> What is compulsive spending?
While we’re all guilty of splurging on a beautiful one-of-a-kind dress even when our bank balance tells us we really shouldn’t, there are certain people who cross the fine line between treating themselves and being compulsive spenders.
• What? Compulsive spending is described by psychologists as a pathology, “an addiction without a product” or “drug addiction without a drug”. It’s an obsession with spending: frequent, repetitive spending on often useless items which are often more than the person can afford.
• Why? People who suffer from this addiction are often looking for a way of making up for unhappiness. They treat themselves to sought-after buys to improve their confidence, but in reality once the buzz of excitement has passed, disappointment follows the purchase...and they set their sights on the next one, creating a vicious circle. Note that compulsive spending can be a symptom of underlying depression.
• The consequences can be very serious, both financial (debt, bankruptcy, owing money here, there and everywhere) and psychological (loneliness, guilt and depression).
> Trigger factors
• A constant need for all the latest items: no sooner have you bought yourself the designer bag you saw on a WAG in a magazine than another one comes along! One day low-waisted jeans are in, next day it’s high-waisted. Your hi-tech moby is outdated within the month and you can't wear anything from last season. We’re always being tempted into purchases to follow trends.
• Online shopping: the number of online shops has exploded in recent years. You no longer have to leave the house to do your shopping: in just a few clicks, without having to get your wallet out, you can clean the e-shops out.
• The end of hard cash: Bank cards, checks and online payments are gradually replacing notes and coins, which makes it more difficult to keep track of what you’re actually spending.
> How to regain control
• Leave your credit card at home: when you go on a shopping spree, leave the house with just cash in your wallet so you can control what you spend.
• Set a budget: study your bank statements, check your online banking regularly and learn to manage your money better by setting aside an amount to spend on shopping trips - and never go over it!
• Quiz yourselfbefore you reach for your wallet! Do you really need a new lipstick? Are you really going to wear those green flares? Don’t you have more important bills to settle, like the rent, your phone and water bill? Will you really feel that much better after you’ve bought it?
• Keep a record of all your purchases: update your spending notebook every time you make a purchase. If you realize that you’ve bought useless items on impulse, try to understand why and bear it in mind next time you’re out shopping.
• Get your calculator out: take a look in your wardrobe and do some maths. With your 25 pairs of sandals, you could have paid for a holiday, and with your 8 tubes of anti-wrinkle cream, you could have treated yourself to more than a few facials. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
• Test yourself: leave the house with no cash or cards and do a bit of window shopping. If you spot something you like, wait a few days to see if you still really want it, or if your urge to splurge has passed.
• Always check if you can return the item and get a refund before you buy. That way, if you do end up conceding, at least you know you can take it back if you change your mind or if it puts you in the red.
• Get help: if you're a real compulsive spender, it’s advisable to seek some kind of counseling (such as psychotherapy or behavioral therapy) to understand the reasons for your addiction.
• Get involved with a support group: find out what support groups are available in your community and go along to meet and get support from people who are in the same boat.
> For more help and advice
• If your compulsive shopping has led to financial problems, contact the National Debtline by phone on 0808 808 4000 (free phone) or visit their website: www.nationaldebtline.co.uk
• Debtors’ Anonymous offers a 12-step plan and peer support for those affected by debt: www.debtorsanonymous.org.uk