Dear Barb: I think I might have a problem. I’ve always enjoyed shopping, but recently I’ve been spending more money than I can afford. My shopping seems to be getting out of hand. I used to be able to pay off my credit card balances every month. Now I am leaving big balances on my credit cards and sometimes I have to transfer balances from one credit card to another. I am a single woman who lives on her own, but I have a feeling my parents are becoming aware of my problem, as I’ve had to borrow money from them. I’m scared of where I will end up if I keep going like this. I know I need help, but I’m not sure where to turn. Can you help point me in the right direction?
Elisa in Chatham
Thank you for you writing Elisa. I understand your fear and I will do what I can to help. The behaviour you describe is called shopaholism. It is an addiction, much like alcoholism and, like alcoholism, if done to excess it can spiral out of control and ruin marriages or other relationships and ultimately destroy lives. Therefore you must get this behaviour under control or you may not be able to avoid the devastation it will cause you and your family.
There are certain characteristics that have been identified among people with this addiction. Ask yourself if the following questions are indicative of your feelings and behaviours.
1) Do you often shop when you are feeling down, lonely, depressed or unhappy about someone or something in your life?
2) While shopping do you feel elated almost to the point of feeling as though you are on a high?
3) Do you often go on shopping binges?
4) Do you frequently purchase items online or on shopping channels, even though you really don’t want to?
5) When you have cash in your purse, do you feel like you have to spend it right away?
6) After a shopping binge, do you feel let down and guilty because of the amount of money you spent?
7) Do you buy items you don’t really need or want?
8) Are your closets cluttered with bags of brand new items that you will never wear or use?
9) Have you tried to stop shopping, but found you were unable to stop yourself?
10) When your credit cards are to their limit, do you apply for more credit, rather than working on paying them down?
11) Do you avoid the phone or opening your mail, because you don’t want to see how much you have spent?
12) Are you hiding your purchases from family and friends?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, you have a problem for which you need professional help. You have an addiction, which is just as serious as a drug or alcohol addiction. Therefore, you cannot just choose to stop. Some treatment options include individual or group counselling, as well as drug therapy. You and your therapist can determine what is the best form of therapy for you.
In the meantime, Elisa, the following are some steps you can do on our own to start the process of recovery.
1) Cut up all your credit cards except one. As well, make sure you call to cancel the credit card, because it would be just too easy to call and request a replacement card.
2) When you go shopping make a list of what you need and buy only what is on the list.
3) Pay for all your purchases by cash or debit.
4) Don’t look through catalogues or watch shopping channels on television. At this point, the temptation is too great.
5) When you feel an overwhelming urge to shop go for a walk instead.
Good luck Elisa, I hope to hear an update on your progress.
E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.