The Vicious Shop-and-Return Cycle

Cari Wira Dineen

Confession: I’m a serial returner.

I do it at department stores, cosmetic stores, Costco, and Target. Here’s how the psychology works for me: Instead of hemming and hawing about whether I can afford/need/want something, I just buy it. Or rather, I buy it all.

Then I tell myself, “Hey, I can return it later.” And I usually do.

While I don’t stare down heaping credit card bills each month, my constant returning costs me other ways—namely, my time. I spend way too much time returning crap. And I’m always double checking receipts and credit card statements to make sure I’m credited properly. 

I’ve tried to stop. Really. But I can’t help myself. Walking out of a store with a huge bag of merchandise makes me feel good.

When a giant box from my favorite online store is delivered to me, I revert to a 7-year-old on Christmas morning, tearing through the paper and tape.

But unlike true shopping addicts, I don’t have any financial guilt—because I’m not really overspending. And I’m not playing dirty pool, by switching price tags or using items and then returning them. 

Still, I feel like I’m doing something wrong

My shopping bulimia has gotten worse over the past few years. Maybe it’s my antidote to frugal fatigue.


Diminishing returns. What's your dirty little shopping secret?