I Can’t Stop Shopping. Help Me!



Gala Darling – I Can’t Stop Shopping. Help Me! (mp3)
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“I used to laugh off the fact that I was always in debt and a bit of a shopaholic. Now I realise I actually have a very serious problem.

I go to uni in a city and so every day I go past shops which draw me in and I end up spending anything around £50 a day on stuff I could do without. But I literally can’t stop. I don’t know what to do.

I feel like I don’t want to stop as I get such a buzz but feel so sick with guilt and worry over my debts.

My debts from shopping are around £2000. I know this may not seem much but I am a student with rent to pay and I only get a £4000 loan a year. I feel like I need to go to rehab or something!

I feel so bad because my boyfriend is so helpful and lends me money to pay off my overdraft but once I am in the black I just go straight back out and spend it again. I can’t, literally can’t save money. Please help.”

Ah, the rollercoaster ride that is shopping-when-you-have-no-money. Of course, it’s fun, it’s a little dangerous, you know it’s kind of stupid but hey! That bank gave me that credit card, right?! They wouldn’t have given it to me if they didn’t trust me with it… I know what I’m doing… I can pay it back easily…

& so you go out & you spend, & you walk home high on the scent of receipt paper & bulging shopping bags, & you throw open the front door & set everything down in the living room. An hour or two later, you walk back into the living room & regard what you’ve done. What is this thing? Why did you buy that? This isn’t even going to go with anything else! You can’t wear that, you’ll look like Beyonce on an off day. Oh, god. Why did I do that?

You start to feel guilty about what you’ve bought. I shouldn’t have spent all that money. What was I thinking?! You don’t sleep very well that night. & your feelings of inertia & fear fuel you to go out & do it all again the next day. & the day after that. & the day after that.

We all have moments where we go shopping for a pick-me-up, to make ourselves feel better or to distract ourselves from whatever is going on in our lives. But there’s a very definite line between being an occasional emotional shopper & spending so much that it actually scares you — & most of us know which side of that line we’re on.

Let me explain something. Banks are not your friend. I know, they’re all smiley & big teeth & “Here, have a Visa with a $5000 limit!”, & “You’re a trusted customer, how would you like to push that limit to $10,000?”, & “Sign up for this card & spend your way to oblivion with no interest for 24 months!” — but they are not doing this for your benefit. They are doing it for THEIRS. They don’t like you! They like their profit margins! They COUNT on people like you to spend way, way, way beyond their means, so they can jack up the fees & make an absolute killing off your chosen form of therapy/self-destruction. The system is set up so that THEY WIN. Never forget that.

Another thing. Your boyfriend needs to stop bailing you out. I don’t mean to get all Dr Phil on you, but honestly, even though he thinks he is being helpful, kind & sweet, what he’s actually doing is enabling your behaviour. You continue to spend carte blanche because you know, in the back of your mind, that he is always going to be there to look after you. It’s a nice thought. Comforting. I don’t blame you, to be honest.

But what would happen if you broke up? The credit card company might decide they want the full balance of your credit card back. Immediately. As in, now. If you can’t pay it, they could sue you to get the money, or give your details to a debt collection company who will hound you day & night, at work & at home, or re-possess your stuff. Not to mention having a bad credit record makes it almost impossible to do anything like open accounts with cellphone companies, etc.

The temporary thrill you get from shopping is not worth the fiscal hell you are heading towards. Honestly. & I say this as someone who understands — very well! — the bliss of a new purchase.

Even if you never break up — even if you’re together forever & ever — do you really want to be beholden to him like that? Do you want him to always take responsibility for you? It might sound appealing at first, but it plays hell on your self esteem. How can you feel good about yourself when you’re not really holding the reins?

Consume!Illustration by Masonic Boom.

Really though, as with most problems people have, this whole thing stems from your emotions. If I were you, I’d look a little more closely at my life to try & understand why you have this compulsive need to shop. I’d agree that you have a problem, because your behaviour is starting to negatively affect your life, & yet you still continue to do it. So, ask yourself some questions. What are you so unhappy about that you’re so desperate to distract yourself from? What’s the void you’re trying to fill with stuff, & where did it come from?

Since 2005, New York therapist April Lane Benson, author of the book “I Shop, Therefore I Am,” has had participants in her group psychotherapy sessions keep journals and shopping lists that track their moods, their impulses and their household needs. When contemplating a purchase, Benson’s patients are asked to record their answers to questions such as “Why am I here?,” “How do I feel?,” “Do I need this?,” “What if I wait?,” “How will I pay for it?” and “Where will I put it?” (Buying Trouble: When Shopping Becomes A Compulsion)

There are a lot of practical tips I can give you, like cut up your credit cards; get a part-time job & start paying the damn thing off; freeze your credit card in a glass of water so you can’t use it; set it on fire & dance around it naked; only allow yourself to pay for things in cash; give yourself an allowance of £10 a day (& if you can’t be trusted with it, have your boyfriend physically hand it to you every morning); when you feel out of control & like you want to shop, exercise instead; start seeing a counsellor; tell someone about your problem & call them when you feel the need to buy a huge ugly poncho, etc. But none of that is going to help you as long as you’re driven by this huge emotional vacuum.

Don’t underestimate the power of how you feel. As long as you still feel empty or lost or confused or whatever it is that makes you want to shopshopshop, that urge to spend will always have you in its stranglehold.

Your unhappiness could come from all sorts of places. Having a sucky job is a likely candidate, as is feeling bored or disinterested at university, dissatisfaction with a major relationship, feeling lonely or like you don’t really know where you’re heading in life. Take a good, hard look at what’s really going on. Don’t play it off or pretend like it doesn’t really matter or ignore your pain. Face facts, make a list, & then start thinking up solutions. If you’re really stumped, you can ask your friends if they have any ideas, too. There is a way to fix every problem, you might just have to think differently.

Then, like with anything else that has the potential to improve your life, you have to take action. You have to decide that yes, you’re good enough, & important enough, & fabulous enough that your life should be great, & happier than it is now. You are worth taking a scary risk for. You are worth the effort. & if you don’t take those first, terrifying, stumbling steps, no one else is going to do it for you.

So take action.

Extra For Experts:
How Can I Manage Compulsive Shopping & Spending Addiction?
Shop ‘Til You Drop: Battling Compulsive Shopping