My Story: I Am a Recovering Shopaholic
Hope for a Shopaholic
Seeking Professional Help
I am a 20-year-old female. I have a problem with spending money. Even though I know I shouldn't buy something when I'm out, I do it anyway. My boyfriend and I always fight about this. It's like I can't help myself when it comes to being in a store. I try really hard, but nothing seems to work. I will end up losing my boyfriend and my family if I continue down this path. Do you know of any doctors that focus on this type of thing? Or any other solutions? Please help me if you can.
Seek Good Counsel About Your Spending Addiction
This sounds like an addiction or compulsion, not just a bad habit. You recognize that you are losing relationships due to your lack of control with buying things, and yet, you still can't make yourself stop. You need to find a counselor, therapist or pastor/priest who can help you get to the root of the problem. They can't solve it for you, but they can help you discover the underlying issues.
In the meantime, here are some behavior "tricks" to get you by, but they won't solve the problem if it is a true addiction.
- Give all your credit cards and debit cards to the boyfriend and have him only give them back if he agrees to the purchase that you want to make.
- Stop going anywhere other than necessary activities (job/school). Put yourself in "timeout" and just find some other activity to do rather than shopping until you can get some help.
- Actively search for good counsel. If you don't have insurance, find out where you can get free or discount help.
My guess is you realize it's not worth losing relationships. If you are taking steps to show you are serious about overcoming the problem, people will take note and rise up to help you.
Join a Support Group for Your Spending Addiction
I applaud you for recognizing that this is a problem! Often, many people dismiss it as others being non-accepting of who they are. Shopping has been recognized as a form of addiction, so you could contact any mental health professional to receive assistance. There may also be groups available in your area. One group that offers assistance in that area is Debtors Anonymous at www.debtorsanonymous.org/.
Personally, the only thing that truly helped me was to get rid of all my credit cards (and I had plenty). This forced me to have to buy with cash or check, which was only possible if I actually had money in my account. I found it a lot harder to part with the cash I had on hand than I ever did pulling out the plastic.
I hope you find something that works for you! Admitting it is such a great stride. I doubt you'll have troubles overcoming this.
Read This Book
I suggest you read a book entitled Who You Are When No One's Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise
by Bill Hybels. This book gives some great advice on how to exercise self control, not only in spending but also in whatever area with which you are having trouble.
How I Overcame a Spending Addiction
I had the same problem once upon a time. My Mother taught me a way to combat this and it has never failed me in 30 years. Before I leave the house, I figure out how much money it is going to cost me for the day. For example, if I think it will cost me $100 at the grocery store, $50 at the drug store and $20 at the gas station, I take only $170, plus enough money to make an emergency phone call if necessary. I leave all of my credit cards and my checkbook at home, so I do not have any extra money on me. It takes a while to learn how to estimate your expenses correctly. The last thing that you want is to over-estimate your expenses. If you do so every time, you are defeating your purpose. Believe me, if you follow this simple rule, you will never over-spend again. It sure worked for me.
Five Steps Away From Spending Addiction
- Understand that as soon as you walk into a mall or department store, or even a lovely boutique, you're being manipulated. We don't really need much of what we buy and the stores know it. All their displays subtly imply that you will be a better person if you purchase whatever they have to offer. And knowing the sellers' tricks still may not make you immune to them.
- Plan your shopping and limit how often you go to stores. I go to the grocery store once a week. I go to a discount store once a month at the very most. I usually go to the mall three or four times a year.
- Make lists of things you need and follow those lists. I occasionally run out of something or forget to put something on the list. Surprisingly, I find we can almost always make do without it until the next scheduled shopping trip.
- Allow planned "fun money." Because I shop rarely, I usually allow myself one impulse buy, but I set a dollar limit. I shop with plastic, but if you find you're still going overboard, shop with cash and leave the card at home. The first time you come up short at the cash register will be a great lesson.
- Look at what you're buying and why. Shopping can be the activity you do after work to unwind, or it can be a weekend power trip to be able to buy exactly what you want when you want it. However, if you're buying ten pairs of shoes in the search for the perfect pair, then save up to buy the one great pair you're truly obsessing over. If you're going to the mall just to get out of the house or to see friends, then consider taking up a sport or group activity.
Calculate the "Real" Cost before Buying
You are wise to realize that you have a spending problem, which is probably just a symptom of something deeper. Until you get some help from a therapist or support group, you can try a few of these ideas to help you gain control over your spending and lessen the stress on your relationship.
- It may seem obvious, but stay out of stores as much as possible. When you must shop, take a friend or your boyfriend and always shop with a list of what you need to buy.
- Agree to discuss any purchases over a set amount, say $25, with your boyfriend before you buy it.
- Agree to a 48-hour waiting period before making a non-essential purchase. Go home and think about it, and you'll probably never even return to the store to buy that item.
- When you head out to a store, leave your credit cards, debit cards, and checkbooks at home. Take cash in small denominations only. Forking over $60 in $5 bills will give you time to realize what you're really doing.
- As a wonderful exercise, try calculating the real cost of something you've purchased and charged. Take the cost of the item and add the cost of the interest payments you made on it each month until it was paid off. Then calculate how many hours you had to work to pay for that item (your base pay minus taxes and deductions).
Approach Budget in Small Tangible Parts
I wonder, because you think you'll lose your family and your boyfriend, if it's not your own money you're spending. Maybe they're indulging you or you're borrowing from them. Or maybe that's not the case but they're nosing into what should be your own personal responsibility. Back in my 20s, I overspent so much that I ended up in bankruptcy. The people in my life were disappointed and frustrated for me, but not angry. They'd wisely stopped lending me money for a while already, and I was ruining my own finances not their finances. I overspent because I was basically dissatisfied with my life in general. I was looking for diversion and things to make me feel good or look good. At the time, I didn't see anything better on the horizon and I had no patience to wait. Well, bankruptcy adjusted my priorities, got me organized and taught me perseverance.
I'm not very good with numbers on paper, so I broke my budget down into small tangible parts. I used cash for absolutely everything except for bills that required a check in the mail. On payday, I put exact amounts of cash into envelopes for specific routine expenses that I could anticipate, such as subway fare and groceries, and $20 into an envelope for savings. The tiny remainder of my tiny pay went into my wallet to be used for small unanticipated needs. On the following payday, if I had anything left, it went into a discretionary spending envelope, which was different from savings. It's to be used for planned purchases, such as curtains. I wanted to see exactly where my money was going and how much I really needed to live on. I made frugality my new hobby and started to maximize my resources. The control I was exerting at first was an exhausting effort. But once a routine was in place, I felt much lighter. I felt very accomplished and got my dignity back.
It was really hard at times, like when I didn't go with my friends on vacation. That expression "time is money" had become crystal clear to me, and a week on a faraway beach suddenly wasn't worth having to pay off the credit card. I discovered the joy of having a sunset picnic with friends on a nearby beach in the cool of a weekday summer evening after work. See what you can do to find affordable ways to satisfy your needs and interests. Avoid hanging out with spendthrifts who encourage you to overdo it. Keep reading the Dollar Stretcher and definitely the Tightwad Gazette.
S.C. (older, wiser, happier) in NYC
Make Saving Money Fun
It's good that you recognize your problem. That's a great start in conquering this "thing" that has control over you. If your main problem is buying "stuff," then consider this. When you're about to buy something, picture it sitting on your next year's yard sale table being considered by a junk collector for the big price of $1 or less! Do you really want this overpriced trinket that is marked up anywhere between 100 to 500 percent, only to be reduced to your yard sale table and sold for a dollar or two? Yikes! That will change the value of this trinket instantly!
You can apply this mental picture game with just about everything. I've found that I can live without junk and have pared down to only a few things that I consider beautiful and tasteful. Less is more! Less to take care of! Less to haul around with you when you move! More time for you and others. Make saving money a fun game to play with yourself. There are big rewards when you win and you can win every time.
Find a Free Service through a Church
Check with a church for help with setting up a budget. I am a volunteer financial counselor through our church. We offer a free service and do not sell or promote any items. We meet with people three times to help them:
- Review their financial situation, establish financial goals, set up a budget and establish a debt repayment plan.
- Review the budget (one month later), check progress on the goals, and make any appropriate changes.
- In the final review, we see if the budget is workable for them, adjusting if necessary, and review their goals.
Take the Next Step
- Do you struggle to get ahead financially? Then you'll want to subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources.
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