A relative of mine has had a shopping addiction for decades. She excuses herself by saying that items were on sale, or that she has been waiting for this particular thingy to be available. She buys it, and deposits it in a room piled high with bags and boxes full of other things she really needed – never to be seen again.
Shopping can be an addiction, and it is just as difficult for compulsive shoppers to break the cycle as it would be if they were addicted to drinking or gambling. According to a 2013 study by Hannover Medical School in Germany and published in the American Journal on Addictions, an estimated 6-7% of American adults have some level of compulsive buying behavior. Some shop to fill hours of boredom. Others feel that having the best or newest of everything gives them an edge or makes them more lovable.
I’m right on board with shopping for deals. If I can buy my sweetheart’s favorite cereal for 4.99 instead of 7.99, I’ll pile enough boxes in the shopping cart to keep him happy until the next sale. My “need” to have plenty of toilet paper, coffee, and peanut butter in the house causes me to scan those flyers for specials. But I am aware of my space, budget and ability to use the item. I don’t really enjoy the hunt for something new or shiny. Frugal is not frantic.
There are ways to channel your compulsion into some real debt-busting steps:
Yes, enter the room without end. Take stock of all the things you have been storing and ask yourself if you really need another doo-dad. Make a personal rule that before you shop, you must take a look at the amount of spillage you’ve created. When you find a pile of brand new tags-still-on clothes, it might stop you from pulling out the credit card.
Take stock of the pantry before stocking again.
We all know we should do a check of pantry shelves and freezers before food shopping. It allows us to see what items are missing or diminishing. If we still have 5 bags of frozen peas, we can probably skip that sale on peas this time around. Sales on food items often make a six-week circuit in stores, so ask yourself if you have enough to last until the next sale.
Shop without money or credit cards.
If you don’t have access to money, you can’t buy anything. And it is not okay to have a companion buy it for you. Not okay.
Look at your old clothing in a new way.
Are clothes your weakness? Do you open your fully packed closet and say “I don’t have anything to wear!”? Pull them out and do a retake. Make piles for clothes that fit, clothes that don’t fit, and clothes that are in need of repair. Create outfits from the first pile – will you be daring and pair that bright orange blouse with a royal blue pair of pants? Can you layer a few items together to make a new look? How about rolling up sleeves or jean legs, pulling on a short sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve tee? The second pile can go to friends of a certain size, or to the nearest charity outlet. Get creative with the third pile – an old tee can become a tote bag, and ripped or stained denim shirts and jeans might have use as patches.
Let go of the credit cards.
Cut those babies up (but don’t close the account). Yes, you can still order online if your card numbers are saved somewhere, but you are prevented from doing more than window shopping when you go out. If you can’t trust yourself with online sites, delete those numbers from the websites.
Find something to do.
Sometimes shopping happens because of boredom. If that’s the case with you, check out free or low-cost classes or programs to fill your time. Volunteer. Call a friend (one who is not going to convince you to go shopping with her). Challenge yourself to a new sport or skill. We talked about that third pile of clothing – time to put your thinking cap on and make things, like a new habit.
Make your compulsion a frugal one. Spend the time organizing your budget. Clip coupons and study “stacking” them to save even more. I need to do this myself. Figure out ways to optimize your income. Live beneath your means.
Ask for help.
You may need a professional to help you get through a true shopping addiction. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. When you know better, you do better.
Feature photo by freestock of unsplash.