Photo courtesy of Valeri Thalen-Passon
I’ll admit it: I love shopping. Although I prefer the convenience of making online purchases, I still absolutely love getting new things: makeup, books, clothing, jewelry, perfume, and most recently – home improvement items.
Unlike many others, though, I’m able to thwart my desire for the items in order to keep my finances under control. I like putting food on the table for my family more than I like the latest shades of eye shadow from Sephora. Even still, the desire to buy is within me.
The technical term for compulsive shopping is ‘oniomania‘ – sounds like an onion addiction to me (which I may or may not also have), but comes from the Greek ‘onios’ meaning ‘for sale.’ The mania part is pretty clear. Even though husbands, boyfriends and fathers everywhere may have a hard time swallowing this – a shopping addiction is a very real impulse control disorder. Related to substance addiction, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, if left unchecked, it can have devastating consequences.
Robert Pagliarini, certified financial planner and best selling author, works to help shopaholics every day in his Orange County firm. He has also collaborated with Dr. Drew Pinsky and other well-known addiction specialists to help shopaholics from vastly different backgrounds. What you may not realize is that being addicted to shopping doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with being wealthy. A true shopping addict struggles to control their spending regardless of the number in their bank account or on their credit report.
At times, family members or close friends may try to shame shopaholics into quitting. Although it may seem logical to stop excessive spending in order to pay rent or utility bills, anyone with an addiction isn’t thinking logically. Being addicted to buying things is emotional, so making an addict of any kind feel even worse about herself isn’t the best approach, and may even cause the addiction to worsen.
Instead, take a look at the big picture. Whether you’re the friend or the addict, try some of these ideas:
- Identify triggers. Pin-point what situations or feelings make shopping inevitable.
- Link daily triggers with past issues. Day-to-day triggers can be traced back to deep-rooted psychological issues, such as abandonment, deprivation, absence of familial attachment, lack of affection or abuse.
- Seek out a professional. A therapist can help you associate triggers with what is really missing in your life, and how to get what you really need rather than replacing it with shopping.
- Re-think gifts. Friends and family members can come up with a system that eradicates the need to shop for gifts for the duration of the shopaholic’s therapy. Agree to homemade presents, or do nice things for each other. This helps the obsessive shopper avoid stores.
- Reserve judgment. Whether you’re the addict or the friend of one, seek out help and support without judging. Nearly everyone can improve in one way or another – excessive shopping is just your vice.
- Give up control. If possible, hand over your bank account information and checkbook to your spouse or a close family member, and let them police your spending while you undergo therapy. This will take some of the pressure off of you.
- Consider medication. Oniomania is a very real compulsive disorder that can be treated with medications that are used by people with a variety of compulsive problems. Medication isn’t the only answer, but it can be a component in your recovery plan.
- Form new habits. At times when you would have previously gone shopping, do something else. What you decide to do matters less than actually doing it. Shopping may have become habitual, and bad habits are much easier to overcome if you put a good habit in their place.
Lastly, although it isn’t an illegal or physically unhealthy problem, shopping addiction can be extremely embarrassing because it signifies a lack of control over oneself. The most important thing to focus on is the positive changes you can make by taking steps away from compulsive spending. Visualize yourself debt-free and in control of making purchases with cash. Keep your eye on that vision and your hand off your wallet until it becomes a reality.