What do you do when your spending gets…out of control?

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Spending money is inevitable; we all need to spend some money to get by. The problem is when we spend money needlessly; buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have.

It’s not a problem of the modern world either. Many aristocrats of society went on shopping sprees in the ancient times. The duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana, spent money on items in keeping with her title, buying up dresses, jewelry and the like – without ever paying her debts. She died leaving behind a debt of nearly 4 million pounds.


Why does this happen? What causes a person to shop compulsively?

Oniomania is the obsessive or uncontrollable urge to…buy…things. This can affect both sexes but most compulsive shoppers are women.

There are men who fit the bill, of course, but shopping appears to be a more natural instinct in women.  Some psychologists suggest that women are hard-wired to want to gather more things around her, to construct a nest, to make her feel secure.

Men, on the other hand, tend to value being free from material things. There’s a sense of freedom in the belief that you could just pick up and leave whenever you wanted. That’s apparently why men rarely enjoy shopping unless it’s for something specific and pre-determined.

These are the 3 symptoms of a shopaholic:

  1. Feelings of shame, anxiety or guilt over purchases
  2. Spending way too much time shopping, on the internet, at work, or while watching TV
  3. Experiencing feelings of elation at completing a purchase or finding that your mood is being elevated through shopping.

These three symptoms make up the profile of a compulsive shopaholic, and really it’s not that different from any other addiction. Many compulsive shoppers have low self-esteem and use the purchase of material goods as a way to get a ‘lift’. When the shopaholic is in their element, between the aisles, the rush can be intoxicating; the release of endorphins and adrenaline combine to make it a truly exciting experience.  Then, after the purchase, all those feel-good chemicals subside and the anxiety or shame takes over, especially if you couldn’t afford to make those purchases in the first place.


Naturally, you want to take another ‘hit’ to make yourself feel better and the vicious cycle continues. This kind of behaviour can take a toll on not only the mental and emotional health of a shopaholic, but also their finances.

How can you help a shopaholic?

The big problem with treating a compulsive shopping habit is that you can’t just quit cold turkey. It’s like eating and breathing – at some point you’re going to have to do it. The objective then should be to target the psychology behind the habit.

Society is continuously bombarding us with the message that we are what we own. We obviously need to buy food and clothes and a means of transport but these days we are sold more on image and values rather than technical features or utility.

To a shopaholic possessions are a reflection of themselves. By buying the latest car, they can puff up their sense of importance and seemingly compensate for perceived faults. Materials items then replace the emptiness these people feel deep down inside. It’s also known as retail therapy.


So you need to help them get over all of that.

Here a few ways to accomplish just that.

1) Checklists

Use a checklist to help you become more mindful, more aware, while shopping. Something like this:

  • Why am I here?
  • Is the item I’m interested in the primary reason for my excursion?
  • How do I feel?
  • Do I absolutely need this item?
  • What will happen if I were to put this purchase off until later?
  • When will I use this item and where will I put it?

By taking the time to answer these questions, you get a chance to check-in with yourself and this creates some distance between the impulse to buy something and the action of actually buying it. In that distance you can observe yourself and your motivations.

2) Budgets

In addition you can use a budget to shop sensibly. When you know how much you have allocated and what items you need to buy then it can help keep you in check. Any money that is left over goes into a savings pot.

3) Cash

Leave the credit card at home when you go out to shop. Plan ahead and take out the necessary cash that you need. By leaving the credit card at home you won’t be able to make any crazy purchases even if the temptation hits. If you find something that you really love and desire then write it down and you can always pick it up later.

4) Mad Money

Set up a separate savings account and have money sent to it automatically. It doesn’t have to be much, but this can be your mad money. Once you’ve accumulated enough you can use that money however you see fit. Whether it’s on a new pair of shoes or a whole new wardrobe, it doesn’t matter. This will act as a kind-of release valve – ensuring that you don’t get too constricted as you try to beat your shopping addiction.

Ultimately, because a shopping compulsion comes from feelings of low self-esteem, a successful recovery plan will also have to address that.

One way to combat low self-esteem is to boost it by learning a new skill and mastering it. Getting good at something is a sure fire way to increase self-esteem because it’s hard to hit rock bottom when you know there’s something in this world that you’re good at.

Finally, one has to cultivate an understanding that one’s sense of self-worth and well-being isn’t tied into personal belongings. This can be done by establishing a gratitude practice. Take time everyday to reflect and list the things that you are grateful for.

It will change your life.