Managing Compulsive Shopping During the Holidays

Woman carrying shopping bagsMost people have overspent at least a few times or have gotten so caught up in the holiday rush that they come home with a pile of useless things. For compulsive shoppers, however, shopping is like a drug. People who shop compulsively don’t enjoy the spoils of their trips; instead, it’s the shopping itself that’s rewarding, and money must be spent again and again—often more frequently and in larger quantities—to get the same rush.

The holidays can be especially challenging for compulsive shoppers, and a few holiday shoppers may even be pushed into compulsive spending as a result of the crushing pressure many of us feel when shopping for gifts.

What Is Compulsive Shopping?
Compulsive shopping is defined partially by its effect on someone’s life. A multimillionaire who spends $2,000 a month on clothes might be fine, but a college student who goes into debt spending the same amount could have a problem. Compulsive shopping tends to interfere with relationships, financial goals, and time commitments. Symptoms of compulsive buying include:

  • Spending money to alleviate feelings of worry, guilt, or depression
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones
  • Purchasing many things that are never used
  • Lying about spending habits
  • Feeling euphoric during or immediately after shopping
  • Accumulating significant debt
  • Spending significantly more on purchases than other people with similar incomes
  • Being unable to stop spending, even when it interferes with your life
  • Spending money on consumer goods rather than saving, paying bills, or meeting other financial obligations

How the Holidays Factor In
The constant stream of commercials, sales, and warnings that the holidays are rapidly approaching can send a compulsive shopper into a fit of anxiety that may increase his or her likelihood of shopping to alleviate it. The bright colors, piles of signs, and loud reminders to “Buy now!” can also induce compulsive shoppers to give into their urges. Moreover, for people who have decided to stop spending money in an attempt to alleviate the disorder, the culturally imposed need to buy holiday gifts can offer an excuse to start buying other things as well.

Coping
Unlike people struggling with drugs, who can sometimes quit cold turkey, and people addicted to alcohol, who often have the option to avoid bars and parties with heavy drinking, compulsive shoppers can’t completely escape consumerism. There are necessary things we all must purchase, making it impossible for compulsive shoppers to try the cold-turkey approach, particularly during the holidays.

There are, however, a few things you can do if you struggle with overspending:

  • Take a friend or family member with you on all shopping trips to hold you accountable.
  • Cancel or hide your credit cards.
  • Establish a bank account specifically for presents and consumer goods, and purchase only using this account.
  • Block shopping-related websites on your computer.
  • Attend a support group for people with spending problems.
  • Establish a rule that you can make a purchase only after thinking about it for a full 24 hours.

Treatment
For people with mild shopping addiction, taking a few proactive steps may be enough, but others might need professional help. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be especially helpful at alleviating the compulsive thoughts associated with compulsive shopping. People who experience depression and anxiety and use shopping to eliminate it may also benefit from antidepressant or antianxiety medications. Support groups can also be helpful, as they allow compulsive buyers to learn and receive support from others who have struggled with the same problems.

References:

  1. How to manage compulsive shopping or spending addiction. (n.d.). Indiana University. Retrieved from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/hints/shop.html
  2. Landau, E. (2012, January 03). Compulsive shopping: When spending is like substance abuse. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/19/health/mental-health/shopping-addiction-compulsive-buying/index.html
  3. Some signs and symptoms of compulsive shopping. (n.d.). SlideShare. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/denisemccarthy/some-signs-and-symptoms-of-compulsive-shopping-include-presentation

 

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  • Reagan

    Reagan

    December 6th, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    It’s like you know exactly what this time of yeaar does to me. I am not the person dasing out on Black Friday to look for deals for other people, but I am the one doing all the shopping for myself! Each year I tell myself that this season will be different, that I don’t need this to make me feel good, but it is this habit that is so hard for me to break, it seriously is like a drug to me. I hide my purchases, hide the recipts and the evidence and wait until my husband openly questions me about it before finally confessing. I am lucky that financially we are able to handle it right now, but there is always this little thought in the back of my head that maybe one day we won’t be able to and then what? I am so scared of what the outcome could be that it is hard to even consider it.

  • Amanda

    Amanda

    December 6th, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    If you are a compulsive shopper, DO NOT visit Germany during the month of December. The Christmas markets will be opportunity overload…

  • W Woods

    W Woods

    December 6th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    I attempted to treat a young lady with compulsive shopping disorder one time. It proved to be surprisingly resistant to treatment. But, she did try some of the coping skills mentioned such as taking a friend with her (not the “yes” kind of friend, but the kind that isn’t afraid to tell you no) and blocking shopping websites on her computer. It took about three months of weekly therapy sessions, but she is reportedly doing much better now and only occasionally has to fight the urge to go out and spend money in order to relieve anxiety.

  • Alden

    Alden

    December 6th, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    My sister is 24, she started working just a couple of years ago but boy does she splurge! It surprises me to see how much money she throws away at things she doesn’t even need. She is constantly running into trouble paying her bills but her shopping never stops. I tried talking to her about it but she avoids it or says a casual “it helps me feel better”.

    Fell better?Its putting you under financial stress!Although she has a stable job and makes good money she is spending far more than she can afford and I am sure it will lead to major issues in the future. How do you convince someone who does not acknowledge they have a problem? I really want to stop this destructive habit of hers.

  • scott

    scott

    December 6th, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    This, like any other addiction, can seriously ruin lives.
    There is the overspending and then there are the lies and the cover ups.
    Not sure which causes more harm and damage in the end.

  • MaryMargaret

    MaryMargaret

    December 7th, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    Manage it? The only way to manage it during this time of temptation is to just stay home and out of the scene. I have friends who ask me all the time to go shopping with them but the ones who know me best know that this would be a worst case scenario for me during this time of the year. There is just too much compulsion, too much temptation to give in to the deal that I can’t handle right now. I have tried doing it and not taking credit cards or a wallet even but even then you still somehow find a way to address that craving to purchase. So the only safe way for me to avoid it all is to stay home. I am not quite as bad with shopping online because the general rush isn’t there so that’s been pretty helpful for me.

  • edith

    edith

    December 7th, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    I’m not your typical compulsive shopper.I can resist excessive shopping and go about buying things normally.But Black Friday or any big sale is on and I literally go bonkers.I end up buying things I don’t need only because they were on sale.I don’t know why this happens but it seems like I just cannot resist a great bargain!

  • Heidi

    Heidi

    December 9th, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    I am like Edith- it doesn’t happen all the time, but when I see something that is on a great sale, then it is almost impossible for me not to buy it, whether I need it or not!! I don’t know what to do other than just bury myself under the covers for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas because this is the time of year that’s the most dangerous to me.

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