, picking clothes and shoes without a glance at the price tags at Zara or Pull & Bear, securing the latest phones and smartwatches for my family before they even hit the market, and making spontaneous travel plans, incurring exorbitant airfares.

Following such a shopping "blitz," regret sets in as soon as I receive my credit card statement via email. I curl up into a ball, clutching my knees to my chest, chanting in total panic, "How can I pay this back?" That's when my austere period begins. My savings are depleted to repay the outstanding amounts on my credit cards, driven by a crippling fear of debt. Once I tire of this austerity, the cycle repeats. Except for those closest to me, no one would ever guess I have such uncontrollable impulses when it comes to spending my hard-earned money. Don't get me wrong; I understand the importance of saving for a rainy day.

In a city where luxury and opulence are the norms, I tell myself, "I can’t always be blamed for being a spendthrift." That said, navigating the fine line between occasional splurges and financial irresponsibility is a challenge I continually face. While I strive for balance, the allure of the next shopping spree often proves irresistible. And I am not a bargain hunter either.

This paradox of austerity and extravagance defines my secret life as a shopaholic, a constant tug-of-war between the desire to save and the impulse to spend. But, I remain hopeful that one day, I will find a way to reconcile these conflicting urges and achieve financial harmony. After all, what is the point of living if you can’t enjoy the finer things life has to offer?

Retail therapy vs. memory making: Is your shopping a treasure hunt or a burden?

By Sharmila Dhal, UAE Editor

Some say buying things yields only momentary joy. Others vouch investing in experiences makes memories that last forever.

I am not sure which side of the fence you are on, but here’s where I stand.

First the confession: I am an avid shopper.

And a good product obtained at a better price can define my best day out.

Forget the routine cases in point, many instances even from my travels come to mind. A tall cylinder vase picked up on a depleted budget after forfeiting a sumptuous meal on the last day of a trip to Milan; handcrafted crystal bought after much haggling to the astonishment of a friend on a picturesque Tbilisi street; a funky polka dot stole with pom-pom tassels bought at the lone shop on a countryside lane in Bray; a weighty pair of wooden monkey bookends purchased at an unlikely Boston mart, the excess baggage they commanded on the flight back home mocking at their single digit tag; the list can go on.


It’s funny that I should be talking of such things, years, even decades after I got them. Truth be told, they occupy pride of place in the flash drive of my mind. They stand out in pockets of my physical spaces too, prompting me to relive the cherished times gone by.

The compulsive hunts, the surprise finds, the bargains struck, the carry-back circus – each has a deeply personal story that continues to make me smile.

Now, my question is, aren’t these the stuff that memories are also made of? Surely, shopping can make for lasting experiences too? Why the fence and the divide?

The clockwork shopper: When the thrill of the hunt gets replaced by routine

By Manoj Nair, Business Editor

Shopping is supposed to be about passion, giving in to something that brings genuine pleasure in owning a tangible item. It's the feeling that comes from completing the transaction for a new car, a high-end watch, or even a fashion label that feels current.

Shopping can also involve canny decision-making, and timing purchases to get the best deals when they arise.


Or, shopping can be made as boring as possible. That seems to be the case with me. For me, shopping is about sticking to a ritual that has served me well over the years: arriving at the storefront five minutes before the shutters open at one of Dubai’s popular malls. I am the first customer to enter the clothing store and point to the two colour shades that have defined my wardrobe. Forever.

I pick up four of those and wait another four months to repeat the process. As I said, it's all about rituals. I hate any deviations from these routines. I don’t wait for sales promotions or look at the tags. I point to my choice and buy it instantly. It's always the first Saturday of a particular month. Over the years, the clothing brand’s UAE franchisee has even come to consider me a friend.

Whether it’s clothing, gold, or groceries, I follow the same process. For hypermarket visits, I always arrive at the entrance by 6:55 a.m. for the 7 a.m. opening. I avoid online shopping whenever possible.

Many people have pointed out that this mode of shopping removes all the fun and excitement from the process. I understand their point of view, even though none of their arguments have made me change a bit...

Taming my tendency to maniacally spend

By Justin Varghese, Your Money Editor

Did I ever have a problem going overboard with my spending? Now that I think about it, I can admit that I once did. Shopping was especially a crippling problem for me then.


If I remember correctly, it was as soon as I started earning on my own. The usual excitement and empowerment that followed completely took over for me! Not only was it my first intention to take a couple of low-limit credit cards to fund my first (and only!) solo trip, but I also maxed both cards out. How I wished my cash flow problems ended with the infinite number of minimum payments I made since.

Here’s a truth that I’m ashamed to admit even now: I never thought far enough down the line about the consequences of making only minimum payments for years on end. How I justified my spending was by thinking that each time I added money to the card, I could keep spending it.

Thus began my endless shopping sprees, both online and offline, whether during routine trips to nearby malls or mindlessly ordering items online by just clicking 'add to cart' for anything I fancied in the spur of the moment.

What did I often buy? Anything from clothes, food, and accessories to gadgets—you name it, and I would soon eye it and have it! If there was a general fad or craze behind it, I would want it out of fear of missing out, rather than it being of any use to me.

The turnaround

It took me nearly a decade to sober up from these spending escapades. It started when I began missing payments on my credit cards, and eventually, I kept missing them due to the high interest charges. When people from the bank started calling, it was a wake-up call and time to call it quits!

But like everything else good in life, turning things around was easier said than done. It took me close to five additional years to get out of the financial mess I had made and learn the harsh difference between debt and credit!

I do still occasionally feed my impulses to go overboard with my spending—but not before budgeting how much I can afford to splurge from my regular earnings. What I’ve learned about my impulse spending decisions is that once the craving goes, it often proves futile.

If I still want it after the “impulse” feeling passes, I set aside money for it after looking for ways to save on it! For instance, I treat myself to travelling business class at least once when I fly back home. This is just to pamper myself and travel in style. I mean, who wouldn’t want to if they got the chance?

But instead of booking the doubly-priced ticket at the get-go every time, which is what I would have done in my no-care-in-the-world days, I wait for the last possible minute to upgrade from economy! Anyone would be surprised at the deals I got just for checking back on the rates days before I travel.

So, have I overcome my tendency to overspend every time I get the chance? Maybe not entirely, but I do love the occasional splurge! It tames my tendencies to impulsively (rather maniacally!) spend—something I cannot downplay enough!

Master of the deal or slave to retail therapy? My love for shopping decoded

By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Am I a shopaholic? Nah. Can’t be. I enjoy shopping, but that doesn’t make me a shopaholic. Right? I’m a mall rat. I’ll admit that. That’s for window shopping, mostly. Unless I find an irresistible deal.


Why do I trawl the malls? There’s nothing better to do during a scorching summer. Moreover, some brands bombard me with text messages and emails offering deals so lucrative that I have to check them out. My trips are merely to assess the accuracy of the discount offers.

The 40% discount will become 70% over the weekend. Expectedly, the best shirts and trousers won’t be on sale. The shirt or chino I wanted is on the NEW ARRIVALS rack. I’m not easily tempted, so I wait. When it comes up for a half-price sale, I snag it straight away. No second thoughts. No waiting.

It’s the same with shoes. There’s a brand I love. I walk into their shop whenever I’m in a mall, looking for new models. Invariably, it would have been priced out of my budget. So what do I do? Wait for the sale. If it’s not included in the sale, it will certainly come up in the next one. And I’ll be there to pick it up with a glee.

These are purchases that I plan. Simply because I love a particular shoe model. Or when a certain shirt or trousers had caught my fancy.

The only things I buy impulsively are T-shirts and pens. If I walk into a shop and find a T-shirt or a pen I like, I will pick it up without even thinking, provided it fits my budget.

Tees are an obsession. I wear them only on weekends, which means twice a week. Frankly, I don’t know how many tees I own. Sometimes, I buy a T-shirt and come home to find that I own a similar or identical one. Blame it on impulse buying.

I’m not brand-conscious, but yes, I’m partial to some. I insist on good quality: the cut, the cloth, and the stitching. More importantly, the colour. It has to be my preferred hue: basil, beige, burgundy, olive green and tan. When it comes to shoes, I lean towards nubuck and suede.

I think my shopping is under control, so I refuse to be labelled a shopaholic. Of late, I’ve been browsing for online deals. That’s not deliberate. These brands seem to know my preferences. So every time I’m on social media, they push the T-shirt I like and the tan leather trainer I’ve been eyeing.

How do they even know it? Algorithms, silly. Now, I can’t go online without being peppered by ads that peddle my favourite things. One offered a 45% discount, which turned 90% when I clicked it. Believe me, it took all my willpower to pull away from the fantastic deals. Yes, they had the blue tee I was looking for. So also the brown leather trainer. I didn’t succumb. I came away with a wide grin.

More is more! Why shopping sprees are my happy place

By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Entertainment Editor

I am a maximalist, and not a reluctant, shame-filled one at that. While the world may be embracing and lauding minimalism, I belong to the breed of people who believe that retail therapy should be classified as an effective mood booster.

Had a challenging day at work or a spat with my husband? I head to my nearest mall, and there's a good chance I will have forgotten what got me crabby in the first place. I remember one particularly tough week when I stumbled upon a vibrant, flowy dress that seemed to sing to me from the rack. The moment I tried it on, I felt like a different person—lighter, happier. It's amazing how a piece of fabric can transform your mood.


Are my children driving me mad with their tantrums? I hit the farmers’ organic market and get that organic honey I may not really need. There’s something so soothing about the hustle and bustle of the market, the colours and the scents, the simple pleasure of discovering a new artisanal product.

I truly believe that if author Sophie Kinsella had not already written her Confessions of a Shopaholic series chronicling a journalist’s compulsive shopping habits, I would have taken a stab at it. Once, at a flea market, I found a quirky little hat that looked like something out of a movie. I didn’t even check the price tag until I got to the counter. It was above my budget, but it was so perfectly me that I couldn’t resist.

I am what you call a blind shopper with an eye for a bargain. I don’t look at price tags first; I look at whether that dress or those shoes speak to me. Some of my best dresses aren’t necessarily expensive but suit my body type and personality. For my 40th birthday, I treated myself to a gorgeous watch, which, I was told, would fetch good prices if I were to sell it in the pre-loved luxury market. I’m not one to experience buyer’s remorse either. My wardrobe may be overstuffed with dresses and gowns, but I would never part with them. Each piece holds a memory, a story, a part of me.

I am not into labels, especially the tag of a ‘shopaholic’. My shopping is not beyond my control; it’s an indulgence that gives me great joy. I remember reading an article that claimed a certain luxury handbag is a better investment than gold. I couldn't help but laugh as I sent it to my family WhatsApp group, playfully hinting at what they could get me for my fiftieth birthday.

Shopping is a form of self-expression. Does it erode my savings? Yes, it does. But the joy of wearing that gorgeous, overpriced bracelet on your arm is a priceless emotion.

I am the kind of shopper who will buy seven colours of the same bolero jacket if it catches my fancy and is priced effectively. My friends tease me about it, but I just smile and say, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

Be warned, I am not advocating consumerism or hyper-materialism. But if you find joy in small things, like mall trawling, don’t beat yourself up for it. As long as your self-worth isn’t derived from the things you own, you are in a good place.

One of my favourite memories is a day spent with my best friend at work, hopping from store to store, laughing and chatting. We didn’t buy much, but the experience itself was priceless.