One of my friends in college had a serious shoe fetish. It didn’t matter how much the sandals, shoes, or boots cost her – if she liked them she bought them.
“If I buy these shoes, I won’t be able to make my car payment this month.”
“So don’t buy them,” I said, trying not to sound like I was talking to a 3-year-old who wanted a cookie before dinner.
“But they’re soooo pretty,” she’d always answer.
I will admit, part of me felt resentful. I was buying used books because I barely had enough money to pay my tuition for the year. Her parents were paying for her education, her books, her clothes, her food, her phone, and her car insurance. Whatever money she made at her part-time job went to shoes. (Update: Perhaps not surprisingly, she failed to graduate. She got “bored” with school.).
I should probably also point out that I HATE to shop. Don’t get me wrong: If you love to shop, I have nothing against it. I’ll happily tag along with you for an hour or so, but if you’re planning to make a day of it you better buy me lunch too. Even when I have the money to shop, I generally only buy things when I really need them – and a few luxuries now and then. And yet, every time I buy something, I get chills down my spine, hoping that some form of financial karma would bite me on the butt.
When I was a cashier, I dealt with maxed-out credit cards on a daily basis. We’d get a discrete message on the screen asking us to call the customer’s credit card company. The conversation would always go the same way:
“This is Visa/Mastercard/American Express. How much is the item the customer is purchasing?”
(I tell her the price).
“Is the card-holder with you?”
(In a biting, no-nonsense voice that reminded me of Judge Judy) “Please pass the phone to the card-holder.”
I’d hand the phone over to the customer, whose facial expression would go from confusion, to embarrassment, to anger.
“I made the minimum payment for this month! What do you mean I can’t buy it?! My card is NOT maxed out…fine. I’ll use another card.”
I know shopaholism is often made light of, but it can become as serious as any other money-based addiction, like gambling. In retrospect, my friend’s shoe-shopping habit was a lot more serious than she or I realized.
I looked at data we collected for our Shopaholic Test, and focused specifically on people whose shopping habits are negatively affecting their finances and their relationships. If any of these behaviors sound disturbingly familiar to you, you may need to consider whether your shopping habit has become a shopping addiction:
- You have borrowed money from friends or family so that you can shop.
- You have merchandise and clothes that still have prices on them.
- You feel guilt or regret after going on a shopping spree.
- You can’t leave a store without purchasing at least one thing.
- When you see something you like, your first thought is, “I have to have it,” not “I’d like to have it” or “Some day I’ll have it.”
- You’ve purchased things that you’ve never worn or used.
- You lie to your family and/or friends about how much you spend when you go shopping.
- When you’re angry or depressed, you turn to shopping to cheer you up.
- You spend more on clothes, accessories or other items than you do on rent or bills.
- You hide your purchases from family and/or friends.
- When you get an urge to shop, you feel like you can’t control it or talk yourself out of it.
- You get an adrenaline rush when you shop, the same way that race car drivers, bungee jumpers, and cliff divers do.
- You shop for luxuries (essentially, anything other than bills and groceries), even when you know you can’t afford to.
- You feel lost when you don’t have money to spend on shopping.
- You get so excited when you shop that you don’t really realize how much you’ve spent.
If you’ve nodded your head to at least five of these, it may be time to give yourself an honest reality check about your spending habits. And if you think that getting therapy (aside from the advice of a financial advisor) for a shopping problem is ridiculous, remember this: A shopping addiction is still an addiction, and is likely linked to a particular trigger.
Here are some other tips I can offer:
- Get rid of the plastic. Credit cards and debit cards make it too easy to spend money – all it takes is a swipe and the money’s gone, which lands you with another bill you can’t afford. If you go shopping, bring only cash. This way, you’ll only spend what is in your wallet, minimizing the risk of debts you can’t afford. Or, if you can’t seem to bring yourself to slice up your plastic friends, fill a plastic bag with water, stick your credit card in it and throw it in the freezer – you’ll literately be freezing your assets.
- Contemplate the pros and cons. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of buying an item, especially if it’s pricey. Most shopaholics don’t step back to reflect on the consequences of their shopping behavior. See how you feel after you make this list; chances are you’ll start to realize that you can probably do without the item.
- Get a hobby. Instead of spending all your time shopping, occupy yourself with another interest. It doesn’t matter if it’s golf, gardening or go-carting – if your time is spent elsewhere, your mind likely will be too. You never know, you might find something you enjoy even more than shopping!
- Find strength in numbers. Try shopping with a friend or family member – preferably one who doesn’t shop as much as you (or take someone like me, who HATES to shop). If you find your fingers itching to spend money, ask your companion for his or her opinion. This decreases impulsive tendencies because you’ll be giving yourself a chance to think about it rather than making a split-second decision.