The rise and fall of the shopaholic

As a college student, I often took up side jobs to make extra cash. One of those side jobs included selling random things on eBay. It was easier and slightly more lucrative than holding a garage sale every weekend.

Once, I sold a pair of highly coveted boots that I no longer wore. They went for $75, or in college currency, one textbook. I'd already started wrapping them up and brainstorming my budget when I received an email from the buyer:

“Sorry, but I'm not going to pay for these,” she wrote. “I have a shopping addiction, and my husband is going to be upset.”

Sigh.

“That's fine,” I replied, kindly asking her if she wouldn't mind repaying me for the five dollars in eBay fees. (This was old eBay. There were no second-chance offers; there was no fee reimbursement).

“Sorry, but no.” was her answer. “I have a shopping addiction, and that would defeat the purpose.”

As both a full-time student and full-time employee living in a world where every cent counted, including that five dollars, this upset me. I expressed my discontent. She told me that “other people have been really sympathetic and supportive.” I was being insensitive to her disorder, she said.

That was the first time I'd ever heard shopping addiction referred to as a disorder, and perhaps, yes, I was being insensitive. Because according to a study from Stanford, about 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are legit shopaholics. Like alcoholism, it is, indeed, an addiction.

Shopaholics have been having a moment. There's Confessions of a Shopaholic, for example, and I recently got a spam email that read: “Unleash your inner Shopaholic!” Oh—and there's even a new reality show called My Shopping Addiction:

In recent years, there's been a spotlight on this cultural trend of hyper-consumerism. And it's been given a cute, marketable name, but really, shopping addiction is pretty dangerous, even for the frugal.

The Rise of the Shopaholic

In the early 2000s, there was a cultural message that was beginning to spread through literature and film. Fight Club, American Beauty, and American Psycho all touted this message. Oversimplified, that message was: materialism is bad. Here's a clever excerpt from Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, for example:

“Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, falling in love, war, the discoveries people made about each other. The only thing that didn't bore me, obviously enough, was how much money Tim Price made…”

Consumerism, materialism and superficiality are nothing new. We've been keeping up with the Joneses for years. But things seem to have intensified in recent years. People seem to be very obsessed with Stuff lately.

According to this 2007 article in World Psychiatry, “Compulsive Buying Disorder” (CBD) was first described clinically as far back as the early 20th century. But it wasn't until the 1990s that it really started to gain attention. And apparently, I'm not just imaging things—it has gotten worse.

How Common is Clinical Shopping Addiction? Does it Matter?

Ever had an earache or an itch and then logged onto WebMD to self-diagnose everything from polio to the plague? Well, I have, and the point is, I think it's natural to clinically label our discomforts, flaws and behaviors. Stanford puts the number of legitimate shopaholics at around 6 percent, while Wikipedia says it's more like 8 percent. Either way, that's not a lot of the population. Yet a lot of the population seems to be so obsessed with buying things that they're satisfied to live in the shackles of debt just so they can have their Stuff. That sounds like an addiction to me.

So when is compulsive shopping just impulsive behavior and when is it a disorder? That same Stanford study says:

“Compulsive buying seems to represent a search for self in people whose identity is neither firmly felt nor dependable, as indicated by the way purchases often provide social or personal identity-markers.”

But that's pretty much all of us, right? To quote Chuck Palahniuk, the author of “Fight Club,” “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” As frugal as I've become, in the past, I've spent more money than I care to remember on clothes. And it's always about trying to look better, be a better person. At least a better-looking person.

We all doubt ourselves; we all struggle with our identity from time to time, so doesn't that make us all susceptible to shopaholism?

Do the percentages really matter when you can see the epidemic in front of you?

The Fall of the Shopaholic

The silver lining to this whole shopping-addiction trend—even that silly reality show—is that it's raising awareness. Whether or not people legitimately suffer from clinical shopping addiction, they're realizing that they have a problem, and they're rejecting that problem instead of embracing it.

Even using the word “addiction” to describe compulsive shopping is significant. Addiction implies an ailment—something negative and unpleasant. Something from which you want to be cured. Shopping is becoming something people want to overcome.

The Symbolism of Malls

I was talking to a neighbor the other day about the shops and restaurants on our street. The subject of shopping malls came up, and he immediately grimaced. “I hate malls,” he lamented, and I could relate. In fact, I recently found myself nodding quite a bit at this anti-mall article from GRS guest writer Holly Johnson.

People hate malls now! And their reasons for hating malls are interesting: malls are superficial. They're associated with emptiness and materialism. They're for zombies. People are beginning to find those qualities unappealing.

The Brink of a Frugality Renaissance?

Slowly, gradually, I feel like compulsive shopping is on its way out. Maybe this is the hopeless frugal in me, but I feel like we're on the brink of a frugality renaissance.

Whether it's an excuse, a justification or just skirting responsibility, I think the awareness of “shopaholism,” as ridiculous as it may seem, is a good thing. After all, it exposes compulsive shopping as an illness. I can see how someone might think a pithy expression like “shopaholic” and a silly TV show like My Shopping Addiction* are only glorifying consumerism. But I think it's the beginning of a cultural shift. I think it's becoming less attractive to be an impulsive consumer and more attractive to be a frugal thinker.

How Do We help?

Looking back, I'm still not sure what I should've done about the woman on eBay. I'm in a better position both mentally and financially, now, to deal with something like that. But all I could think about back then were my own stresses, frustrations and lack of money.

At the time, my mom was quick to argue that the woman's “sympathy” plea was indicative of a victim mentality—she'd been plagued with this disorder; it wasn't her fault. So why should she have to pay for it? That thought process was silly, my mom said.

It's hard for some people to have sympathy about shopping addiction. Having grown up extremely poor, “shopping addiction” just wasn't a thing in my mom's world. As an impoverished child, I don't think you could have even explained the concept to her.

But consider this: We're conditioned to be consumers. Companies infiltrate our minds, our email accounts—even our friends—in order to get us to “unleash our inner shopaholic.” Is it that far-fetched that shopaholics are victimized?

This is the part where I feel inclined to give a spiel on self-control and responsibility. But I suppose that's my question in all of this: for the majority of shopaholics, is compulsive shopping an excuse for bad behavior, or is it legitimately uncontrollable? I ask, because although I've had bouts of shopaholism, I ultimately know and understand that I'm in control.

But that doesn't mean everyone else does. So I'm curious:

  • When is it a disorder and when is it just bad behavior?
  • If you're a reformed shopaholic, how did you get over it?
  • If you suffer from shopping addiction, what sets you apart from a typical compulsive buyer?
  • Thinking about the word “shopaholic” and shows like My Shopping Addiction, do you think these trends raise awareness about frugality? Or do they simply glorify consumerism?

*10/17/2012 Editor's note: Oxygen Media provided us with a link to a study conducted by Research Now on shopping addiction.

More about...Psychology

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Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago

I think being a shopaholic is bad behavior as a result of some compulsive disorder that can manifest itself in many different ways: shopping, over-eating, drinking, drugs, hand-washing, etc. Treat the complusiveness and get to the root of the problem.

I think shows can raise awareness for some, but glorify it for others. It’s all about personal perception and values. I haven’t seen the show mentioned, but I’m going to guess that some of the people aren’t compulsive, but rather, entitled and self-centered.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

This is so right! In my experience, shopaholism often occurs alongside other compulsive behaviours such as eating disorders, excessive desire for control, etc. We need to stop focusing exclusively on cures and start looking at the causes of this compulsion.

Rya @ bulgarian money blog
Rya @ bulgarian money blog
7 years ago

The Ebay woman should have paid you back. She *claims* she has a disorder, but how do you know it’s true? Even if it is, why should you have to go $5 short? (Because there was nothing you could do to MAKE her, that’s why, and she exploited that!) I think that having a medical condition named “Obsessive buying disorder” is ridiculous and it just gives irresponsible people an EXCUSE to be irresponsible. “Oh, I can’t help it, it’s a medical condition” – really?! I know people with *real* medical conditions – like being blind or in a wheelchair –… Read more »

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
7 years ago

We always get the best comebacks when it’s too late, don’t we? The perfect comeback would have been: “Oh, I’m with you; I soooo feel your pain. I, too, have something similar. It’s called education addiction. And I NEED those five dollars! You have no idea of the depression you caused by giving me your word and then letting me down. I feel YOU are the one being insensitive here! I NEED those five bucks… so bad I’ll leave negative feedback if I don’t get it.”

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago

While I completely agree with your POV as to the e-bay woman, I think your post is confusing a medical condition/disorder with a mental condition or psychiatric disorder. There are people on both sides of the fence–people with medical or mental conditions who want pity and those who don’t. I have a medical ailment and I would much prefer to have this problem, as troubling as it has been throughout my life, than to have a mental ailment.

Amy
Amy
7 years ago

The ebay lady should have paid you the fees. She has the condition – she needs to deal with the consequences of it. Those consequences will help to realize she needs help. I hope you reported her to ebay.

I’m glad you have a good heart.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I agree!!! I do have sympathy for those with addictions, but it’s limited. I do NOT believe in enabling people in their addictions!!! Asking her to pay the $5 fee was the right thing to do – SHE needs to understand how HER behavior affects OTHERS, and paying the $5 fee is a good place to start. It fits in with Steps 8 & 9 of the 12 Step program. “Look, lady, I hope you make a full recovery and stick with it, and a good way to start is to realize that you’ve harmed ME by causing eBay to… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I agree, too. And I think that asking her to take responsibility for her shopping addiction would have been the sympathetic thing to do.

Lisa
Lisa
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I also agree. Sympathy and accountability are not mutually exclusive. I’ve seen sympathetic people do the best job of holding others accountable.

Bryan
Bryan
7 years ago
Reply to  Amy

Realistically, her going on ebay and winning auctions is still giving her that “high” from shopping/scoring an awesome deal/whatever it is that makes her want to buy more. What she is doing by placing winning bids then not buying is getting her high without the down side of having to part ways with the cash. Her acting in this way is solving her symptoms (lack of money, upset husband) not her actual problem (excessive shopping). Not to mention as others have stated, harming others by causign them to lose the $5 fee, having to list the item again, having less… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin
7 years ago

Your mom was right. “Shopaholism” is not a real thing. It’s a phoney made-up excuse to distance selfish people from the consequences of their own profligacy. The woman who ripped you off was a lying leech, and I sincerely hope you (at the very, very least) left her some scathing, negative feedback on eBay, to warn others away from selling to such a selfish, manipulative person.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Though I think that the eBay girl should have taken personal responsibility and paid the $5, I also wouldn’t rule out that there could be some biological underpinnings to shopping addiction. The act of buying something may cause the release of some “feel good” hormones and molecules in shopaholics, to the point where they continually seek that high again. The more you shop, the less sensitive you become to those molecules, so the more you want to shop. Kind of like carbs, or loud music on an iPod. The other 94% of us may not get the high that the… Read more »

Shopaholic
Shopaholic
5 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Oh it’s definitely a real thing. You can be in financial ruin and still need to buy stuff you don’t need. It’s awful. One time I was debating buying a $500 pair of shoes and being late on the rent, and I was in such anguish about the decision. Sounds like an easy decision now but in that moment I just kept trying to figure out how I could manage it to buy them. It’s crazy though that you can sabotage your financial security for nothing that important, but it is a compulsion and people do. Ultimately I walked out… Read more »

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago

I get that it can be easy to fall into a trap of spending more than you can afford to, just like it’s easy to fall into almost any unhealthy or destructive behaviour. I don’t think it’s an ok excuse to blow people off like your e-bay buyer did – she created the situation by bidding on your piece, and even if it was important not to buy the item it was important that she take responsibility for her actions (in this case, by paying you back for your fees). Saying that you were unsympathetic was just another excuse not… Read more »

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
7 years ago

“Gag me with a credit card and put me on layaway” – I used to say that all the time when I was a kid, mocking chicks who hung out at the mall a lot. Just like with alcoholics, I think it’s fine for shopaholics to say they have an illness. But guess what? Your illness shouldn’t be negatively affecting me. If you’re an alcoholic and in a drunken stupor you crack a beer bottle over my head, am I to just shrug and say, “well, he’s an alcoholic, so he gets away with it”??? No. If you have a… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
7 years ago

The woman was using her condition as an excuse. Part of facing that you have a problem is dealing with the consequences of that problem, including assuming responsibility for your actions and resolving them. That’s like an alcholic caving in the windshield of your car and refusing to pay to fix it because they were drunk at the time. I do believe it is an actual condition, in a way similar to hording, and have seen first hand a couple get divorced because despite counciling and deep financial debt, the woman in this case, thought there was nothing wrong with… Read more »

Joe @ Retire By 40
Joe @ Retire By 40
7 years ago

I think it’s all BS too. These shopaholic should go live in Afghanistan for a while to see how the rest of the world have it. Can’t Ebay refund your $5? Seems a little unfair. I guess that’s why I sell my junks on Craigslist.

Seth
Seth
7 years ago

I think to call it an addiction is a stretch. I don’t think if someone can’t shop,that it will cause severe trauma or physical pain in their life, like that of a drug addict or an alcohol addict.

I believe it is just a bad habit or lack of discipline. Obviously, a large part is to keep up with everyone or want to live a big lifestyle.

Valerie M.
Valerie M.
7 years ago

It’s easy to hate shopping in malls when you can buy all your stuff online these days. I doubt the population is moving away from materialism; it’s just that the shopping medium has changed. Oh, and they’re broke. For now. I also agree with your mom. I believe the addiction is real, but a major cause/factor of all addiction is having a victim mentality. I admit it can be legitimately uncontrollable if the person doesn’t even believe they have a problem. However, the woman in your example acknowledges her addiction. The fact that she doesn’t want to pay the consequences… Read more »

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
7 years ago

I agree with the other posters that the lady should have paid your EBay fee. However, compulsive disorders are real (though this person gave you no evidence that her case was legitimate). The “shopping” part of the “shopping addiction” is almost irrelevant. It’s simply a particular manifestation of a compulsive personality. People with compulsive personalities can benefit from professional help to overcome their compulsions – whether they are “addicted” to shopping, or drugs, or sex or whatever. These compulsions can seriously mess up people’s lives and by seeking help they can try to regain some measure of control. However,nobody should… Read more »

Tom
Tom
7 years ago

Thank you for your comment. I don’t have a compulsive disorder, but it always makes me wince a little when so many people wave them off as not real, or a pathetic excuse for bad behavior. They can be real problems that affect a number of people, albeit an admittedly small percentage. This brings me to the most interesting part of the article – what’s the difference between impulsive and compulsive behavior. Many of us probably regret spending too much or drinking too much (and maybe at the same time!) but most may not need clinical intervention to resolve their… Read more »

michiel
michiel
7 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Hi Tom, Interesting question on the difference between impulsive and compulsive behavior. You can draw a distinction based on the moment of reflection (if any, actually). An impulsive person may act without realizing it, but repent later on (drinking a tad too much). A compulsively obsessed person can be fully aware of their behaviour at that time, yet still be unable to change the behaviour.

An example that might show this more is difference between boulimia and anorexia. Boulemic people usually are aware of their disorder, whereas anorexic people are unaware/in denial.

Rya
Rya
7 years ago

#7, Joe – haha! Love the Afghanistan thing. Spot on.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

It’s disappointing to see comments like shopaholism being a “BS” or a “phoney made-up excuse ” posted on World Mental Health Awareness Day of all days. It’s comments like that which keep the stigma surrounding mental illness alive and well — and can prevent people from seeking help. Maybe we should try to keep an open mind here? I don’t have any personal experience with shopaholism and I’m not a doctor, so I’m curious to learn more about this condition. There have been many conditions over the years that people didn’t think were “real” either. Somewhere between dismissing things as… Read more »

Rya
Rya
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I understand that there are mental conditions, but shopaholism? My word processor doesn’t even recognize it as a real word.

Maybe I’m biased because of the way that ebay woman mishandled the situation.

Katie
Katie
7 years ago
Reply to  Rya

Yeah, it’s generally considered not good practice to dismiss a medical disorder of which you know nothing other than something done by one person who allegedly suffered from it some number of years ago which is being related to you third hand.

Anyway, whether what that woman did is right has nothing to do with whether it’s a legitimate mental health condition. If she was a compulsive shopper, as part of learning to address that condition, she also should have been learning to take responsibility for her actions (i.e., by paying the fee).

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Katie

Absolutely agree. Dealing with the results of compulsive behavior is a necessary part of managing compulsive/addictive behavior. If an alcoholic walks into a bar, orders a drink, and then his girlfriend walks in and stops him from drinking it, he still has to pay for the booze he wasted!

Kevin
Kevin
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I’m sorry, but cry me a river. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “26.2% of Americans age 18 or older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” Wow! 1 in 4! Sound the alarm! No wonder the economy is in the dumps, 1/4 of the population is caught in the grips of a crippling mental disorder! How on Earth did society make it this far with so many people struggling with mental disorders? Was the percentage so high back in caveman days? The Victorian era? The 1960’s? How did people cope back then? How many… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

In Canada, 1 in 5 people are estimated to deal with a mental illness at some point in their lives. I don’t know how addiction fits into that picture, but some mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia have physical causes such as chemical imbalances– they aren’t a moral failure or lack of will power and they certainly aren’t “made up”. There’s a brain-body connection that experts are just beginning to understand. I wonder sometimes if our society tends to “medicalize” everything and over treat, but I think there’s a danger is assuming that all mental illnesses are the same.… Read more »

PawPrint
PawPrint
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Aha, obnoxious personality disorder. Just snap out of it, Kevin!

Rya
Rya
7 years ago
Reply to  PawPrint

I absolutely LOVE Kevin’s comment. I thought the same thing but didn’t have the guts to write it.

The way I see it, Kevin is not dismissing ALL mental conditions – he’s commenting on “shopaholism”.

jim
jim
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

I can’t fathom how someone can be so apathetic or naive.

Andrea
Andrea
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Wow, it’s clear you’ve never experienced any mental illness from your response. I think you should come back after you’ve suffered anxiety or depression and then we’ll talk. I used to dismiss it as a character flaw too and then I had a panic attack. It’s real. And psychologists and psychiatrists are expensive.

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

Kevin, all those years ago, they struggled, they managed, and they lived their lives as best they could; some of the worst affected ended up in confinement or ended their lives, others– like Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from what was then called episodes of melancholy– went on to do great things.

Life is better for many people with mental illnesses that respond to modern medication than it was when that medication wasn’t available. Just like life is better for people with arthritis or migraines because we have medication that can help with those symptoms.

getagrip
getagrip
7 years ago
Reply to  Kevin

They abused their family members, became alcoholics and opium addits, died young, starved, etc. The good ol’ days really weren’t for a whole lot of folks.

Yes, it seems in many ways we overprescribe, but that doesn’t mean their lives were great or that they couldn’t have used some help back in the day.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago

I think I could have been considered a shopaholic in my early 20’s. I bought lots of stuff- clothes, makeup, gadgets- all on credit. I finally stopped when I realized that I no longer wanted to live a life of debt. I had to accept that I could not afford everything that I wanted and have a secure future at the same time. I don’t know if being a shopaholic is a medical condition or just the consequence of a lack of maturity. Most people I know who shop nonstop want everything *now now now* and don’t know how to… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago

Hmm…what an interesting article, and I have a lot of thoughts. For the record addiction has been around me my whole life….personally and professionally. My mother, father, and stepfather were/are drug addicts. As a 15 year inner city ER/trauma nurse…..these peeps are my bread and butter. Some random thoughts: *Addiction is NOT a disease…it is a moral and spiritual weakness/sickness Addiction is not like cancer…it does not “happen to you”. You must go out and actively pursue it. I strongly believe that this whole “victim” and “I”m an addict…I can’t help it” approach does more harm than good. We need… Read more »

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Thanks for you comment. I do agree that I think addicts are trying to fill a void, or cover up a perceived blight. They deserve our support and compassion (and help when they finally decide enough is enough!), as do all human beings regardless of their condition.

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Thank you for you perspective on addiction!! you’ve given me a lot to think about wrt to rehab and addiction as a moral/spiritual failing. For behavioral addictions such as shopping and sex that makes sense. For drug addictions, however, I always thought that the void people felt drives them to drug use, but with alcohol, opiates, and cocaine/meth the chemicals “hooked” the person by creating the chemical dependency. Do you see the same thing with drug addictions? Or is what I learned in 8th grade science class now outdated/oversimplified? 😉 As to your comment about the smug attitude – I… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago

Yes…your body does get “physically dependent” on certain drugs…opiates, benzos, alcohol. Withdrawing from benzos and alcohol without medical supervision CAN kill you (especially alcohol). Opiates, you do go through a physical withdrawal but it is never fatal…..it’s like a really bad case of the flu. With benzos (meds like Valium, Ativan, Xanax etc) and alcohol, you can go into seizures.

But medical detox is just the first step..becoming physically independent of the drug does NOT stop the emotional dependence on the drug.

Does that make sense?

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Yes. It sounds like the chemical dependency adds an extra step/complication in the recovery process.

Katie
Katie
7 years ago

Yeah, she’s wrong. Or, incomplete. Addiction actually physically changes a person’s brain chemistry. There are also clear brain markers that lead someone to be vulnerable to addiction in the first place.

That doesn’t mean it’s not the addict who has to work their way out of it, of course. It is. But characterizing it as nothing more than a moral/spiritual failing is asinine and doesn’t lead to useful treatment models.

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago
Reply to  Katie

Hmm…then explain how many quit on their own without “treatment models” and interventions by people that are, many times, financially invested in addiction being a “disease”

And I’ve been called a lot worse than “asinine” in my life;-)

And how many addicts have you actually hung out with? I don’t mean “treated” I mean hung out with…befriended..etc?

Katie
Katie
7 years ago
Reply to  Katie

Jennifer, what a nonsensical reply. In answer to your second question, plenty, some of whom were family members, some of whom quit without formal treatment. In answer to your first question, that’s a completely irrelevant measure. People can – sometimes – quit on their own despite the fact that their brain chemistry has been irrevocably altered by their use of an addictive substance for the same reason people can quit with medical help. Because the brain is complicated, because biology isn’t destiny, and because people can learn workarounds. It doesn’t mean there’s not a biological component to addiction, or that… Read more »

Laura
Laura
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Jennifer, your reply is awesome. Thanks for sharing it. Like X 1000.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Great response.

michiel
michiel
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Interesting thoughts, but a tad one sided. Research has shown that addictions have three aspects/drivers which you need to take into account: 1) Biological, 2) Cognitive and 3) Social. On biological aspects: certain genes are correlated to addiction. Does this mean that everyone who has such a gene becomes an addict? No, the other drivers also need to come into place, but there is a genetic reason why some people have a real tough time getting of smoking, whereas others wonder what all the fuss on stopping is about. Cognitive reasons also matter, which you rightly pointed out. Kids who… Read more »

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Jennifer, You may have worked in the ER, and you may know some drug addicts. But, you’re obviously not a scientist, and you obviously don’t know much about biology. I agree with the sentiment of your post. I don’t like that drug addicts think of themselves as victims, or expect sympathy for their condition. They took the drugs in the first place. They deserve some responsibility for their own actions. I also agree that the “rehab” industry, thought partially altruistic, is invested in making people feel like they “need” help. That being said, I think you’re entirely dismissing the reality… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago

I relate to Jennifer’s description of how obese people make her sad rather than smug. I know that some people have been mistreated. But I have also known people who played the victim their whole lives, and it wasn’t always a fair representation of reality. My sister is a recovering addict (prescription drugs) and has numerous physical ailments, including serious clinical depression since she was an early teenager. She is past 40 and has been in therapy more than half her life. But this is the thing – she largely blames it on her upbringing and the treatment she received… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

From your posts, it sounds like you have outsider observations only — it is like a blind man trying to describe what a sunset looks like. It does not sound like you read actual scientific research and literature regarding this, particular regarding genealogy. There are many paths to addiction and not all addicts are the same. Some stumble into it and it is the drugs that begin the addictions–a physical and chemical change. Others are addicts even before the first sip–perhaps you can call it a vulnerability. For those who are genetically vulnerable, the addiction can end up presenting itself… Read more »

Jenne
Jenne
7 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Ma’am, while the particular form of addictive behavior is in fact something that someone already experiences, and the chemical dependency on drugs is something you have to have contact with to become addicted to, compulsive behaviors of all kinds are ‘addictive’ to some people who have certain experiences/genetic predispositions. (Neurologists think they have found that people who experienced certain kinds of severe trauma actually have differential response to stimuli.) Obsessive behaviors, whether shopping, dieting, eating or continually washing your hands, are generally considered to be attempts to soothe and manage anxiety produced by brain chemistry. (Why yes, anorexia is considered… Read more »

Maura
Maura
7 years ago

I think compulsive shopping can be a legitimate psychological disorder like many other compulsions and addictions. However, that does NOT absolve any individual of personal responsibility. For a parallel, an alcoholic in recovery can go into a bar, order a shot of whisky, and then just before lifting it to her lips, say, “I don’t want to do this!” But just because she didn’t drink the drink doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have to pay for it. She ordered it. Good for her for not drinking it, but that doesn’t mean that the bar owner should have to lose money on… Read more »

trish
trish
7 years ago

I had a shopping habit many years ago. I had moved to a new city and didn’t have many friends, so I shopped as a form of entertainment when I was bored or lonely. I bought many things (mostly clothes), mostly on credit, and justified the purchases by saying “well, I need it for work”. I probably did this 2-3 evenings per week, and at least once almost every weekend. I curbed the behavior when I needed to move and had to give many boxes of beautiful dresses, sweaters, shoes, etc. to charity because they didn’t fit me anymore, and… Read more »

Legally Thrifty
Legally Thrifty
7 years ago

There’s a fine line between sympathy and understanding on one hand and conditioning their victim mentality on the other hand. This woman was totally using her shopping addiction as an excuse. I can see how she might have bid to get a “high” from the potential of having shopped for something, but she should have cut off access to eBay anyway if it was feeding her addiction and causing her to be irresponsible. I do believe that there are people out there who suffer from a legitimate addiction to shopping, but an equal number (or more) who wrongly blame their… Read more »

Denise D.
Denise D.
7 years ago

I agree with many of the comments here; part of someone admitting that they have a problem is dealing with the consequences of their actions. In her case, the consequence was a small fee of $5. If she truly wanted to face her spending problem, she should’ve paid you back. It is possible to empathize with someone’s problem but still hold them accountable for their actions. I do think people can be addicted, in a sense, to the rush they get from shopping. But sometimes people just have bad habits. If someone’s spending is out of control, they need to… Read more »

tentaculistic
tentaculistic
7 years ago

Ebay is interesting, because it really does have so many deliberately addictive features. The countdowns, the last-minute swoop-ins by competitors (sometimes with computer programs just for that purpose), the admonishments that someone else could still beat you out. Very much hits a lot of buttons for gambling and addiction. That said, anyone can say anything, her behavior was not honorable in any way, and at the end of the day the onus is on her to deal with her own stuff, and not the people she has now victimized with her (ostensible) addiction. With eBay, you can open an Unpaid… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
7 years ago

I buy that people can have a disorder around shopping and an addiction or compulsion to do it. I do.

She still should have paid you for the $5 fee, though, because it was a hardship for YOU. I knew people who were destitute and this was how they tried to make the bills–that would have actually put them in peril.

I won’t call it a victim mentality on her part, but I’ll say that part of overcoming an addiction or compulsion is taking responsibility for your actions. And that’s something she didn’t do.

Janice
Janice
7 years ago

Her addiction, affliction, or whatever you want to call it, is irrelevant to her owing you the money for bailing on the transaction. We get so caught up in people’s “victim” mentalities these days that we unwittingly become enablers of sorts for all kinds of bad behavior. Life is tough. Always has been, always will be. We all make mistakes, feel bad about ourselves and maybe even act out in some way, as in overeating, overspending or drug/alcohol habits, but their OUR mistakes, not someone else’s and no one owes you anything for your “indiscretions.” In your case, she had… Read more »

lucymae
lucymae
7 years ago
Reply to  Janice

We were just about to “help” our son and his family buy a home…..when we realized that they are 20K in debt and didn’t even have earnest money saved after looking for 1 year. His wife is a selfish, manipulative, spiteful person who thinks she is one great Christian, mom, and wife….her family will enable her to spend our frugal hard-working son into bankruptcy. He made a bad choice and she won’t change as she is in denial. What a mess…I hope our son wakes up and soon!

Kayro
Kayro
7 years ago

Your mother’s feedback was spot-on. It doesn’t matter what that woman’s “disorder” was, we are all responsible for our choices and behavior. She gave in to her addiction, and that resulted in consequences — or at least should have resulted in consequences. Instead she deflected the consequences to you. Typical addict behavior, unfortunately.

No, you do not have to accept the behavior of a shopping addict anymore than you would be accepting of a drug addict breaking into your home, or an alcohol addict T-boning you with his car.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago

Not paying the $5 reminds me of the time I was in grad school and had recommended a friend move in to the apartment next to mine (it was a triplex). Her mom was helping her move in and I came home to see my bike on her porch! I went over and said, “um, this is my bike, I’m taking it back,” and my friend came over and said would I reimburse her for half of the bolt-cutters she and her mom bought when they cut my bike lock! She said, “we assumed the bike was abandoned.” Um, no.… Read more »

Jen from Boston
Jen from Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Wow!! I would have been really steamed!! First of all, who just assumes that a bike that is locked is abandoned?!? Especially the FIRST time you see it?

Maybe your friend is a kleptomaniac and needs a prescription to treat it 😉

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
7 years ago

Being a shopaholic is not a disorder…it’s a choice. Why make someone who won’t stop spending money they don’t have a victim? No one, in general, made them spend that money. Saying that it’s a disorder and calling them a victim just lets the person off the hook and does not get at the heart of the issue. They think that by spending huge amounts of money they won’t have they’ll be happy. That simply is not the case. It’s called being content with what you have. With that off my chest, I think a lot of it comes down… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
7 years ago

Studies on CBT indicate that many compulsive “disorders” can be functionally cured by changing behaviors. Shopping is behavior requiring so much volition that, even if it *is* compulsive, I have little sympathy for those who would say “I have a disorder, you have to make allowances for me.”

A person with a shopping addiction who is cruising eBay, in other words, is just a self-indulgent idiot. If she wanted to deal with her addiction, she wouldn’t have been bidding.

Solun
Solun
7 years ago

I think that shopaholism doesn’t really exist. It is a passion for stuff that drives some people to buy a lot of things. I don’t have money but if I had them, I would probably go on a small shopping spree, too. Buy a lot of clothes, new phone, new notebook and a new car :). I think that it is same as forcing you into workout. You know you should do that (= you know you should not buy that) but you are really lazy (= you really like that thing). So you end up sitting on your chair… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

Shopping addiction, like any other addiction is a true mental health condition which involves the positive rush, the dopamines in the brain, etc. And certainly, there are people who don’t fit the mental health definition of addiction who have issues with compulsive shopping and spending. But the numbers are small. To me, the bigger issue is the effects of peer, social, neighborhood, community, town influences on spending and how that impacts what is or is not normal. Is a smart phone normal? Yes in my circle and I’ve had one for years now. While work pays a portion (since I… Read more »

Diana
Diana
7 years ago

If an alcoholic gets a DUI, do they not have to pay the consequences because they have a disorder? While I can understand the woman not following through with the purchase, she should have paid the fee.

Meghan
Meghan
7 years ago

I agree with those who say that someone’s weakness/disorder doesn’t give them the right to harm others, such as an EBay seller. Going to add a thought here that may not be popular with some: I believe that some of our extreme couponing friends have a shopping problem, and they justify it by spending as little as possible, while still buying! When you get toothpaste for $1.50, that’s great but you don’t need to hoard toothpaste to the point where you could never use it all (insert any item for toothpaste). The showing off and bragging about deals is not… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Meghan

It certainly is a compulsion. I used to read a blog where a woman publicly displayed her deals every week in a photo. I noticed she bought enormous amounts of shaving gel and hair dye. Either she is the hairiest person on earth, or methinks she has a compulsion (or is selling it, I guess). My own limited foray into crazy couponing brought out the OCD in me. If I knew a deal was happening at Walgreens, I could not NOT go get it, even if I already had enough in my small stockpile. Plus I would cut every coupon,… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

“There is a basic need to get out of our skulls. Everybody finally ends up on something, even if you’re just sitting in front of the television for five hours”
Steven Wright, novelist

People say that what we’re all seeking is the meaning of life……..I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”
Joseph Campbell

Kathleen @ Frugal Portland
Kathleen @ Frugal Portland
7 years ago

Thank goodness for the shift in eBay policies — that would have really really irritated me as a college student! Probably would have gotten frustrated today, but not nearly as much as back then. It’s hard to classify something like shopping as a disease, but I’ve seen it. Some people can’t help themselves. Not your job to help them, either, but that’s the problem with the internet.

Jamie
Jamie
7 years ago

I could go either way on whether being a shopaholic is a condition worthy of respect and sympathy– But the $5 situation pisses me off. “Sorry PG&E, I can’t pay you this month– You see, I’m a shopaholic, and paying my bills would defeat the purpose.” Since she had implied that she had done this multiple times before (I’m assuming that by saying “other people have been really sympathetic and supportive” in defense of her refusal to pay the $5, she was referring to other sellers), I wonder if she had a different disorder that had more to do with… Read more »

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

I have no medical background, so I have no real knowledge of how to determine whether a person truly has a disorder that causes them to shop, or whether they just do it because they want to. But in the end, if they truly want to change, they have to stop putting themselves in that position. If someone is an alcoholic, and says they are trying/wanting to quit, but they spend every Friday night at the bar, then I just have to wonder how much they really want to quit. If someone is a “shopaholic” who says they want to… Read more »

Edward
Edward
7 years ago

Good article!

I’m sure people could argue forever whether a chronic lack of self-control is actually an addiction or a convenient excuse to indulge. The only time it irks me is when somebody says, “I’m a shopoholic,” and smile like it’s a badge of honour or something. I’m sure someone who has to go through painful physical withdrawal to get off a substance is never so boastful.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

“Keeping up with the Jones’s” has definitely become a way of life for people these days. As celebrities and high end items become more and more popular, everyone is competing with what they have and how they look, then posting it all over social media to show off to their “friends” who then get jealous and think they too need to get that surf/look like that. The fact that we’re bombarded and stimulated with advertisements non-stop from every area doesn’t help either.

bryan
bryan
7 years ago

Even though a sympathize for people who have a shopping addiction, its afflicts those who have money or credit to begin with. Shopping addiction doesn’t afflict those without any money, so the old adage is true…a fool and his money are soon parted

Meghan
Meghan
7 years ago

I definitely wasn’t trying to pick on the couponers. There may very well be someone out there who realizes that they are out of control, and it can happen when things are from Walgreens or Macy’s. My grandmother and her sister both shared a compulsive shopping problem and their places were Goodwill and yard sales. We are now cleaning out my grandmother’s house after her passing, and let’s just say that Goodwill is getting a store full. I have been unsuccessful so far, but still want to go on a spending fast for a period of time (6 mo to… Read more »

Winterlady
Winterlady
7 years ago

EBay used to have a rating system with negative or positive feedback. When she refused to pay then you should have contacted EBay and given her a negative rating. Others would then be aware this was her pattern. The fees are one of the reasons I sell off Craig’s List. The other is I also have encountered people like your “shopaholic” on EBay and I just have no interest in dealing with them.

Jim
Jim
7 years ago

I had issues with shopping in the past and I think the main reason I got out of it was that I eventually got most of what I wanted. I used to go into Best Buy and drool over items until I eventually bought em, now I go in that store and don’t have any desire for anything even though I am in a much better place these days to afford whatever I want. Having said that, I think the more I make and the older I get the less I want to spend. One tactic I used to get… Read more »

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Imagining, not imaging.

Ely
Ely
7 years ago

Recovering alcoholics take responsibility for the effects of their actions on others, making restitution where they can.

If this ‘shopping addict’ were really interested in recovery, she would pay the $5 her addiction cost someone else. Sounds like she got caught indulging herself, and is putting the blame anywhere but where it belongs.

I have some sympathy for addicts, ‘legitimate’ or otherwise, but only if they seek treatment for their affliction and do their best to do right by their victims.

bg
bg
7 years ago

Great article, food for thought and fitting right into my own thoughts lately. a) I love malls, because I’m not good at shopping online – usually the clothes don’t fit, and then I’m stuck with the non-fitting clothes or need to tackle sending them back. I much rather go to the mall and shop a few perfectly fitting pieces for more money. b) I think a lot of spending is compensation behavior, e.g. for stressful jobs. I know I’m overspending at clothes a little at the moment, because after losing 30kg, I needed to replace everything and suddenly LOVED to… Read more »

talfonso
talfonso
7 years ago

I believe that shopaholism is a real disorder. It starts at childhood, with the nag factor (aka pester power in the other English-speaking countries) being a part of it. Remember when you wanted that toy and your parents said no then sometimes you threw a fit? That’s what it is and I believe that’s one early onset. The best thing to help shopaholics is through psychological intervention as well as personal finance. Distinguishing needs and wants is one way to do it. The more those who love to shop think about putting needs (food, clothing, mortgage, etc) before their wants,… Read more »

Schiz Life
Schiz Life
7 years ago

WIthout a doubt, and it’s hard to imagine there is much argument about it, shopping addiction is very similar to other addictions to substances or even gambling, because both expose the true addiction to the neurotransmitter dopamine! Pretty interesting stuff for sure. Thanks!

Laraba
Laraba
6 years ago

There is a financial writer named Mary Hunt who got herself into TONS of consumer debt 20 to 30 years ago. Like, over $100,000. She finally saw the light and crawled out of it. I was interested in her personal story because for her, shopping was a way to deal with the sadness of a difficult childhood. She convinced herself that her family was sad because they were poor, and that if she was rich she’d be happy. So she spent like a mad woman with money she didn’t have to try to make herself happy. Very sad, but it… Read more »

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