I mentioned yesterday that because I grew up in poverty, I inherited a flawed financial blueprint from my parents. They did not know how to effectively manage money, so they were unable to teach me how to do so. As a child, I exhibited many of the same undesirable behaviors as adults.
For example, I was a chronic spender. I had an addiction to shopping. I lacked willpower and self-control. Even when I had no cash on hand, I still managed to spend. I accumulated more than $20,000 in credit card debt before turning 25!
Currently, I have the majority of my spending under control. I am no longer in debt, and I am forced to make deliberate purchasing decisions. ( One of the keys to overcoming emotional spending is conscious spending.)
Despite this, I am aware that if I relax for even a moment, I will immediately return to my old habits. I’ll buy magazines at the grocery store to soothe a bruised ego, or I’ll shop for music in the iTunes store after a stressful day.
How can I tell if I will relapse if I am not cautious? Because I do from time to time. When I was preparing for my big speech at the end of June, for example, I felt extremely anxious and my shopping addiction manifested. I spent the afternoon browsing Amazon and adding items to my shopping cart. (I even ordered a few of the items despite knowing I shouldn’t.)
Not only do I find emotional spending comforting, but so do a great number of other people. I am a recovering spendaholic, but I remain a spendaholic. I am always one step away from spending compulsively.
My story is not unique.
WHAT IS AN ADDICTION TO SHOPPING?
Individuals who have a shopping addiction suffer from compulsive spending. The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery reports:
Compulsive shopping and spending is characterized as a pattern of chronic, repetitive spending that is difficult to stop and ultimately has negative consequences. It is defined as a disorder of impulse control and shares characteristics with other addictive disorders that do not involve substance abuse.
The organization provides the following list of symptoms of shopping addiction:
– Spending or shopping as a result of disappointment, anger, or fear.
– Shopping and/or spending behaviors that cause emotional distress or disorder in one’s life.
– Arguing with others about their shopping or spending habits.
– Feeling lost in the absence of credit cards.
– Purchasing on credit items that would not be purchased with cash.
Spending money causes a simultaneous rush of elation and anxiety.
– Spending or shopping feels like a reckless or forbidden act.
– Experiencing feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or confusion after shopping or spending money. Numerous purchases go unused.
– Lying to others about what was purchased or the amount of money spent.
– Being excessively concerned with money.
– Spending a great deal of time juggling accounts and bills to cover expenses.
I’ve encountered each of these. In fact, I used to experience multiple of these simultaneously. It felt horrible. A spending addiction is terrifying and dangerous. As with other addictions, victims of gambling feel lost and powerless.
People who have never experienced a shopping addiction cannot comprehend the issue, and it may be difficult to explain it to them. They do not know what it is like to see something and feel an immediate desire to purchase it. They are unaware of the allure of the shopping frenzy and the subsequent nausea caused by overspending.
In Mind Over Money, psychologists Brad and Ted Klontz write that overspenders have muddled and perplexing relationships with money. On the one hand, they believe that money and the things it can buy will bring them happiness; however, they are frequently bankrupt due to out-of-control spending.
Thankfully, I’ve learned some coping mechanisms for emotional spending. Even though I’m still tempted, I don’t spend nearly as much as I once did because I’ve developed habits that enable me to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult.
HOW TO CONQUER A SHOPPING HABIT
Based on my personal experience and conversations with others, here are seven strategies for combating a shopping addiction:
Cut your credit cards up. If you have a problem with spending compulsively, destroy your credit cards immediately. Dont make excuses. Don’t record the account numbers just in case. Don’t convince yourself that you need them to improve your credit score. If your emotional spending is fueled by credit cards, you would be better off without them. After acquiring better habits, new cards are always available.
– Carry only cash. Use neither a checkbook nor a debit card. Inconvenient? Certainly, but that is the point. The objective for a compulsive spender is to break the spending habit. To accomplish this, you must make sacrifices. Spending cash serves as a reminder that you are spending actual money. Plastic (and to a lesser extent, checks) obscures this connection.
– Keep track of every dollar spent. You may not even be aware of your expenditures. When I allowed my emotions to dictate my financial decisions, I had no idea, for instance, how many books I was purchasing. But once I began recording every dollar that entered and exited my life, patterns became apparent. You can act upon your spending patterns once you are aware of them.
– Play mental games For some, money is not an emotionally charged issue. They can make logical decisions without being tempted to do otherwise. They’re blessed. For the majority of us, however, this is not the case. If you are a member of this majority, find ways to trick yourself. You could train yourself to use the 30-day rule, for example: When you see something you want, do not purchase it immediately; instead, mark it on your calendar for 30 days from now. If you still desire it after a month, consider purchasing it. I’ve discovered that by simply adding items to my Amazon wish list, I’m able to resist the urge to buy them. I later wonder why I ever gave in to temptation!
– Avoid temptation. The most effective way to avoid spending is to avoid situations that tempt you to do so. If you have a weakness for books, you should avoid bookstores and Amazon. If you have a tendency to overspend at department stores, avoid the mall. Stop frequenting your usual hangouts, especially if you’re experiencing emotional stress.
– Recall your larger objectives. I’ve always struggled with my weight. When I’m tempted to eat something unhealthy, I ask myself whether it will be beneficial or detrimental. The same question can be asked prior to making an impulsive purchase. Will your new toy move you closer or further away from your goals? Try writing a personal mission statement if you’re unclear about your larger objectives.
– Ask for help. There is no shame in asking for assistance if you are having difficulty managing your finances. Ask a close friend or relative for assistance in breaking the cycle of compulsive spending. You may even consider seeking professional assistance. However, if you seek assistance, do not become angry when your counselors point out your mistakes. Consider what they are saying.
Each of these methods can help you curb your shopping addiction to a certain extent. Diverse techniques will appeal to various individuals.
When I’m tempted to make a purchase, I force myself to pause and ask myself serious questions.
HOW TO DEAL WITH THE URGE TO BUY
Suppose you are in a shopping mall or Electronics Emporium. You have no shopping needs, but you are killing time while your spouse completes an errand. As you wait, you browse. You are fond of the Thneeds. Look! There’s something new! It is bright and shiny, and you believe it will make you happy, so you pick it up and proceed to the cash register.
Wait! Before making a purchase, consider the following questions.
When will I utilize this? When you buy compulsively or spend impulsively, you tend to acquire a great deal of useless items. Consider your home. Do you possess sealed CDs or DVDs? Unread volumes? Videogames still in their packaging? Do you still possess clothing with price tags? Do you have money-saving devices collecting dust in your closets and kitchen cabinets? Before purchasing something new, you should honestly consider when you’ll actually use it.
– Do I already possess an identical item? If so, what is wrong with the previous model? This is a question I use in a variety of situations, particularly when I’m tempted to purchase clothing. For instance, Kim is irritated by my propensity to acquire new T-shirts. Recently, she informed me that I already own five blue T-shirts. Why do you require a second? When faced with the urge to upgrade, this is also a great question to ask. Should you really replace your iPhone?
Where will I store this item if I purchase it? It’s surprising how frequently this question prevents me from purchasing new items. Over the past few years, I have had limited storage space. First, Kim and I were traveling without storage in an RV. Next, we relocated to a smaller residence. If I am forced to consider where I will store an item that tempts me, I will frequently decide not to purchase it.
– May I purchase this item with cash? Would I purchase this with cash? When I was in debt, almost everything I purchased was on credit. I anticipated paying for it later. My entire cash balance was used to pay my credit card bills. I was dumb. Since then, I’ve realized that if something is not worth saving for or purchasing with cash, then it is almost certainly not worth purchasing on credit.
– Can I purchase a used version of high quality for less? Previously, I was a new snob. I believed that items were only worth purchasing if they were brand-new and flawless. Now I am aware that gently used items can be purchased at a discount. This is true not only for automobiles, but also for games, electronics, clothing, and more. Make it a habit to first check Craigslist and then your local thrift store.
– Do I know anyone who I could borrow one from? I overheard a story a few days ago. Evan was preparing for some landscaping by taking stock of his equipment. He chose to acquire a chainsaw. He contacted his friend Lee for advice on which to purchase. Why do you want to buy a chainsaw? Lee asked. Do you have many trees to remove? Evan acknowledged he did not. Then why not simply borrow mine? Lee asked. When done with courtesy, borrowing is an excellent alternative to purchasing new.
Can I wait to purchase this? Waiting is one of the most effective things I’ve done to combat my shopping addiction. I have used the aforementioned 30-day rule for the past decade. When I find myself in the Electronics Emporium with the newest Nintendo Switch game in my hands, I put it back and tell myself I’ll buy it in 30 days if I still want it. The key is to force yourself to wait before making a purchase, to resist the urge to buy in the moment.
Why do I want to purchase this? And why do I wish to purchase it today? It is true that I am frequently tempted to purchase something because it would fulfill a need in my life. Equally often, however, I find myself wanting to buy something because I’ve recently seen an advertisement. Or, a friend has introduced me to a cool new gadget. In these instances, I’m not attempting to meet an ongoing need; rather, I’m trying to satisfy a feeling of deficiency brought on by comparisons to others. If I can determine why I have the urge to purchase something, I can sometimes eliminate the urge.
Are there superior alternatives available? This is a fantastic question to use as a ruse to take more time. If I’m browsing Amazon and tempted to purchase a compound miter saw, for example, I can sometimes talk myself out of it by acknowledging that I don’t know if this particular model is the best. I conduct my research on compound miter saws (or other products) via Consumer Reports and online reviews. I seek out the best option. Typically, the process becomes overwhelming because there are so many compound miter saws with so many different features. I lose interest and save money as a result.
What would my partner think if I purchased this? Kim does not oppose every purchase I make, but she is frequently able to detect compulsive spending when I cannot. Sometimes, when I’m tempted to buy her a new toy, I try to view the purchase from her perspective. If the purchase seems reasonable from her perspective, I will consider it. Despite this, I frequently change my mind.
All of these questions have helped me overcome my shopping addiction. I do not ask myself these questions each time I go shopping. Each is useful in particular circumstances. And these concerns do not prevent me from making all purchases. But I’ve discovered that if I’m honest with myself, I can save a lot of money.
Explore the following websites for more information on coping with compulsive spending and shopping addiction:
– The Institute for Addiction Recovery in Illinois
Consider seeking professional assistance. There is no shame in seeking psychotherapy for seemingly insurmountable problems. To overcome any form of addiction, you must ultimately look within; a therapist is a trained guide who can help you find the way.
The good news is that you can get through this. You are able to escape emotional spending. The bad news is that effort is required. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll backslide. When this occurs, do not give up. Do not punish yourself for purchasing a new purse or playing a round of golf at a new course. You’re human. Maintain your focus on your long-term objective, and resolve to perform better next time.
Like many people, I’ve suffered from compulsive spending. A shopping addiction is a scary, dangerous thing. Here are some strategies I’ve developed to deal with my own shopping addiction — strategies that may help you, as well.