Save. Spend. Splurge.

North American versus European Shopping Sensibilities

The one striking difference (that is thankfully changing now), between Americans and Europeans in their shopping styles, is the following:

Europeans (and now some North Americans) refuse to buy items they don’t need and can’t afford until they have the money to do so.


A curious thing I noted in myself during my shopaholic days is I would lust after something expensive, but fill the void with something cheap.

A look-a-like substitute that would kind of fill that temporary gap and satisfy my lust for a short amount of time (before it fell apart).


I don’t know if it’s a North American thing, but if I had just not purchased any substitutes, saved my money and purchased the real thing in the end (which I ended up doing anyway), I could have saved a lot of money, time and headaches in doing so.

This is the new approach I have taken to my life:

Buy it once, buy it for life.

In contrast, when I chat with Europeans, they see my new approach as perfectly normal.

They don’t understand why you would buy a cheap substitute (especially if you don’t really need it, like a nice coat or a pair of shoes), when you can either do without or wait until you have enough money.

What a novel concept! 🙂

If they don’t see something that they want, and it’s NOT what they want, they just won’t buy it.

(Plus I should note that credit cards are not as prevalent and as widespread as it is in North America so they have no choice but to live within their means, without any supplementing from cheap lines of credit.)


In the North America, it’s easy to buy lots of stuff. There’s so much space all around us and even our studio apartments seem ridiculously spartan and tiny to us.

I mean look at Canada, it’s half empty!


It is not until you visit Europe to see what “small space living” really means, that you realize how luxurious your Canadian studio apartment can be (especially staying in budget hotels).

As a result of a lack of space, Europeans on the whole, tend not to buy a lot of things — they simply can’t store it, and think it’s ridiculous you can even have a concept of renting storage to store your stuff.

When I tried to enlighten a curious guy about how we “Americans” could possibly buy so much stuff and have space for it all, I mentioned these self-storage spaces that are now a booming business across North America.

His face furrowed in confusion and he said:

“Why don’t they just sell or trash that stuff?

They’re obviously not using it and then they have to pay for external storage space on as well?”

It was an appalling concept to him — that you would have so much STUFF you didn’t need or use, that you would need to pay to rent a space to keep it.

Even their cars are small. Everything is in miniature in Europe which is why they are so impressed when they visit North America and see impressive 6-lane highways and people zooming around in SUVs and trucks like it’s no big deal.


Anyway, those are just two of my main observations between the shopping habits of North Americans versus Europeans.

I’m just thrilled that the tide seems to be starting to take on a new wave, with North Americans accepting that less is more because quality over quantity will always be more satisfying in the long run.


  • CorianneM

    Also, imagine trying to park that giant SUV along a small street or in a tiny parking in pretty much any European city… more recent parking garages are more accommodating to bigger cars but in the older ones, good luck in managing to not scrape the sides of your car against the wall/pillars! The newer garages are also more expensive usually, so you want to save money you would choose the older, smaller, more impossible one.

    I can’t ever see myself getting a giant car – all I’d be wondering is: where the hell could I even park it? There’s just no space!

  • Alexis

    You might like the book “The Overspent American” by Schor. It was fantastic.

  • Anne

    I once shopped in an outlet in US and found three leather clutches I liked, but couldn’t decide which colour to choose. The sales person suggested that since they were so cheap, I could buy all three of them. It is true that I could have gotten all three for the same price I would have paid for one clutch had I bought it in my home country. But I remember thinking that it was a really weird suggestion: I only needed one clutch, why would I buy three?!

    • Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

      My problem is I think: WHAT A GREAT IDEA.. and I buy all three. Then I sell two after I realize which ones I don’t like 🙂

    • Mia

      I think people started doing this because it is so easy to buy something in say, 3 sizes, and return two with Zappos, Amazon, and other internet retailers. In fact, their shipping and return policies encourage it.

      And I think Europeans are becoming more like North Americans. Costco, the warehouse bulk store, is moving to France this year. And the younger generation has adopted a lot of our shopping habits–fast fashion, fast food, 2-day shipping and free returns on Amazon, etc. Even Japan, which traditionally has embraced minimalism and quality and small size over quantity/size (even more so than Europe), now has Costco and the younger generation has more North American buying habits. I think these shifts are what is to be expected as a result of living in an increasingly global society with more and more global brands and media influences.

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