Shopping habits out of control.

What To Do When Your Shopping Habit Goes From Fun Distraction To Self-Destructive

My boyfriend broke up with me. I didn’t see it coming.

After hours of replaying the conversation and trying to figure out what I did “wrong”, I took a walk.

I wanted frozen yogurt, so it seemed natural to stop in at the mall for a little distraction.

That was my first mistake.

My second came in the weeks after, as I turned to retail therapy to soothe my broken heart. It might have helped at the time, but my credit card bill brought me crashing hard back to reality.

What happens when your spending feels out of control

On my way to the frozen yogurt stand, I passed clothing stores with nice things in the window — and signs that said “40% off” and even “50% off.”

I needed nothing, so what’s the harm? I asked myself.

I saw an exact match for a pair of pants I had lost on a cross-country move.

Of course, I had to buy them … they were a steal. I whipped out the credit card and they were mine.

I felt buoyant walking home. My ex-boyfriend was a faint memory, for now.

When I walked into my apartment, I told my cat, Peewee, “Discount shopping rules!”

He agreed.

The bill always comes due

Two weeks later when my Visa bill arrived, Peewee was nowhere to be found, and I lost my appetite over the rising amount due.

But that didn’t stop me. It felt too good. I was chasing that retail high.

I kept trying to justify my purchases.

As my credit card balances grew every month, so did my anxiety and stress.

But I sidestepped that reality when my niece came into town, and I took her to dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant.

I just couldn’t stop.

Panic takes over

Then, one night at 3 a.m., I woke in a panic. I could not find a way out of the financial mess I had made.

I shared my worries with a trusted friend. She was very clear and to the point: “You use shopping to soothe your soul.”

That was perceptive on her part, but how could I stop the self-destructive spending?

The answer eluded me until I started reading books about emotional literacy.

I started to understand how my emotions controlled my actions. Going deeper, I saw why a particular feeling took center stage.

When I started to believe that many things we encounter can sometimes be seen as lessons from the universe, it then made sense that many behaviors are hard-wired to our emotions.

Learn how to be your own best financial friend

Shopping was a tool to fill the void of loneliness.

My drive to overspend had taken on the patina of compulsiveness. The only way to harness that energy was to understand its source.

The gain that understanding, I looked back at the history of my life and noticed similar themes that followed me like a piece of old gum stuck on the bottom of a shoe.

I learned to resolve the compulsive behavior by holding an internal conversation.

When I am in a store and see an item — jacket, shoes, wallet, anything — and my heart starts to race, I step aside and hold a dialog with my two “sock puppets” representing opposing thoughts in my head.

I ask myself: Is this jacket to die for or are you just feeling the compulsive energy to spend? 

Ah! That’s the key.

If someone can identify that energy before whipping out the credit card, they then give themselves a real choice.

They remind themselves that they have control.

And I want to honor that energy, not deny it, so I purchase something small and inexpensive — a magazine or anything under $15.

And as proof that I have harnessed my out-of-control debt when the next Visa bill arrives, Peewee will give me an approving purr.

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