We often joke about being addicted to shopping or store cards. Comparisons to Paris Hilton or other famous shoppers, such as Cher from Clueless, are made in jest. However, the reality is that a shopping addiction can be a serious problem. In the US it even has a name – ‘compulsive buying disorder’ – and 18 million Americans are estimated to be affected. In the UK, the issue is just as bad – back in 2000, experts estimated one in five women to be a shopaholic and around 10% of the population as a whole to be shopping compulsively. Given the boom in online shopping, as well as the wide range of credit options that have developed since then, the likelihood is that in 2017 this problem is far worse.
The consequences of a shopping addiction
If you’re regularly and compulsively spending on shopping then you might find you experience a number of not too pleasant consequences:
Often running out of money each month because you’ve spent it on shopping
Never feeling satisfied with anything you’ve purchased
Hoarding purchases but never wearing/using them
Getting into debt you can’t manage
Missing rent/mortgage or bill payments because you’ve spent the money elsewhere
Retail therapy is like any other addiction – we do it because it feels good. Shopping tends to stimulate the feel good chemicals in the brain, especially the rush of the purchase. It could feel like a release or a relief from boredom but the reality is that it’s not likely to solve whatever problem it’s a response to – and, in fact, could end up making it worse.
How to break a shopping addiction
If you feel like you’re seriously struggling with a shopping addiction then it doesn’t have to totally ruin your life. There are steps that you can take to help you break it.
Admit that you have a problem
There are some pretty obvious signs that your shopping may have gotten out of control. For example, where money is causing arguments with an other half or with significant people in your life. If you’re finding yourself regularly chased by creditors then it might be time to admit that you have a problem. Perhaps you owe a lot of money to friends and family or you’re falling behind at work because your mind isn’t on the job. All these are signs that you might have a shopping addiction that needs to be dealt with.
Do you have control over your buying?
This is a pretty important question to ask yourself because if you feel powerless not to spend the money then it’s time to get help. Next time you feel that urge rising up when it comes to spending, ask yourself a few key questions to get back into control:
How am I actually feeling and why did I come in here?
Do I really need this?
How can I pay for it?
What will I do with it if I buy it?
What would happen if I waited to buy it?
In many cases, just the act of pausing is enough to stop the impulse purchase from raging through to its conclusion. However, these questions should also help you to refocus you mind and work out whether you really want what you’re holding or whether you’re just responding to some unmet need.
Cut up your credit cards
If you’re simply unable to stop yourself shopping then take practical measures to ensure that you can’t. Start by cutting up your credit cards so that you can’t get into debt in order to spend. Force yourself to start withdrawing cash once a week and then making that last until the next cash point visit. Other than when you’re going to take out your weekly budget leave the debit card at home.
Use prepaid cards
One of the biggest temptations for shopping addicts is the desire to splurge and damn the consequences. It makes you feel great for the few minutes before you realise that you really need to have the money for that big purchase. Beat this by using prepaid cards that you can pre-load with a budgeted amount. Then, even if the shopping fever takes over, you still won’t be able to spend more than you allocated when you were feeling more in control.
Find a support group
There are ‘Shoppers Anonymous’ groups around the country – after all this isn’t a unique issue, many others will identity. Joining a group can have many positive consequences, from feeling less alone and less ashamed, to being able to practically help each other and share the best advice to stop a shopping habit getting out of control.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley