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Shopaholic Syndrome: When You Just Can’t Stop Buying Stuff

Shopaholic Syndrome: When You Just Can't Stop Buying Stuff

Here’s what I said about shopping addiction to Dr. Drew.

Alcohol, crack, and heroin are known to be highly addictive, but can something as innocuous as shopping be addictive?

Dr. Drew Pinksy is an addiction specialist. You may know him as just Dr. Drew. I’ve worked with him on a few TV shows. Here’s what I said about shopping addictions on the Ricki Lake Show with Dr. Drew.

First, it’s important to understand what doesn’t work.

A shopping addiction is not a disease of intellect; it’s a disease of emotion. Unfortunately, most family members, along with mental health and financial “experts,” make things worse by focusing on the two areas that usually lead to even more shopping: shame and logic.

What’s wrong with you?! Don’t you know better? How can you be so self-centered and selfish? All shame accomplishes is guilt followed by more shopping.

Trying to use logic – if you spend too much, you won’t have money to make the car payment – tends to be just as ineffective.

Such “cures” don’t work. Shopaholics already feel bad about themselves, and they already know they can’t afford it. Criticism often leads to people feeling even more socially isolated, which they “treat” by shopping.

If you find that you are spending more than you can afford and you can’t seem to stop, these suggestions might help:

1.) Identify the shopping trigger. What activates a person’s urge to shop – boredom, guilt, shame, anger? Keep a written journal or electronic record and document what leads to the shopping.

2.) Discover the need shopping fills. Excessive shopping doesn’t serve a functional purpose – you probably don’t need 15 purses – it serves a psychological purpose. For the non-shopaholic, it may look like “crazy” or irrational behavior. It’s not. The shopaholic is often entirely rational. They shop for a reason – it fulfills a need, so they keep doing it.

So the first step in halting compulsive shopping is to identify the psychological need driving it. Does the shopping provide pleasure or does it help you avoid pain?

In other words, do you shop to feel something you don’t feel anywhere else throughout the day (a rush, excitement, variety, stimulation, being in control, feeling naughty), or do you shop to avoid feeling something negative, such as anxiety, loneliness, or fear? Determine what part of the shop- ping provides the reward. Is it going with friends (social)? Is it being around others (community)?

3.) Replace shopping with something healthier. The shopaholic needs to find a healthier alternative to filling the need. Brainstorm how you could fill this need in other ways. Often, you’ll find that someone with one addiction will trade it for another addiction. This is not a positive long- term solution. The goal is to trade in a negative and destructive addiction for one that is positive and healthy, or at least neutral.

4.) Change your environment. Our environment plays a huge role in our behavior. If you keep a bowl of jellybeans on your desk, it’s clear what you will snack on throughout the day. Use the environment to your advantage. It makes no sense for the alcoholic to “test” their willpower by having a snack at their local bar, and it makes no sense for the shopaholic to be in shopping malls. Create “no-fly zones” – places you can’t go, such as malls, stores, and other shopping areas. You want to remove any ambiguity in your rules. If you don’t, then, in the heat of the moment, the shopaholic will rationalize a way to shop. Make a list of the places you can and cannot go. Eliminate any TV watching (at least in the beginning), and stay away from magazines and newspapers. You basically want to remove any cues from the environment to shop.

5.) Get support. Kicking an addiction is hard to do alone. Get some help from friends, family, or a therapist. Debtors Anonymous is a great resource, and they have groups in cities across the country.

The proceeding blog post is an excerpt from Get Money Smart: Simple Lessons to Kickstart Your Financial Confidence & Grow Your Wealth, available now on Amazon.

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About the Independent Financial Advisor

Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.

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