Compulsive spending and debting has become a major problem in our society since the invention of credit cards and debit cards. Many compulsive spenders go on shopping sprees but manage to pay their debts and live within their means. Others live well beyond their means and stay one step ahead of their creditors. In my book, Born To Spend I share the work I have done with addictive spenders some of whom have gone to prison for passing bad checks or embezzling money, plus many that have had to declare bankruptcy! You may be living next door to a shopaholic or have friends or family members who overspend.
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If you are worried that the person you are in a relationship with has a spending problem, keep reading.
Q: What is the difference between compulsive spending and the kind of spending most of us do?
A: My definition of compulsion is: if you can’t control when you start or when you stop a substance or behavior, you have a problem. Most of us splurge occasionally, but compulsive spenders find the urge overpowering and frequent. Another common trait of “shopaholics” is that they buy things and never take the price tags off or wear them. Some people don’t even take their purchases out of the bag. It’s not about things. Spending is a way to medicate unhappiness, fear, anger and low self-esteem. It is an addiction the same as alcohol.
Q: What creates the urge to shop?
A: Conditioning, environmental triggers and beliefs. Overspending is not an automatic behavior. Believe it or not, many people learn to overspend. Someone close to them provides a role model of compulsive spending and shows the way. Many people go shopping when they are stressed or depressed. Once they find themselves in a setting like a mall that is filled with exciting temptations, it is very easy to give in. Some people don’t think of their plastic credit card as money. Like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind,” they tell themselves that they will worry about their debt tomorrow.
Q: Who has this problem?
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A: Compulsive spenders are all ages and from all economic levels. Although we joke about women shopping, men do too. Sometimes men buy more of the big toys like cars and boats, but men also overspend on clothing and tools. One of my clients was a student who had little money so she overspent at thrift stores. Many alcoholics and overeaters turn to spending as another way to soothe their emotional stress when they give up alcohol or sugar.
Q: What is the difference between compulsive spending and compulsive debting?
A: Compulsive spenders buy things to make themselves feel better, using pleasure to mask the pain of life. Although compulsive debtors appear to do the same thing, there is a hidden agenda to their spending. They are unaware that they spend in order to use up their money because they don’t think that they deserve success, wealth, or love.