Monday, March 16, 2009

Lessons of a Shopaholic Part 1: A Personal Rehab Saga

I have a confession to make: My name is 3-Penny Princess, and I'm a Shopaholic.

["Hi, 3-Penny Princess."]

I officially entered shopping rehab and started my own 12-step program to get back to being a responsible citizen. My goals: 1) pay off my shopping debts, 2) cure my obsessive habit, 3) learn to shop in moderation, and 4) not use credits cards unless it's an emergency (and that Chloe bag that I've been eyeing for months finally going on sale for 60% off is not an emergency).

The truth is, it wasn't so long ago that I was a responsible citizen. The temptations were always there, but I found the strength to subdue them. For years I shopped in moderation, bought only what I could afford, and didn't even used credits cards (due to early abuse of my first credit cards in college, an error in judgement that ruined my credit for years). When I finally felt comfortable with the idea of using credit responsibly and learned to pay my credit card balance each month, I felt that I had triumphed as an adult.

Then, at some point -- between being pummeled with an unprecedented year of J.Crew discounts and signing up for every shopping email club on the planet -- I fell off the wagon. Oh, it didn't happen suddenly, mind you. I didn't take a fabulous trip to Europe and go on a shopping spree on the Champs Elysees. I didn't suddenly get the job of my dreams and revamp my entire wardrobe. I didn't even splurge on a brand new Louis Vuitton luggage set or even one single Tiffany diamond necklace. No, the road to depravity is paved with the most trivial of acts: a small indiscretion here, a harmless find there, a can't-miss sale everywhere...

It starts out innocently: you go out to buy one birthday present for your best friend, or a dress to wear to an upcoming wedding. But then you get dazzled by a radiant window display of new springwear that stops you in your tracks. The next thing you know, you're trying on outfits that look so fabulous, they make your pallid winter complexion glow like a Mediterranean goddess, not to mention the inches they subtract from your untoned abs. Besides, with the incredible discounts on top of the irresistible sale prices, it would be a crime not to buy a few things. Just to tide you over until you unpack your real spring wardrobe, which may not happen for a while (I mean, why does it always snow here in March?). The shopgirls buzz around you like worker bees, wrapping efficient little piles of your treasures in bright tissue all the while praising you for your excellent purchases.

Basking in the euphoria that ensues for the next 20 minutes to an hour, you mosey on toward your original goal with a spring in your step and a gleam in your eye, not even noticing when you get pulled in by the intoxicating aroma of tuberose wafting from an undisclosed corner of the perfume counter. Why, of course you deserve a new fragrance. Those overbearing caramelly-vanilla aromas simply won't do for spring! But wait, you gasp, as you make a determined run for the door to veer back to your shopping path -- are those not the most fetching coral beads hanging on that accessories rack next to the vivid new yellow and turquoise baubles? I'll bet they would be just the thing to liven up the new jacket you recently snagged at the end-of-season clearance. And with that steady supply of Macy's coupons that never runs out, the necklace costs almost nothing. It feels so good to find great bargains!

Until you realize that you've already spent $200 and you haven't even looked at what you came in to buy in the first place. Or, you rejoice that you just bought 3 pairs of pants (because we all know what a pain in the fanny it is to find well-fitting pants), but what you really needed were a couple of pairs of comfortable yet chic shoes for your upcoming trip. Or, you swore you wouldn't buy any more sweaters, but then the one you'd been drooling over since fall finally went down to an acceptable sale price and you would have cried if you didn't get it.

All of those very appropriate excuses, I concur, but you're left with one slight problem: you spent more than you expected, and now you have to find the money to buy the stuff you actually need. Like the present for your best friend or the dress to wear to that upcoming wedding. What to do? Looks like you'll have to "borrow" a bit and pay it off next month. And by borrow, I mean take it home today, pay some now, and pay some later. And later. And later. It was not until I was wallowing knee-deep in credit card debt that it occurred to me that I might have a problem.

To be sure, I'm far from the only gal with a *slight* shopping addiction. As exemplified gloriously by the ravishing redhead Isla Fisher in "Confessions of a Shopaholic" -- which helped make our February J.Crew Aficionada outing a major hit -- it's almost expected that a fashionable girl with a flair for the dramatic will have an overflowing closet with an equally overflowing credit card bill. Surely I wasn't the only one who felt an instant kinship with the main character in that movie. Why, beautifully clad mannequins speak to me all the time, beckoning me to enter their dangerous albeit stunningly outfitted boutiques. And who hasn't thrown caution to the wind to take an extra long power-shopping lunch, especially when there's an important sample sale at your favorite store? A fierce shopping habit is nothing to be ashamed of -- it's something to be proud of, like excelling at a hobby or creating artistic masterpieces. It's hard work to create an award-winning wardrobe and to churn out ensemble after killer ensemble, n'est-ce pas?

Why, then, did I feel a slight twinge of guilt after the movie finished? Like many, I had actually applauded the feel-good ending which culminated in a sensational sell-off of the heroine's beloved clothes and accessories. I thought to myself, "Hmmm... maybe she's onto something. Maybe I don't need to shop constantly to be happy." I even plotted ways to re-create the momentous feat in my very own closet. I would simply ferret out as much as possible, sell it off, pay off my sizable credit card debt, and not shop again for a very long time. I mean, surely I could live off a couple dozen pieces and perhaps a modest 5 pairs of shoes, maybe 1-2 bags?

Well, that short burst of motivation lasted for about 2 hours. Then I made it home, checked my email, refreshed the news on my blogs, and came across the latest J.Crew 20% discount. Needless to say, my guilty conscience didn't stand a chance. In no time, I was placing my next order and counting down the days till the package arrived at my doorstep, relishing the sweet feeling of success while at the same time gambling nervously on not being caught again.

But busted I was. As my husband opened the door and stepped out for his early morning cigarette -- mind you, on the one completely unforeseen day that he decided to work from home -- what should fall onto my floor but a fresh, promising J.Crew package, hot off the first delivery truck of the morning? (Damn that early UPS delivery! When the package says it will come tomorrow, why can't it come tomorrow? And for the love of God, why pick this one day to deliver a package at 8:00 in the morning when I usually sit around all afternoon waiting for J.Crew packages to arrive?)

This on the heels of a severe tongue lashing just 2 weeks prior when my husband came home to find an order containing yet another coat plus a skirt, with a not-so-discreetly packed invoice for $300? To really hammer the last nail into my coffin, a second package arrived in the mail the same afternoon with, of course, more J.Crew items, this time snagged off the JCA Weekly Exchange.

That's it, I thought. I'm really toast now. My husband is surely going to take away my credit cards, block all shopping sites from my computer, possibly move us out to the remote country, and force me to give up shopping permanently (or at least until I break out and make a run for the nearest mall). Sure, our marriage is built on the premise that we each have our vices, but there comes a point when enough is enough. And my recent overshopping "incident" in November (for gifts, I swear!) had turned into a habit that was threatening to overtake me for the fourth month in a row. Bracing myself for maximum impact, I sought to appease the gods of domesticity by offering to make an award-winning dinner. Which got turned down, adding to my anxiety about what was to come.

Instead of being served divorce papers or a surprise intervention, something else happened. The next day, my wise better half emailed me a questionnaire from one of his favorite blogs, The Consumerist, entitled "Addicted To Debt? Take Our 15 Question Quiz." He pleaded in the email, "Be honest." So, like the good wife that I am, I faithfully clicked on the link, read the article, and took the test. "Awesome!" I exclaimed after I was finished. According to the test, I'm not even close to addicted to debt. I made haste to reassure my beloved that he needn't worry -- I had no such ailment plaguing me.

And yet, a different feeling gnawed at me. The feeling that something was definitely wrong. Was it shame for blowing off the last incident without nearly enough remorse? Was it the guilty relief that I get when I find out that I'm not in as much trouble as I thought? Or was it something less specific, a mysterious void that fills my head every so often when I can't figure out something? What was really troubling me?

Was it the simple fact that I had overspent my shopping budget in the past 6 months (by about $5,000)? If so, that was easily fixable. Not easily, mind you, but nothing that a dedicated year of diligent payments couldn't alleviate. Or, was it the relative apathy that I felt about my current financial situation -- the situation being that I now routinely overspend and don't think the slightest thing of it? What was wrong with me that I no longer cared about my carefully constructed budget and was content to constantly swipe my card to bring home the next coveted thing?

Maybe it was my utter lack of self-discipline that ultimately prevented me from restraining myself anymore? Had my female hormones finally taken over to the point where my mind was driven entirely by thoughts of shoes, bags, coats, sweaters, and shiny objects?

I shuddered at the thought. I was always one of those girls who kept a budget. Of course my shopping budget was generous, but at least I knew it from the start, so as long as I kept to it each month, I could at least justify my spending habits. And sure, I believed in the occasional splurge that warranted a big dent in my credit: a new quality timepiece (after the old workhorse wore out) that I could pass on to my children, a fabulous well-constructed coat that transcended the seasons, a timeless leather bag that brought together my entire wardrobe and resisted trends, or new furniture for the rec room that we could use for at least a decade. Those are all good investments, no one can argue.

The problem was, one couldn't go and make too many "investments" all at once, could one? Once a year, maybe, and only if I paid off the full damage before the next big "investment."

Another thought entered my mind: what was motivating me to suddenly start "investing" in so many material goods? Was it the recession psychology that prompted me to put my money into things that I could see and touch rather than frittering my money on on goods or activities that didn't? Perhaps it was a sudden paralysis about investing in the uncertain or intangible, like real estate or stocks. If anything, the fear of an economic downturn should prompt me to stop spending, not spend more. And yet, restless anxiety was combining with some animalistic urge to overpower my logic and constantly erase memories of previous purchases, forcing me to think that I needed more stuff. It was like a medicine that my old boss's dog used to take that made him think he was always hungry even though he had just eaten.

Besides, a rather high number of purchases of the past year could hardly be considered "investments" at all. Endless cashmere sweaters, bought just because I loved the colors. Beautiful coats in all shapes and colors, because we show so much of our exterior to the public. Pair after pair of lovely heels, because a girl can never have too many shoes. And now, bauble after pretty bauble that really added flair to the aforementioned coats and sweaters, especially at such bargains. Even my jean collection had exploded after having suffered too long from ill-fitting styles and constantly shrinking pairs.

And was it good? Of course, it was all very good! I could now go an entire month without taking my clothes to the cleaners. I had so many amazing outfits for every possible occasion, there were literally not enough occasions. I felt glamorous and stylish almost no matter what I did or where I went. So yes, mission accomplished!

But then, the act of shopping began to take precedence over the fruits of my shopping labor. I wanted, needed, breathed shopping each day. I couldn't get enough of it. I sought it in online buys. I sought it in store purchases. I read about it when I wasn't doing it. I talked about it after I did it. Shopping had become much more than an enjoyment -- a wildly exciting hobby that I happened to be good at. No, shopping had become my primary occupation, something I felt that I needed to accomplish every day. The dishes could wait. Dinner could come in another hour. My work could resume after lunch. I needed to shop now!!!

That, my friends, started my descent into belly of the shopping underworld, along with the the lying, hiding, and sheer desperation that drove me daily. It was world that knew no end to the aching shopping hunger. A world where all my sound logic (or my husband's desperate warnings) couldn't compete against the power of a new purchase. Yes, even a world where I lied to the people I loved about where I'd been, what I'd been doing, and how much I'd spent.

Suddenly, it wasn't enough for me to shop a few times a month. It became a weekly activity. But soon enough, even a week wasn't enough time to wait between purchases. Twelve hours wouldn't go by without a sufficient examination of the day's deals, new arrivals, and hot-off-the-press coupons.

And that's when the cold, hard truth hit me, not unlike the sting of icy water on your face on a dark winter morning when you realize that the hot water heater went out: I think I may actually be addicted to shopping! Not addicted in the fun, carefree, social way, like when you and your friends just love to get together and shop. But addicted in the unpleasant, chemically-dependent way, like when you only shop alone because you don't want any social interaction getting in the way of your fix. Nor do you want others to know how much you actually shop.

Wikipedia states that "The term "addiction" is used in many contexts to describe an obsession, compulsion, or excessive physical dependence or psychological dependence." It can also be "used to describe a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences to the individual's health, mental state or social life."

But how does one know if they really have an addiction or just really just love to shop?The Recovery Group offers some valuable insight:

"Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control," says Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. "Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one's impulses. In America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes out as excessive shopping." Sometimes referred to as "shopoholism," shopping addiction can wreak havoc on a person's life, family, and finances...

While the origin of addictions remains uncertain, why addicts continue their destructive behaviors is better understood.

"Individuals will get some kind of high from an addictive behavior like shopping," says Engs. "Meaning that endorphins and dopamine, naturally occurring opiate receptor sites in the brain, get switched on, and the person feels good, and if it feels good they are more likely to do it -- it's reinforced."

So what are the telltale signs that shopping has crossed the line and become an addiction?

"There are certainly a lot of commonalities among shopoholics and other addicts," says Engs. "For instance, while alcoholics will hide their bottles, shopoholics will hide their purchases."
What else should a concerned family member or friend look out for when they think shopping has become a problem?

SPENDING OVER BUDGET: "Often times a person will spend over their budget and get into deep financial trouble, spending well above their income," says Engs. "The normal person will say, 'Oops, I can't afford to buy this or that.' But not someone who has an addiction," explains Engs -- he or she will not recognize the boundaries of a budget.

COMPULSIVE BUYING: "When a person with a shopping addiction goes shopping, they often compulsively buy, meaning they go for one pair of shoes and come out with 10."

ITS A CHRONIC PROBLEM: "A shopping addiction is a continuous problem," says Engs. "It's more than two or three months of the year, and more than a once-a-year Christmas spree."

HIDING THE PROBLEM: "Shopoholics will hide their purchases because they don't want their significant other to know they bought it because they'll be criticized," says Engs. "They may have secret credit card accounts, too. Because this problem affects mostly women, as alcoholism affects mostly men, husbands will all of sudden be told their wife is $20,000-$30,000 in debt and they are responsible, and many times, this comes out in divorce."

A VICIOUS CIRCLE "Some people will take their purchases back because they feel guilty," says Engs. "That guilt can trigger another shopping spree, so it's a vicious circle." And in these people, debt may not be an issue because they're consistently returning clothes out of guilt -- but a problem still exists.

IMPAIRED RELATIONSHIPS: . "It is not uncommon for us to see impairments in relationships from excessive spending or shopping," says Rick Zehr, vice president of addiction and behavioral services at Proctor Hospital at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. "Impairment can occur because the person spends time away from home to shop, covers up debt with deception, and emotionally and physically starts to isolate themselves from others as they become preoccupied with their behavior."

CLEAR CONSEQUENCES: "It's just like any other addiction -- it has nothing to do with how much a person shops or spends, and everything to do with consequences," says Zehr. "We often get the question around the holidays that because a person spent more money than she intended, does this make her an addict? The answer is no. However, if there is a pattern or a trend or consequences that occur with excessive shopping then the person may be a problem spender -- the hallmark is still loss of control. If they are no longer in control of their shopping but their shopping is in control of them, they've crossed the line."

Um, check, check, check, double check, check... It's not looking good for me so far...

According to Zehr, these behaviors can also signal a serious problem:

- Shopping or spending money as a result of feeling angry, depressed, anxious, or lonely
- Having arguments with others about one's shopping habits
- Feeling lost without credit cards -- actually going into withdrawal without them
- Buying items on credit, rather than with cash
- Describing a rush or a feeling of euphoria with spending
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed after a spending spree
- Lying about how much money was spent. For instance, owning up to buying something, but lying about how much it actually cost.
- Thinking obsessively about money
- Spending a lot of time juggling accounts or bills to accommodate spending

"If someone identifies four or more of any of these behaviors, there may be a problem," Zehr explains to WebMD.

Looks like I've got a clear-cut case of the shopaholic blues. I was definitely in trouble! I answered an emphatic "yes" to most of the above questions. Now I was starting to understand a little bit about the psychology of addiction. But what about the physiological effects?

Scientists say the reason we overeat is because our brain recognizes that we're full long after our stomachs. There can be a 20-minute gap between the time we finally feel satiated and the time we are physically full. The "happy" chemicals only kick in after it's too late. This results in a whole lot of unintentional shoveling of food into our mouths, which ultimately results in either an overfilled gut or an incessant guilt over not being able to drop those extra 5-10 pounds. Naturally, the generous portions at many restaurants do nothing to prevent an epidemic of overeating. Add to that the mental need to clean off our plates -- even plates that are purposely oversized -- and you're fighting an uphill battle. That's why nutritionists recommend chewing each morsel of food slowly, to both digest better and to really savor the taste of each bite.

The same with shopping. When you don't shop much, every little thing you buy and each little act of shopping pleases you enormously. When I used to shop a few times a month, I derived a good deal of delicious pleasure from the act. I knew it was a my well-deserved treat that I had budgeted for, and I treated it accordingly.

But I found that the more I shopped, the less time that supreme feeling of joy seemed to linger. At first, the endorphis surge through your body and you're dancing on air from the rush of excitement over scoring that fabulous find. Following the royal treatment you receive from your favorite store as you're paraded to the door by a bevvy of associates carrying your shopping bags, you feel like a queen as you transport your new gems from your car into your eagerly awaiting closet. The anticipation of wearing your new purchases as soon as possible combined with the sense of accomplishment over finally having found the perfect piece... these feelings make you feel like million bucks.

Inevitably though, like a caffiene-stimulated high, you find yourself crashing hard. The sweater that just joined your collection last week is already mixed in with your older, less exciting sweaters -- sweaters that once screamed "Wear me!" and made you giddy with happiness. You wonder if maybe you shouldn't have bought a new jacket to go with the new pencil skirt that still sits untested from 4 weeks ago. You're itching to hunt down that to-die-for pair of tall boots that you could have sworn you saw at Nordstrom... or was it Lord & Taylor? Suddenly, you're hit with the insatiable craving to shop. The only cure is another fix. And so the cycle repteats. Day after day, week after week, month after month.

Apparently, I'm not alone. Scientific evidence suggests that shopping begets more shopping. Get Rich Slowly points to marketing research done by Uzma Khan of Stanford, Ravi Dhar of Yale, and Joel Huber of Duke University, which measured consumers' shopping behavior:

"Setting up a series of tests of purchasing behavior, they found that for most people buying that fateful first — and often innocent — item seems to open the purchasing floodgates... These researchers indicate that shopping is a two-stage process.

First, a consumer deliberates over the need to purchase an initial item, weighing the pros and cons. Once this initial “deliberation phase” has ended — once a consumer has decided to buy one thing — the consumer deliberates less about subsequent items.

Essentially, once a person decides to buy one thing, this creates “shopping momentum”, increasing the likelihood that he will buy additional items. If you pick up an impulse item (like a magazine or candy bar) as you enter a store, this can serve as a trigger to encourage you to buy more."

Granted, there can occasionally be too much of a good thing. I'm not talking about the economics of shopping, either. I'm talking about the physical act of going out to stores for long periods of time, looking at tons of stuff, and actually experiencing an over-saturation of the activity. You know, that that exhausted, worn-out feeling, the telltale "shop till you drop" syndrome. The fatigue can be physical from just being pooped, or, it can be mental from having taken in way too much visual imagery during your shopping adventures. That's when you just want to pop in for a pampering pedicure, a cool drink, and a hearty meal.

There is even such a thing as being overwhelmed by too much online shopping. You know, when you've had about 12 windows open in your browser for days, spent hours hunting for that perfect item, comparing prices, and finally, trying to make a decision. There is a certain feeling of peace after you've finally chosen THE ONE, like a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders. All of a sudden, you want nothing more than to close all the windows in your browser, kiss your significant other, play with your pet, and catch up on some non-materialistic reading.

I used to say to my husband after one of these episodes, "That's it. I'm all shopped out!" To which he would reply, "Don't lie, now." But I would assure him, "Really, that's it. I don't need anything else. I've found the perfect (fill in the blank)." And he would just sort of smirk, roll his eyes, and wait. For a week, two weeks, as long (or short) as it would take for me to decide that there was "just one more thing" that I needed. But after one of those episodes, I would make an earnest effort to avoid all manner of behavior that could lead me to shopping. Moreover, I genuinely wanted a break from the act. My body was tired. My mind was overwhelmed. I wanted to finally spend quality time with my family after being absent for so many lost hours, days, and weeks.

But like all addictive behavior, it's only a matter of time before the urge strikes again. No sooner had I picked up my car from the service shop the Friday evening before last -- after paying a hefty (and unexpected) $1,000 repair bill -- when, the next day, I embarked on the most awesome whirlwind of a bargain shopping tour in months. I finally hit the outlets with the full force of my recently paid-down credits cards (after which I had patted myself on the back and sent myself out for a "treat"). No longer able to resist the siren call of ridiculously cheap Coach, Kate Spade, Cole Haan, Burberry, and J.Crew goods, I sped out on the highway, barely avoiding several speed traps and not a few number of road hazards.

Coming home with several bags bursting with unbelievable bargains, you can imagine my raging endorphins and sheer exuberance over my incredible finds. I began to plot the ideal occasion at which to debut all my newest additions. I felt ecstatic about how inexpensive everything was. Surely I could justify all these purchases even in a stagnating economy. Heck, I was so good, I even picked up a brand new Coach wallet for my beloved -- a present I had been promising for a year but never came through with.

They say that recognizing you have a problem is the first step toward a cure. My first major sign was a big clue: not a full 8 hours after my massive spree, I shuddered in horror at the thought that I "forgot" I also needed to buy something else. After all the overstuffed shopping bags I had carried, the hours of tiresome walking outside, the 2 hours of driving, and all the lines I had stood in, not to mention all newly done damage to my poor credits cards -- I already felt the need to buy more! With all the willpower I could muster, I barely managed to fight down that urge.

But then I was filled with guilt. Had I not just spent several hours far from home, away from my family, against the wishes of my loving husband who kept calling me to come home so we could actually hang out on a Saturday night? Not to mention the huge chunk of change that had so easily slid away when I had slid my credit card through repeatedly without so much as an afterthought?

Then the shame kicked in. What on earth could I possibly do with 4 new purses when I already didn't use (or find room) for the other purses in my closet? And how could I have considered it a good bargain to spend $140 on a few small trinkets at the J.Crew outlet that I didn't even need, when I had been holding off on spending $100 on work clothes that I actually needed? Even worse, how could I keep looking my husband in the eye and telling him that we couldn't afford a new computer or TV right now when I had just bought the equivalent of both in the last 3 months alone?

Finally, I felt depressed. What was wrong with me that I couldn't shut off the switch in my brain that told it was time to shop? I was perfectly capable of making sound financial decisions in other aspects of my life. My job required me to help other people make important financial decisions . I should be more than capable of controlling my obsessive urges. I felt even worse because my religious guilt kicked in the next day as I found myself unable to face God at church. Were people not starving and going without clothes and shoes all over the world? How could I justify buying more and more and more while my fellow brothers and sisters suffered?

This time, I vowed to do something about my destructive behavior. Looking to the approaching period of Lent circled prominently on my desk calendar, I decided to do what I've often promised but never actually succeeded in doing: I would give up shopping for Lent. Placing my "shopping fast" in the hands of the divine, I felt a wave of solace wash over me as I solemnly swore an oath to not shop for 40 days.

What follows is a personal saga that chronicles my 40 days of non-shopping. Read my next post for a day-to-day account of my trials and tribulations on the road to recovery.


HeidiG said...

You are a very brave and honest soul. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I look forward to more.

And I'm right there with you on that support group. I did make 2 purchases online yesterday - but was able to rationalize them as balanced overall (similar to Slastena). But the difference yesterday was that I had been really thinking about these for a while and I was totally content, and didn't feel the urge to keep spending, so I guess I'm improving, huh?

Not As Brave As You said...


Let me fill you in on an incident that has helped me cut back my needless spending on clothes; my outdoor cat got in the house, jumped up on my dryer and pee'd on my cashmere/wool dream open sweater. I know it's not a really expensive item but it reminded me just how short-lived an investment a clothing item can be.

I wonder how many of us can actually admit we have a problem.

It's funny how the guilt kicks in when the cc bill arrives. We pay our bills off every month but I definitely have noticed a 'cycle' in my buying/returning/keeping habits.

I look forward to reading more of your posts. I fell off the shopping ban wagon too so I will come here for support - no pressure.

Sorry for the choppy post - deleted alot after previewing.

I'm not as brave as you so I'm posting anonymously. :P

RatsOnParade said...

Your post truly is inspiring! The more I read, the more I keep thinking "I do this! I do that too!" which is just awful. I feel like I've addressed the problem - I know it exists - but I haven't quite figured out how to make it stop just yet (it isn't as easy as just saying "I'll just stop, that's that.")

On average, I place one order per day at J.Crew. If not there, then it's Banana Republic, or Amazon or Crate & Barrel - buying Christmas ornaments at the outlet that I just have to have! Needless to say, my husband is not happy when he picks up the daily shipment of UPS boxes from the porch.

I'll be taking your realizations to heart - whether or not you can afford to buy to your heart's content isn't even the issue. Whether you "should" or "need" is the important part.

Thank you for being so brave as to post your experiences with this! At least now I know I am not alone in this fight. :)


Michelle said...

Thank you for your post! It is so great to follow the progress of someone who suffers from the same weakness as you.

I am in a very similar situation to you. I had a rough time in college with cc, paid down the debt and lived debit-free for 6 years, just started shopping like crazy again in the past few months. I tried the shopping ban for lent, but have broken it 4 times. Last year I gave up the same thing and didn't purchase a thing - I even didn't want to buy the neccessaties! It has been frustrating and definitely leads to feeling of guilt.

I think part of the problem is also the blogs so I started limiting myself to which ones I can read and I can only look once a day. I had never thought twice about certain items until I saw others' reviews so hopefully this will help.

Best wishes and I can't wait to follow you in the next few weeks!

Kat said...

Thank you for writing this. I feel like you've said here everything that I've been thinking for the past several months.

It's so hard to admit to yourself that you have a problem. I am absolutely guilty of many, many acts of selfish indulgences. Most of the crap I buy I certainly do not need, and I've found that once the tag has been removed from an artice of clothing and worn once or twice, it sits in my closet for a few months without seeing the light of day again.

I really appreciate your honesty as it has definitely opened my eyes to my own shopping addiction. I hope you draw strength from inside yourself, and know that you have tons of support and respect from your readers.

3-Penny Princess said...

HeidiG - thank you for reading! It sounds like your habits are slightly more balanced than mine!:) One little step at a time, right?

3-Penny Princess said...

Not As Brave As You - thanks so much for your kind words! Also, thanks for sharing your story! You're definitely right and it's all just stuff. Sad thing is, I don't even develop a major emotional attachment with a lot of the stuff. I just buy it often because it's practical, pretty, and on sale. Which is the wrong motivation entirely!

Even worse, I even consciously know that 1) I have too much stuff , 2) it's just stuff and isn't that important, and 3) I get more anyway. I find it really difficult to stop. Not because I can't fill up my day with more important things (work, family, volunteering, friends), but because the urge is always there to shop. The million dollar question is, how do we fight that constant urge?

Any ideas are welcome!

3-Penny Princess said...

RatsOnParade and Kat - it actually inspires me to know that others are also battling this. Because often I get the impression that other people really love to shop but manage to keep a lid on their spending. Which makes me wonder why I can't seem to. But when I hear that others are also struggling, it makes me realize that it really is hard and that I really am not alone!

Kat - I still have stuff in my closet with tags hanging on it! Granted, I've now sold/exchanged most of it, but the point is, I honestly don't need the majority of the things I buy. I just buy it because it's hard to pass up.

Like I said, I didn't used to be like this. I was usually the one who counseled my friends about this type of behavior. That's why it was hardest for me to admit I had become this type of person. It sounds like many of us could use some counseling and support!

3-Penny Princess said...

Michelle - thank you for sharing your story too! I do think that credits cards are a huge factor for me. It's interesting that I used credits cards for 2 years (after not using them for 8 years) and managed to not abuse them. It was only 6 months ago that I acquired tons of debt and went overboard with spending.

I also think that reading all the product reviews and constantly talking about shopping with others fueled my shopping urges significantly. I know several recovering alcoholics, but I've never asked them how they deal with going to a party, watching everyone drink, and not having any. Or, constantly seeing people drink on TV and fighting down the urge to grab a beer.

Although I love reading all the blogs (and of course I love people reading mine!), it's hard for me to not want to shop afterward. What to do about this?

Anonymous said...

thanks for your very honest post. it has made me think carefully about my behavior recently. I started reading all the Jcrew blogs about 3 months ago and have "needed" may of the items. the number of orders has increased and I'm now in debt. Not much, but still...
The kicker has been that I set my alarm for the sale update time and compulsively click through every morning. I don't like that compulsive feeling and want to get back to my old routine of coffee, newspaper and dog walk.
My solution has been to reorganize my closet and try on all my clothes. I'm trying to remember what made me buy each article and notice that there are no gaps in my closet. I don't need anything new right now. OK I will need new shorts this year but there's still snow on the ground here.
Anyways its day by day and within my monthly budget now for me ...oh and the dog is getting a lot more walks!!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear 3-Penny Princess,

Reading your post, I felt you were seeing through my mind and writing exactly about me.

And it's really surprising that after reading your blog, I feel more motivated than ever to seriously accept my problem and do something about it. Whenever I read other's blogs about their new exciting shopping stories, I felt the urge to shop more, regardless of how many orders I have already made that week, or even that day.

40 days of fast of shopping seems almost undoable for me. I'd rather not eat than not shop. I admire your willpower to make such a decision. I'm thinking that I'd give it a try at least half of what you do - 3 weeks of fast, and then see how I feel at the end of it.

I thank you again for writing such an inspiring and soul-healing post!

3-Penny Princess said...

anon @ 11:15 - your doggie must be pretty happy now!:) Maybe I can try playing with my cat more. Or, here's a thought: spending more time with my husband who constantly loses me to either the stores or the computer (like now!).

I totally hear you on that compulsive feeling! How nice it would be to sit down at my computer in the morning and just read the news. Or do a meditation. Or read some of those annoying inspirational chain emails that my mother insists on forwarding me daily. All better than starting the day with shopping.

Anyway, good luck to you! I'll keep you all posted on my progress (or, right now, lack thereof).

3-Penny Princess said...

anon @ 4:24 - it brings me great joy if my motivation can help even 1 person! I have to be honest and say that, although my willpower was really high for a while, it's currently at an all-time low because I haven't been able to resist several discounts and sales. I am learning slowly that those are probably my biggest temptations -- even more than the act of shopping itself.

Yes, 40 days is proving to be much too much for me too! In fact, 4 days are proving to be impossible as I've already fallen off the wagon twice in the last 4 days (as you'll see in my next posts). I told my husband, "Birds fly, fish swim, and I shop." For me, giving up shopping would be analogous to his giving up his daily Diet Coke habit. He kind of understood that analogy when I explained it that way, but I don't think he's ever actually tried to give up the Diet Coke for 40 days.

I think that many of us really do have a problem with compulsive shopping, but I don't think it's easy for us to change our habits. This habit is particularly difficult because so much in our daily lives requires us to buy things. Especially if your role in your household is to make most of the purchases. It's hard to avoid stores completely (whereas avoiding cigarettes and alcohol seem easier for me because it's not absolutely necessary for running a household). Somehow, I have to reshape my habits to try to see stores and purchases differently. Hopefully this will help. But it's been a struggle so far, that's for sure!

shopaholicdiva1027 said...

3 penny thankyou for your honesty. I see myself in the words that you have written. I live, eat and drink shopping and the next new thing or sale item. I shop daily, check the internet at work, talk on and on about things i want to buy or have bought and it's shameful but true. It was so bad at one time that my bank threatened to close my savings acct because I kept transferring funds above the monthly limit allowed by law lol. I guess you have to hit rock bottom and I hit rock bottom over the weekend when I read my own blog. To me, I seemed like some mindless, self absorbed selfish woman with a meaningless life, who shopped to fill a void. I work overtime, to support my habit which at the moment is about 800 to 1000 dollars a month. The only way i will get thru the JCA shopping/brunch event is to take only a small amt of cash. I honestly do not need anything. JCAS if i start to cry uncontrollably, writhe around on the floor in pain or start foaming at the mouth or have a "fit" from withdrawl, walk away and leave me my pride. (smile)

Anonymous said...

I'm the anon @4:24. I've been thinking more about my 3 week fasting plan (in terms of shopping of course), and I felt even that'd be tough for me, if JCrew send me an email with 30% off coupon, or Banana is doing Friends and Family. And so I was thinking, maybe I should set up acceptable exceptions to my fasting plan to exploit rare shopping discounts that would happen only about twice a year or less.

As much as I want to implement the 3 week fasting plan in theory, I find myself thinking that I just don't want to start it today, or tomorrow, or maybe just not this week. So I'm trying to think of ways to convince me that it won't be as much painful as it might seem, by allowing some exceptions.

Also I thought it might be nice in the long term if I could alternate shopping period (e.g. 1 week) and non-shopping period (e.g. 3 weeks). During the non-shopping period, I could really work on organizing my closet and ebay/donate unnecessary items.

Anyhow, it's so relieving that I'm not the only one in the world with this bizarre symptom! I have been in denial, but reading your post was really eye-opening.

GingerSnap said...

3-Penny, your latest post is truly inspirational. Please keep us up to date as your shopping ban continues. As I was reading your post, I saw so much of myself in all that you wrote. I think we all have addictions in life, for some of us its shopping. I'm personally trying to learn how to curb my addiction to shopping as well. Thank you for your candid honesty and insight. It's nice to know we are not alone.

Anonymous said...

I found myself shopping too much and it directly corresponded to when I started on these (very entertaining) blogs. To be honest, I had to find other ways to feel part of my online browsing time. It would be like an alcoholic spending all their free time at bars talking about different beers. I am able to casually view the blogs, but I can't spend as much time as I used to b/c it will suck you in!

fiyah said...

That was a long one 3pennies. I admire your honesty. Acknowledging/Confessing a problem openingly is the first step.
I don't feel bad for shopping because all my clothes were too big from a huge weight loss. I do believe I have everything I need now and will stop shopping. I have to stay away from JC website by Wednesday to ensure I don't make my usual Friday purchases. Staying away from the BM is easy street.
It time to focus on travel season. I usually only buy one item as a reminder of my travels.
Hopefully I will stay focused and somehow live vicariously through others on all the blogs.
Actually tonight I was trying on things that were slightly too large last year to mix with the new items. It was really fun!
I promised myself this time I will keep the size 4's instead of reselling because since 2005 I have moved between a size 4-8.
Good luck and stay strong!

3-Penny Princess said...

shopaholicdiva - thank you for your honesty and for sharing your struggle! I am definitely in your monthly ballpark! It's scary to think that our lives have changed to revolve around shopping. We no longer control shopping -- it seems to be controlling us. That's why we need to make some big changes before we lose all important relationships (not to mention credit)!

I think it's a great idea to bring a set amount of cash to our private shopping event. In fact, that's a great idea for all future shopping. I'm going to hide or freeze my credit cards too so I can't just make random unplanned purchases too.

Let's support each other! We'll all have more success if we help each other!

3-Penny Princess said...

anon @ 4:24 and 6:24 - starting is the hardest part! I started probably 2 weeks after Slastena did, and I think it was really hard precisely for the reasons you mentioned: I kept getting discounts and coupons. I'm still getting them now and am finding it extremely difficult to resist them daily. But remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I'll be there with you and so will others. Good luck!

3-Penny Princess said...

GingerSnap - thank you so much for your kind words, and thank you also for letting me know that I am not alone!

BTW - your blog is so cute! And I was already plotting how to get to TJ Maxx to gather up all the Lilly Pulitzer! Bad, bad me! I must not shop!

Let's keep each other strong!

3-Penny Princess said...

fiyah - thank you for reading! I do see your dilemma with changing sizes. That and new jobs always spurs big shopping sprees for me. But it sounds like you are able to control your shopping and know when enough is enough! You're right - it's better when you don't open the J.Crew page in your browser, or else the temptation might be too strong!

Good luck to you too, and I'll definitely keep you all posted on my journey!

GingerSnap said...

3-Penny, I'm sorry for tempting you!! I did not mean to be an "enabler" - it's just so hard. Thank you for all your candid thoughts, I am rooting for you :)

FabulousFloridaMommy said...

3-Penny Princess, thank you for your honesty and for sharing what you are going through with us. I know you have a lot of us who support you and are here to listen when you need to vent. You will be in my prayers! I hope you have a wonderful and blessed afternoon.

3-Penny Princess said...

FFM - thank you so much for thinking of me! It's very encouraging.

GingerSnap - don't worry, I have to learn to resist the siren call (though I know you didn't mean to tempt me with all those pretty Lilly Pulitzer things):).

Anonymous said...

3Penny lets both be strong and resist the midweek shopping temptations. We have loads of new things we have yet to wear. Let us see how may different looks we can get out of something we love that we already have.
I am going to call it "work my wardrobe week".

3-Penny Princess said...

anon - let's definitely do that! It's all I can do right now to not break down and buy something with the 20% J.Crew discount or the Cole Haan 30% discount. I'm clenching my teeth and trying to keep my mouse from wandering to those sites. Good for you for shopping your closet!

roxy said...

3Penny, it's a wonderful gesture for you to share this personal helps others know they are not alone. In college I wracked up plenty of debt by shopping and am still paying it off. Opening up about it takes guts, and know that you have support!

3-Penny Princess said...

roxy - thank you for coming here and for sharing your story too! I really appreciate everyone's support right now. I know it's helping me!

A supportive friend said...

3PP: I was the one who wrote directly to you on "my delicious obsessions" and told you to stop using your J Crew card for rewards when you are paying such high interest on your JCrew card. Do you remember that post?

Word for word, everything you have posted in this is ME. I could have written this post. I want you to know you are not alone (I think you are aware of that, though).

I have struggled with this addiction my WHOLE life. Several years ago, I actually went to DA (Debtors Anonymous). Yes, there is such a thing and it is helpful to get the support. I have been in pretty major debt given my age and occupation at the time, out of debt and shopping much less, and always at least dabbled in excessive shopping. Meaning, even if not in debt, spending far too much $ and paying off my CC but only to FILL A VOID that is otherwise endless. Never filled by THINGS.
I recently fell off the wagon with all of the JCrew sales that took place between last summer and esp leading up to and through the holidays. Finding the JCA was troubling for me. It added to the problem. No doubt about it. The money I have spent thus bringing my young family into more debt is very shameful.

Money is a tough thing. We need it. We must spend it on things all the time in order to live. Like food/overeating is a problem for many folks. We need to eat to live but many of us live to eat and we become fat. Same with money. Necessary evil but it doesn't have to be. I am learning all I can so that I can learn to have a healthy relationship with it. One thign I know for sure, I have no business USING credit cards. I leads me to believe I have money that I do not. It gives me false impressions that get me into trouble. I realize it is cash only and this is a world that is VERY VERY strange for me. May I suggest you cut up your credit cards (do not freeze them).
You might consider putting yourself on an extended shopping ban. Not a punishment but a means to an end. I am currently 2 months into a no clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry ban and feel SO MUCH MORE CONTROL and ALIVE!!:) I am not on the JCA, not reading so many fashion blogs (although today I happened onto yours almost by karma) which is also a necessary step and I unsubscribed to ALL of the shopping emails. A must if you want to succeed.

Now I read budget, personal finance and success story blogs and my life is changing for the better. I was so totally out of control. I still have things in my closet and other parts of my house with tags and bags from JCrew and other stores on them. Excessive, sickening STUFF. Stuff that is $$.
I will not tell you it is super simple. I struggle. Each day though, it honestly gets easier as I regain control of myself. It is day to day just like an alcoholic or any other abuser. BUT I feel I was wasting my life, time and filling my house with useless STUFF. Stuff that is actually in the way and I have no place for.

I have put my household on a budget, I am not shopping as there is NOTHING I need. If there is truly something I can call a need rather than a want, let's say summer rolls around and I have no swimsuit that fits or they are worn out (this is not happening of course as I have a ton of suits. I am after all a shopaholic), then I would see fit to buy a new one. Do you see the difference? It sounds so strange and almost ridiculous. For the average "normal" consumer, this is how they "shop" They buy when they NEED something and don't devote their lives to shopping the websites everyday, going to the mall, letting a deal or coupon drive them crazy. This is NOT NORMAL behavior. This is when you know you have a problem--when you are obsessing over shopping and it is putting you and your family in a negative position on so many levels.
I know you admitted to this but I still hear the "BUT" and "when I have done this..then I will" going on. You should STOP indefinitely. I mean back off, pull away and delve your life into something meaningful that doesn't revolve around spending. You can shop your closet and create and you will learn so much about yourself. I am on the journey (very early indeed)but already learning so much and I feel HAPPIER:)
Imagine if you saved all that money. I guarantee you would still have a wonderful closet full of classic goodies that could be worn for several seasons and tons of $ in the bank:) Add a nice acessory/purse/shoes on your B-day to upgrade the look.

We have to start looking at this as not a collecting process but when we actually need to replace something, then we do so. We buy just that needed swimsuit--nothing else. When it is a birthday or holiday we set a limit of $ we will spend on some WANTS and bask in adding some fun to our wardrobe. BUT then we STOP. Do not go back for more and more.
Tell your husband and all of your friends. Stop lying to them and yourself. I have done all this. So much deceit, a hidden CC--I mean the list goes on. I have done it all and I am very ashamed.

Like you have so courageously told all of your blog friends, this is a problem for you. You really need to face it, accept support, ask family and friends to support you and you need to MEAN it and take the necessary steps to stop and get control. I am happy to support you all the way;)I hope this helps and that you know there are others out there. Thanks for such an amazing post. You will undoubtedly shine light on something so many people suffer through.

Hey and a thought, what about a new blog to support people on this jouney? That would be a wonderful way to spread the love, get and offer support and even suggest outfit ideas to those who still love shopping but just need to find new ways to love the things they already own;)
I sincerely wish you all the best.

3-Penny Princess said...

a supportive friend - I definitely remember you and find myself thinking about what you said a few weeks ago. Thank you for finding me and for taking the time to share your painful, honest, and inspiring personal story! I am extremely proud of your accomplishments and attitude. It gives me a lot of hope to know that someone else has successfully broken the compulsive shopping addiction and paid off their debts.

Everything you said is so true, it's scary. And I know in my heart that everything you recommend is exactly what I need to do. I do know that, when I do finally pay off my cards (and I will!) and learn to shop in a healthy manner, I must carry only cash. Credit cards are just not suited for compulsive shoppers. They should only be kept in the house for emergencies.

I actually looked into Debtor's Anonymous because I couldn't find any other relevant support group (more on that topic in my next post). I also thought about getting some new books to read and maybe re-joining a book club so I could have something to discuss besides shopping.

I think it's a great idea to maybe try writing about how to stay on track and how to develop healthy spending habits. I would be thrilled to have a support group online, especially with people like you who have been there and can really identify with the struggle I'm going through. I'll think of ways that I can contribute to this. I know that Slastena and others have been writing constantly about "shopping their closets." This seems to help them. I need more "boot camp" encouragement and accountability. My DH is wonderful and supportive, but he doesn't hold me accountable in the way that I need someone to.

Let's stay in touch! I need all the help I can get and I'd love to try the ideas you suggested. But I also want someone to follow up with me to make sure I've made a serious effort.

Take care and please stick around!

FabulousFloridaMommy said...

3PP: I blogged *Shop Your Closet* a couple months ago, but I'm not sure if you read it, or not. Perhaps it can help you a little: Shop Your Closet . I have been doing it for as long as I can remember, and am really quite a *pro* at it. Please feel free to ask me if you need any help or advice with it. I am more than happy to help. :)

Tough Love;) aka A supportive friend said...

Hi 3PP-
Happy to support you, happy to offer what I can to the blog in ways that can offer hope to others.

In regards to your husband's mention of paying the smallest balance first, that is PF (personal finance) guru-Dave Ramsey. There are 2 schools of thought (and I am sure many others;) on paying down your debts. Might be worth getting his book as a way to get jazzed about saving instead of spending. I am personally trying to obsess with paying off debt and saving $ and have been following Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey's methods. Dave offers the "snowball" method, a theory where you pay off the small loan/CC first as it gives a feeling of accomplishment.

I am just of the Suze Orman old school of thought, pay the highest interest first so that I do not pay any more money than I have to. BUT you must commit to ridding of those CC's! Cut them up and rid of their account numbers. If J Crew has numbers on file or it is in your computer under your accounts, get rid of the card(s).

I and PFG's don't usually recommend closing your account(s) as it is not good for your credit history but if you have a problem-it might be worth it. If you are not planning to buy anything major for a while-you will bounce back from the ding to your credit for closing it. Also-it does depend on your credit to debt ratio as well.

I am happy to rec many blogs about PF and peoples journey to debt free and savings if desired.

BTW-do you have 10 months actual living expenses in emergency fund savings account should you and/or your DH lose your job(s)?

I am looking forward to more give and take in supporting your efforts;)

3-Penny Princess said...

FFM - I just finished reading your "Shop Your Closet" post and all the comments. I am really glad you sent this link to me! My first reaction was, "Wow, you're really an amazing budgeter! How do you even have money (not to mention time) left over for shopping?" My next thought was, "You are exceptionally creative to put together so many fabulous outfits from a few key pieces."

I do feel a lot more inspired now to try some new combos and really commit to shopping my closet. It's a good practice anyway, and when I (hopefully) become a mom, it will be even more useful. But I think you're right - it just takes a little creativity and effort to re-invent new outfits with the same pieces.

Thank you for all your inspiration so far!

3-Penny Princess said...

Tough Love/Supportive Friend - I used to have a nice emergency fund. However, I wiped it out during the past 7 months for living expenses and business costs when family obligations forced us to give away much of our monthly income. This was particularly difficult and one of the big reasons I accumulated a lot of debt on my biggest credit card. Instead of paying it off regularly like I would have normally done, I would pay it and keep adding on, so the balance never went down.

One thing I've learned is, the higher the balance, the less motivated I am to pay it off. I seem to get more motivated when I believe that something is possible. When I used to put a little bit on my cards and pay them off each month, I always forced myself to pay the complete balace because I couldn't stand to see any debt accumulate. But the sudden very high debt that I acquired from family/business obligations basically froze my motivation. I kept figuring that I'd have a balance no matter what I did, so I might as well shop and look good. I do think that, in general, this was a time of some insecurity which also made me want to constantly buy things that would make me look good (even though I wasn't sure how much money I'd bring in).

I don't think that credit cards are evil in themselves. I think that the abuse of credit cards is evil. And some people are more prone to giving into temptation than others. Knowing that this is now the second time I've been reeled in by the easy access to credit and instant gratification of buying on credit, I need to stop using them.

The thing is, I have excellent credit. I never miss any payments, I always make large payments, and despite my hefty balances, they are still a reasonable proportion of my credit limit. Which makes it easy for me to get credit and adds to the temptation. The best thing to do is to quit while I'm ahead: pay them off and keep the accounts open, but don't use them.

Now that I realized that I am motivated by success rather than failure, I am going to try the Dave Ramsey method. I made a nice dent this month in my biggest card, and it happens to expire at the end of this month, so I just need to be sure to not activate the new one while making steady payments on the account.

I'm due to pay my J.Crew card next week and I plan to make a good dent in that. My plan will be to finish off the J.Crew card first, since it carries half the balance of the bigger one. I'm sure I'll be thrilled beyond belief when I pay it off. Also, I know that, psychologically, I will not tolerate seeing any balance on it once I've wiped the slate clean.

Then, I'll only need 3-4 months of payments to knock out what's left on the biggest card (which I won't use because I won't activate it). After that, the best thing to do would be to cut them up. But until I can bring myself to do that, maybe I could hide them somewhere that's difficult to access.

I will do it! And I feel even more motivated knowing that you and others are rooting for me and holding me accountable!

Slastena said...

So inspirational! You put to words perfectly what was on my mind ( you are an incredible writer!!!). Thank you so much for sharing. I am finally catching up with all the reading and can't describe the amount of satisfaction your posts bring. We are all here to support you and ourselves through you in this journey. One thing for sure, you will become a different person at the end, it will not be an easy journey, but it will happen. And the best part? Satisfaction will come from simpler things, like reading a good bok and talking to friends.

3-Penny Princess said...

Slastena - thank you for your kind compliments and for being one of my big inspirations! You were the one who prompted me to go on a shopping fast, and you're now inspiring me (along with FFM and others) to "shop my closet."

You're so right about enjoying the simpler pleasures more. I do intend to take advantage of those. And thank you for continuing to support me!