Shopping addiction has been a growing problem since the 1990s. Recognizing the warning signs of "retail therapy" gone awry can lead to getting help before the problem is out of control.
Causes of Shopping Addiction
A shopping addiction is an uncontrollable obsession. When people with shopping addictions are feeling low, they will purchase unnecessary items in order to feel better about themselves. Just like the gambler who keeps gambling to make up for his/her losses or the alcoholic who needs a "pick me up" every morning, the addicted shopper needs to continue spending to keep feeling good. A shopping addiction is frequently a way for people with stress, depression, or other personal problems.
The media also contributes to the problem. Keeping up with the "Jones'" is now a way of life. Society sends us the message that our self-worth is only as good as our purchases-having the newest car, the best handbag, or trendiest baby clothes. Television shopping networks, the Internet, and catalogs give addicted shoppers a new way to reach instant gratification. Online auctioning, such as eBay, provides an outlet for a shopping and gambling addiction.
Signs of a Shopping Problem
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have a problem with shopping, look for these warning signs:
- Spending over budget: Someone with a shopping problem will not understand the need to limit his/her spending. Often, his/her spending exceeds their income.
- Compulsive buying: A person intends to purchase one new pair of pants, but ends with an entire outfit-or more.
- Chronic problem: Many American overspend at Christmas, but do not have a shopping addiction. It becomes a problem when overspending occurs year round, and a person relies heavily on credit to sustain his/her shopping habits.
- Hiding the problem: People with shopping addictions will hide their purchases or keep secret accounts and credit cards.
- Vicious circle: Even if people with shopping addictions return their purchases, they continue to overspend on a regular basis.
- Impaired relationships: A person will spend large amounts of time shopping, instead of nurturing relationships with his/her families or significant others. In order to hide the problem, he/she may pull away emotionally and physically.
- Clear consequences: The amount of money spent shopping does not matter so much as the results of the spending-whether or not other areas of life are being negatively affected by the shopping addiction.
Getting Professional Help
People with a shopping addiction are usually in denial they have a problem. In this situation, friends and relatives often stage an intervention to help the person realize his/her addiction. Several options are available when people are ready to end their addictive behavior. Medications such as anti-depressants can help with the "downs" of not shopping anymore. Therapists and group therapy are available for shopping addicts. Because of the severe debt many chronic shoppers incur, credit and debt counseling is a way for people to take back control of their budget and income.
Things You Can Do at Home
Outside of professional help, there are simple things you can do to cut back on overspending.
- Get rid of all credit cards except one for emergencies. And then only use it for emergencies.
- Make a list when you head to the grocery store or discount store. Do not deviate from your list.
- Carry just enough cash to pay for your needed purchases and nothing more.
- Find new activities or hobbies to keep you busy when the urge to shop hits-read a book, take a walk, or vacuum the house. Do whatever it takes to keep from going to the mall.
- If you frequently buy online, disconnect the Internet, or give your spouse/roommate your credit/debit cards while you use the Internet.
- When catalogs arrive in the mail, immediately throw them out.