Debt and the Compulsive Spender

At what point does a fun shopping habit become a debt-causing addiction? Are you a compulsive shopper? A Clearpoint credit counselor would recommend that you ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you shop as a means of relieving stress or escaping everyday problems?
  • When you are shopping, do you experience feelings of euphoria and excitement?
  • Do you feel guilty or remorseful afterwards?
  • Do you ever hide your purchases from relatives and loved ones?
  • Do you buy more than one of the same item, and keep items in your closet with the tags still attached?
  • Is your shopping habit causing emotional stress, financial debt or ruined credit in your life?

If you answered “yes” to more than one of these questions, you may be a compulsive spender. The first step in changing a compulsive spending behavior is admitting or recognizing that it exists. First identify the root cause of this behavior, and then resolve to address it.

Possible Causes

Often, the source of compulsive spending patterns has its roots in early childhood. A parent or role model may exhibit the characteristics of a compulsive spender listed above. These behavior patterns can carry over into adulthood as a way to compensate for feelings of insecurity.

Various social and cultural factors reinforce the addictive potential of shopping and spending, and the impending debt that can follow. Credit counselors note that the availability of credit cards and the general focus on material possession and aesthetics in our society both contribute.

So why do it? Some people shop to improve their mood. They get a “high” or a “rush” from buying things, and they often buy items in bulk. They view spending as a thrill or a challenge. Others spend as a way to compensate for a lack of emotional support. Low self-esteem and depression are somehow temporarily erased during a shopping trip, only to return soon afterwards.

The Consequences

Numerous problems can occur from a compulsive shopping behavior. This behavior not only affects the compulsive shopper themselves, but can also affect important personal relationships. For example, if a family member or friend begins to complain about their spending habits, the compulsive shopper will often start to hide their purchases. Eventually, feelings of stress and resentment build towards concerned loved ones. If confronted, they often deny that a problem exists.

One of the greatest consequences of a compulsive shopping behavior is the toll it can take on their financial situation. Credit card debt is often a central part of the issue. While credit cards themselves do not cause compulsive shopping, they make it easy for undisciplined spenders to get into trouble. Many have low credit ratings due to the inability to pay their bills. Financial debt can result in legal, social, and relationship issues as well. Others resort to borrowing money, and some decide to take on a second job to help pay multiple credit card balances and mounting debt.

What To Do About It

Start by recognizing that spending is a deliberate act, and consider the stress that debt causes you and your loved ones when you demonstrate this behavior.

  • Imagine your life without the challenges caused by this compulsive behavior and use this positive image to motivate a change in your lifestyle.
  • There are many alternatives to spending money that can bring enjoyment to one’s life. Activities such as exercising, listening to music or simply enjoying nature can be relaxing and pleasing.
  • Find out what other things make you happy and pursue them in your life.
  • For professional guidance and support, you may decide to seek out the services of a credit counselor to help you get back on track financially.

Steps to Get Spending Under Control*

Below are some other suggestions that will help you take control of your debt situation.

  1. Track your daily spending. Save all your receipts and check them with your monthly bank statement.
  2. Always shop with a prepared list.
  3. Take only enough money for items on your list, and leave your credit cards at home.
  4. Avoid shopping alone or with persons who encourage you to buy things when you’re shopping with them.
  5. When facing a buying decision involving two or more choices, discipline yourself to buy only one, no matter how much you like all the options.
  6. If you purchase something you do not like or that is unsuitable, take it back immediately.
  7. Always show your family your purchases. Avoid hiding any items you buy (except gifts).
  8. To help you avoid impulsive buying, set a shopping schedule and do not deviate from it.
  9. Join a support group in your community or online.
  10. Begin a bill reduction program. Set a goal of paying off all your debts by a certain date.

Seek Assistance From a Certified Credit Counselor

If your financial situation has suffered because of a compulsive spending habit, it is a good idea to get help from a professional credit counselor. The certified credit counselors at Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions can help to get your finances back on track with budgetary advice and paying off debt owed to your creditors.

For a free credit counseling, call 800.750.2227 (CCCS) or get started now online.

* From Solution-Focused Financial Counseling; Copyright 1995 – Fred E. Waddell; Reprinted with permission by Fred E. Waddell

Clearpoint has been helping consumers with their personal finance goals and debt repayment strategies since 1964. Today, we work with consumers all over the country through counseling that is administered online, in person or over the phone. Learn about our services today!

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