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/ Source: TODAY
By Alexandra Zaslow

Attention, shopaholics: You can now kick your spending habits in the butt with the Stopping Overshopping Text Messaging Program.

Launched in April, the program, which costs $24.95, now has 30 users and is growing by the day. After signing up, you receive two text messages a day, one generic that relates to 80 percent of overshoppers and the second is tailored to the individual user, based on their survey responses.

Users also get an additional text on Friday and another on Sunday, and special texts are sent out before big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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"The idea is to delineate the fact that weekends are popular for shopping," April Lane Benson, Ph.D., creator of the program and author of "To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop," told TODAY.com. "Some people might have had a bad week of spending and the text messages sent out on Friday and Sunday allow them to regroup and figure out how to make the next week better."

The program is geared toward any overshopper, but users have different reasons for joining.

Stopping Overshopping Text Messaging Program
Courtesy of The Stopping Overshopping Text Messaging Program

"Some people really want privacy and anonymity, they know they have a problem and want to try to handle it on their own," Benson said. "Others are in treatment and want additional reinforcement and then there are those who may still be denying they have a problem and want to dip their toe in."

Users take a survey to get started, which finds out details about their spending by asking questions like what triggers them to shop, how much overshopping has harmed their financial life and what time of day they spend the most money.

The results are then used to gear text messages toward users' specific needs.

Here are some of the generic texts that have been helping users get over their bad habit:

  • Trying to fill emotional needs with material goods is trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Won't work, no matter how hard you try.
  • Once you think about the costs of overshopping, you'll begin to choose your path instead of being dragged along by old baggage.
  • Acquiring and maintaining objects can so fill up our lives that there’s little time or space to use what we’ve acquired.
  • Happiness isn’t the next purchase away — nor the next, nor the one after that. You already know this and keeping it in mind will be transformative.

Benson wanted to harness the power of technology in a powerful way, so she worked with Fred Muench, Ph.D., founder of Mobile Health Interventions, who helped with the programming.

"Several research studies have been done to date showing positive effects from text messaging programs, so far mostly for smoking cessation and alcohol consumption," Benson said. "Ours is the first about compulsive buying disorder."

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Other text messaging programs have proven to be successful, like SmokefreeTXT, which is free and designed to help quit smoking. It sends users one to five texts a day and they can receive additional support by texting keywords such as "crave," "mood," and "stop."

Mosio, like Benson's program, is anonymous and offers support for different problems depending on the user. They text their problems and get a response via a website interface, which provides real-time conversations. Some are in need of alcohol and substance abuse counseling, while others seek help with pregnancy planning.

The Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery investigated the effectiveness of a group treatment program and found that it can significantly decrease the severity and frequency of compulsive buying behavior.

"Following the 12-week treatment, clients spent significantly less time and money buying compulsively, and had significantly fewer compulsive buying episodes," the study shows.

The program offers a feature where it responds to users who send a text when they feel in need of help. In five years, she hopes to have a therapist or coach responding because she thinks the human component is very important.

"As time goes on, we're going to try to find ways to make it more effective," Benson said. "The importance of this program is to keep the issue front and center."