How to escape a shopping addiction

Nope. Much like other addictions, spending addictions can rear their heads at the most inopportune times. They also know no socioeconomic boundaries. This is a problem that can affect wealthy people, low-income people and pretty much anyone living between those two extremes.

If you or someone you care about might have a problem with compulsive shopping and spending, the following tips can help.

1. Understand the phenomenon. The most extreme compulsive spenders tend to hide or lie about their purchases, max out more than one credit card and worry obsessively about money. It’s not uncommon for them to accumulate items that never get used or worn — items that often still have the price tags attached — and to live in a constant state of crisis over their finances.

2. Know thyself. If you love-love-love to shop, ask yourself: Why? Is it the thrill of the hunt? The appeal of beating the system by finding great sales? A penchant for a certain kind of item, such as shoes, clothing or electronics? Answering yes to any of these questions doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem — but if you suspect your spending might be out of control, it’s important to examine what’s happening.

3. Reflect on how you feel when you shop. Do certain emotional triggers frequently prompt you to shop? For instance, do you buy stuff when you’re depressed, anxiety-ridden, angry or lonely, with an eye toward cheering yourself up? By understanding the feelings involved, you can focus on different ways to cope with them.

4. Think about the time involved. A wakeup call can be had by thinking about the total amount of time spent visiting certain kinds of stores, cruising for deals online and studying the catalogs that arrive in the mail. Are there other things you’d rather be doing and accomplishing?

5. Take control of the situation. If you’re worried about how your spending habit is affecting your life — and your credit rating — start spending only what you have by paying for everything with cash, checks and your debit card. Cut up all credit cards with the exception of one that you sock away only for emergencies, and don’t carry that card with you. Refuse to take on any more unsecured debt — that is, debt that isn’t tied to a piece of property, such as a home.

6. Start writing things down. Another eye-opening way to get a grip is to keep a daily log of what you spend along with the feelings associated with the purchases. It’s also wise to write down your financial goals so you stay focused on what’s important.

7. Steer clear of unnecessary temptations. If you know you have a problem, try to avoid discount warehouses, malls and shopping districts. If you can’t avoid them entirely, make lists and stick to them, and only let yourself window shop when stores are closed. Throw all catalogs away, don’t watch shopping channels on TV, and be especially careful about splurging when you visit different parts of the country or world. If you must go shopping at a place that’s especially tempting for you, bring along a trusted friend who knows how much you’re struggling, and ask your friend to help you stick to your shopping list.

8. Find healthy alternatives. When you feel overwhelmed by the urge to shop, go for a walk or do some other form of exercise. This can take your mind off the urge until it passes.

9. Expand your possibilities. Instead of using all that time to shop, you could volunteer in your community, spend more time with your family, go back to school, read lots of great books, get in shape or tackle any number of goals you have for your life. Finding ways to help others can be especially rewarding.

10. Know when to get help. If you feel your spending is so out of control that you can’t wrestle with the problem alone, seek out counseling or therapy or try attending a Debtors Anonymous meeting. To find meeting times and locations in your area, visit the Debtors Anonymous Web site and click on “Find a DA Meeting.” If you or a loved one needs an even more serious intervention, the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital offers an in-patient treatment program for compulsive spenders and debtors. You also could find assistance through the Stopping Overshopping Program.

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