I enjoy reading the Shopaholic series of books by Sophie Kinsella. As a confirmed “under-buyer,” I am the exact opposite of compulsive shopper Becky Bloomwood Brandon, so I can chuckle at her antics as she shops her way through designer boutiques with her overextended credit cards and overdrafts. Eventually, the books end with our heroine landing back on her feet and all is well.

Shopaholics are everywhere in our pop culture; the subject of book and movie plots and jokes on late-night TV. We laugh when our co-workers return from their lunch breaks carrying several shopping bags. There are numerous shopping websites with “shopaholic” in their names, and (disturbingly) even free online shopaholic games for young girls.

Nevertheless, shopping beyond your means isn’t funny or cute. Most people who are self-proclaimed shopaholics can’t afford their purchases. Their go-to method of payments is usually their credit card, and their purchases can cost 18% or more in interest on balances that tend to be carried forward.

The stark reality is that most of us are not going to be bailed out by a tolerant, high earning husband, doting parents, or a financial windfall.

The call of consumerism

It’s never enough

Until you’ve got all the stuff

Shopping – Barenaked Ladies

Unfortunately, we live in a society that values buying the “first” and the “best” products, and encourages consumerism. Although advertisers most often target women with their promises of looking beautiful and rich, and to gain the love and admiration of others, men are not immune. Men are just as likely to buy clothing, luxury goods and electronics.

On TV commercials, Winners warns us not to let the great deal get away, showing a mournful shopper sighing, “I didn’t get it, and now it’s gone.” The best items will be snapped up, so you don’t want to miss out.

I cringe watching the ninnies rhapsodizing about Payless BOGO sales, while surrounded by umpteen pairs of shoes.

I watch a weekly “Tech Talk” segment on the morning news that unveils the latest in electronic gadgetry and accessories. “This is sooooo coooool!”, crows the techie expert (who is about 45 not 15).

We’ve all seen the ‘round-the-block lineups on Black Friday, Boxing Day and whenever Apple has a new product offering.

The desire to keep up an image of being independent, hip, attractive, and intelligent tempts people to overspend on social outings, clothing, shoes, nails, travel, cars, and more.

What’s behind this are thousands of marketing messages that coax us into spending and use social pressure to further the persuasion. Then add in the influential marketing campaigns of easy access credit – loans, credit cards and “do not pay until sometime way in the future” deals.

For a shopaholic, the thrill of buying the latest and greatest styles or technology gives him or her an adrenalin rush that eventually wears off – much like any addiction. They often bizarrely justify their purchases with the argument that they have jobs and can afford to shop, or the coveted item they just purchased was on sale, or they’re young and only live once.

What’s your shopping kryptonite?

Most compulsive shoppers fall into these categories:

  • Image shoppers buy highly visible items, dress to the “nines,” and always pick up the tab.
  • Bargain shoppers buy stuff they don’t need just because it’s such a good deal.
  • Co-dependent shoppers buy for others to gain love and approval.
  • Collectors have to have a complete set, or many sets, of objects, or different colours of the same style of clothing.

Red is not the new black

Shopaholics often overspend and put themselves at financial risk to make consumer purchases. They can amass obscenely high levels of consumer debt. Debt causes stress when it’s not managed carefully and eliminated quickly. It’s a ball and chain around your ankle.

When the thrill of the new computer, latest bag, or department-store sale wears off, the shopaholic is left with massive bills to pay and zero financial flexibility to pursue their dreams and live a better life.

Be ruthless

We’re only happy when we’re shopping

We’re only happy if we shop until we drop

In search of bargains we will never stop.

Shopping Song – Monty Python

What’s more important, sporting new Lululemon gear to the gym you rarely go to, or saving up a down payment so you can buy your own place?

To help prioritize your spending, adopt the following rule: if it’s not a planned purchase or you don’t need it, don’t buy it – no matter how good the sale is.

Overcoming a shopping addiction is not easy. But, you can kick it through practical measures:

  • Avoid “window-shopping” at the mall.
  • Plan other activities to do with your friends besides shopping.
  • Resist the urge to surf your favourite online shopping sites.
  • Take your name off promotional lists that come to your in-box. Hit that unsubscribe.
  • Take advantage of free trial subscriptions so you can evaluate a service.
  • If you are making a planned purchase, pare down to the acceptable minimum. Do you really need all the bells and whistles?
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if necessary. You may need counselling to help you understand the root cause – boredom, a need for attention, or repeating familial behaviours.

Final thoughts

Being an indebted shopaholic will hold you back from achieving your financial goals. Don’t be like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City who bought so many pairs of $400 shoes that she couldn’t afford a down payment on her apartment.

It’s not a very effective position to be in when you can’t afford to pay off your credit card, or you have to live paycheque to paycheque and can never get ahead.

This scenario makes you very vulnerable.


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