Welcome to January or ‘dry January’ as the trendsetters have it. The month where we find ourselves suffering from the fallout of an over-indulgent December; too much food, too much drink and a bank balance that is so in the red that it runs the risk of bursting into flames. But for some people, consumerist gorging is not simply restricted to the festive season; overspending, shopping for the sake of it or using retail therapy to overcome emotional issues is an addiction they must deal with for the best part of the year. While the problems encountered by a shopaholic might seem trivial when compared to other addictions, for the victim they are as real and as serious, threatening relationships and running the risk of much bigger consequences than just an unhealthy bank balance. We meet Jess* whose spending habits over the years have spiralled out of control… Here she describes the nightmare which has seen her descend further and further into debt…
The smell of expensive leather is intoxicating as I run my fingers one more time on the sleek contours of the baby pink suede stiletto heels, which the coiffed and fragrant assistant gently prises out of my hands. ‘Baby, you’re mine,’ I sigh smugly and silently as she stuffs the perfect pair meticulously in their silken dust bag, before carefully putting them in their box.
With a flourish she puts them in a pretty cloth bag as I think, ‘Now that’s a great freebie,’ conveniently forgetting the three-figure price tag on the shoes of my dreams. I hand her my credit card and get ready to sign ownership for my latest acquisition, my mind already ticking as to the where and the when I’ll give my new shoes their first spin. ‘I’m sorry,’ she says with an expression that doesn’t say sorry at all, ‘your payment won’t go through.’ Dear God! I wake up in a cold sweat from this latest nightmare, which has consistently dogged my nights for months on end now. You see, my name is Jess* and I’m a shopaholic.
Compulsive spending may be the butt of many a good joke and compared to other addictions might not seem as serious as a drug, alcohol or gambling habit but the truth is, it can become just as debilitating and as abysmal. Relationships suffer as the spender, myself included, concocts lie after lie, works endless hours to feed the uncontrollable urge to spend, spend and then spend some more and do almost anything to acquire their latest object of desire. It all starts out innocently enough. As humans in our vast majority, we all love beautiful things but for a shopaholic the line between needing something and wanting it is heavily blurred. Ask any compulsive spender why they need another pair of shoes to their already bursting at the seams collection and they’ll come up with a million justifications as to the why it is imperative that they get them. For someone like me, who lives from one purchase to the next, it is almost as dramatic as a life or death situation!
But in essence, shopaholics are not collectors. They do not stop at their particular fetish; be it fashion paraphernalia, objets d’art or high-end gadgets. I’ve known compulsive spenders who simply go bonkers when doing the weekly shop at their local supermarket, buying things which they do not need nor like nor even have the slightest intention of eating ; ‘the pretty packaging was tempting’ or ‘the kids might like it’ or one of my absolute firm favourites ‘It was such a bargain, I couldn’t resist!’ If anyone (sane enough to do so) had to go through a shopaholic’s storage, be it cupboards, wardrobe or drawers they’ll be shocked at the hoarded amount of mostly unused stuff they would find – from food to unused cosmetics, kitchen gadgets to toiletries, clothes still with their tag on to shoes and bags… You name it, a spendaholic’s got it. I still feel shocked every time I think of the amount of unused purchases I’ve acquired over the years, which is when the guilt sets in each and every time.
And that is the crux of the matter. Guilt at the amount of hard-earned cash you manage to squander each, and every week gnaws at your insides and of course, what else will make the blues go away as quickly and as effectively as a light spot of retail therapy? And so, the vicious circle continues until one fine day you simply cannot ignore the monumental amount in the red on your bank statements any more. That’s when reality sets in, when you realise that bankruptcy is just another purchase away and you have dragged your nearest and dearest into an abyss of solely your own doing.
Then is when you look squarely at yourself and realise that the only viable option to rid yourself of this addiction is to destroy your credit cards, spend the next decade paying off your debts and start over again!
*Name has been changed to protect the interviewee’s identity