Identifying Compulsive Shopping and What to Do About It

Getting into the habit of spending is very easy to do and it explains why many people have surmounting credit card debt. Advertising is effective and everywhere, and there seemingly unlimited choices available to tempt us. Over half of Canadians use credit cards to make most purchases and nearly half of Canadians are carrying credit card debt, according to a Global News article siting BMO’s 2015 Credit Card Report. Further, a quarter of Canadians are stuck in a vicious cycle of paying off their credit card bill with all their available funds and then racking up additional debt for other expenses.

How To Know If You Have A Shopping Addiction

Shopaholics have an inability to control spending. While it can include buying too much at once, addiction goes beyond that. Shopping is something that a shopaholic craves and does repetitively. Common symptoms associated with shopping addiction are:

  • Making a regular past time of going to the mall, searching online or looking in catalogues
  • Buying when you are bored, feeling down or “off sorts;”
  • Feeling a “pick me up”, “rush” or “high” upon making a purchase;
  • Buying unnecessary purchases frequently, such as shoes, kitchen items, clothing or children’s toys, though some shopping addicts will buy anything;
  • Habitually buying and returning merchandise; items are bought on impulse and then returned when a realization is made that they can’t be afforded;
  • Shopping sprees or binge shopping;
  • Paying on credit for everyday items;
  • Frequent balance transfers to try avoid maxing out cards;
  • Holding several “maxed out” credit cards;
  • Difficulty paying bills;
  • Paying only the monthly credit card minimum amount, paying with another credit card or ignoring credit card statements;
  • Hiding purchases from your spouse or other close family members;
  • Having past due accounts;
  • Legal, social and/or relationship problems arising from debt; and
  • Taking an extra job to be able to pay for the shopping habit.

If you think about shopping often and your spending habits adversely affect your daily life (e.g., debt problems), then a shopping addiction may be what you are facing. While many people overspend during the holiday season, shopaholics have trouble curbing their spending on a regular basis.

What Causes Compulsive Shopping Behaviour?

Often shopaholics’ view that buying will bring happiness or at least make things feel better for the time being. Often, spending becomes a way to try enhance self-esteem, get closer in love relationships, and heal hurts, regrets, and stress. Manufacturers and service providers alike are often successful in their sales and marketing programs by telling you that you need or deserve what they are selling. You may feel justified in making the purchase (especially when you accumulate “rewards” points) and have an optimism or lack of thought about how you will pay for your purchase.

Addictive behaviors tend to come in clusters, so if you have a shopping problem, you may have other stressful challenges in your life or that you are trying to overcome. Your shopping addiction has some of the same characteristics as gambling, overeating, alcoholism, and drug addiction. It requires more than will power to overcome, though often there is often little sympathy or empathy for the problem from others who don’t understand it.

How Do I Prevent A Compulsive Shopping Habit?

While professional help is recommended if you already feel that your shopping is out of control, there are some things you can do to help prevent a shopping addiction:

  • Avoid going to shopping malls, discount warehouses and gift shops for fun. If you must go, don’t bring your wallet.
  • Avoid online shopping, catalog orders and TV shopping channels;
  • Re-examine your daily and weekly routine. Find a new hobby or interest (e.g., exercise, yoga, meditation, read, play brain games like Sudoku) to fill free time and focus on something else when the urge to shop comes;
  • Track your spending. Make a spreadsheet to track everything you buy, including coffees.
  • Consider taking on an extra job to keep yourself occupied and pay your debts;
  • If you need something, make a list and buy only what is on the list, using cash;
  • Cut up your credit cards. If you must, keep one for emergency only; and
  • When giving gifts, give your time, make gifts or use existing rewards points. Otherwise, gift cards or cash or cheque are good alternatives as these allow the receiver to buy a gift instead.

What If I Can’t Stop Spending?

If you are unable to manage your spending habits in a financially sustainable way, your self-esteem can plummet as obsessions and compulsions take over. You can feel worse about yourself because of the financial strain caused. You may find yourself paying high monthly interests for purchases you cannot afford. Credit card interest rates (of at least 19 percent) will apply until the balance with interest is paid. You could be denied the interest free period on new purchases and be denied credit if you cannot pay the minimum amount as your credit score declines.

You will likely have ongoing financial stress, which could have physical and emotional impacts. Additionally, your marriage and family relations will be strained and you could get fired if you are browsing the internet to shop while it’s time to work. A shopping addiction can also turn into to consumer theft or stealing money from family or the workplace to support the habit. If you engage in criminal activity, you could end up with criminal charges, fines and jail time. You could also need to file for bankruptcy protection.

How We Can Help

Our role at Faber is to assess your situation, inform you about your available options and help you through this difficult financial time. You don’t have to face this alone. We can help you get back on track financially. We provide credit counselling in Alberta and you are required to undertake credit counselling by law if you choose a consumer proposal or file for bankruptcy. An Alberta Licensed Insolvency Trustee can refer you to a therapist or a self-help group to overcome your overspending. Help is available at Faber by calling 780.944.1177 or 1.877.944.1177.