Yesterday, I mentioned that because I grew up poor, I inherited a faulty money blueprint from my parents. They didn't know how to handle money effectively, so they couldn't teach me how to handle it effectively. I entered adulthood with many of the same bad habits they'd had when I was a kid.
I was a compulsive spender, for instance. I had a shopping addiction. I had no willpower, no impulse control. Even when I had no money in the bank, I still found ways to spend. I took on over $20,000 in credit card debt before I turned 25!
Nowadays, I mostly have my spending under control. I'm no longer in debt, and I force myself to make conscious decisions about what I purchase. (Conscious spending is one of the keys to overcoming emotional spending.)
Having said that, I know that if I relax for even a moment, I'll be right back in my old habits. I'll find myself at the grocery store buying magazines to soothe a bruised ego, or shopping for music in the iTunes store because I had a stressful day.
How do I know I'll relapse if I'm not careful? Because I do from time to time. When I was prepping for my big talk at the end of June, for example, I felt super stressed and my shopping addiction kicked in. I spent an afternoon browsing on Amazon, putting things in my shopping basket. (I even ordered a few of the things, although I knew I shouldn't.)
Emotional spending is comforting — not just for me, but for a lot of other people too. Though I'm a recovering spendaholic, I'm still a spendaholic. I'm always one step away from compulsive spending.
My story is not unique.
What Is a Shopping Addiction?
People who have a shopping addiction suffer from what's known as “compulsive spending”. According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery:
“Compulsive shopping and spending is described as a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences. It is defined as an impulse control disorder and has features similar to other addictive disorders without involving the use of an intoxicating drug.”
The organization offers the following list of warning signs of a shopping addiction:
- Shopping of spending money as a result of being disappointed, angry or scared.
- Shopping/spending habits causing emotional distress or chaos in one's life.
- Having arguments with others regarding shopping or spending habits.
- Feeling lost without credit cards.
- Buying items on credit that would not be bought with cash.
- Spending money causes a rush of euphoria and anxiety at the same time.
- Spending or shopping feels like a reckless or forbidden act.
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused after shopping or spending money. Many purchases are never used.
- Lying to others about what was bought or how much money was spent.
- Thinking excessively about money.
- Spending a lot of time juggling accounts and bills to accommodate spending.
I've experienced all of these. In fact, I used to suffer from many of these at the same time. It felt awful. An addiction to spending is a scary, dangerous thing. As with other addictions, victims feel lost and out of control.
People who have never suffered from a shopping addiction can't understand the problem, and you may have a hard time explaining it to them. They don't know what it's like to see something and feel the urge to buy it now. They don't know the lure of the shopping “rush” — and the subsequent nausea from the guilt have having spent too much.
“Overspenders…have confused and confusing relationships with money,” write psychologists Brad and Ted Klontz in Mind Over Money. “On one hand, they're convinced that money and the things it can buy will make them happy; yet they're often broke because they can't control their spending.”
Fortunately, I've learned some ways to cope with emotional spending. Though I'm still tempted, I don't spend nearly as much as I used to because I've developed habits that help me do the right thing, even when the right thing is difficult. [Read more…]