Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lessons of a Shopaholic Part 2: Days 1-14 in Shopping Rehab

Day 1:
Found the strength to fold up, bag, and set aside most of the previous day's outlet finds. Also assembled half of my last J.Crew order and a few other assorted items from various stores. Set up a neat little pile of shopping bags in the living room to remind myself to return them at the next opportunity.

Day 2:
Sought out support. Starting a week earlier, I saw that some of my shopping buddies -- including some fellow J.Crew Aficionadas -- were "trying to quit" too. Slastena was one of the first, and she motivated at least a few others on her blog. This gave me a boost of conviction. I thought, if we all encourage each other, maybe we can all pull through together. I announced it officially, calling it my "shopping fast." I planned to finally do what I had tried for years but failed: I would give up shopping for Lent. Surely, God himself would help me with such a worthwhile cause.

So pleased was I with my decision to quit shopping (at least for Lent) that I even found the courage to confess it to my better half. "Wow," he responded cautiously, "That's great news. I think it's a wonderful idea." He had, after all, been burned many times by such failed promises in the past. But I assured him, "I'm giving it up for Lent." Perhaps the knowledge that I was doing it for God rather than just for him or for myself gave me a shred of added credibility. If I could stop shopping for 40 days, there was hope that I may one day cure my obsessiveness and even return to healthy shopping habits in the future.

In the famous words of Confucius, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Had I not already undertaken two important steps on the road to shopaholic recovery? First, I recognized that I had a problem, and then, I sought help.

Day 3:
Plotted the first stage of a sell-a-thon of the "unnecessary" contents in my closet. I have to say that I found this more painful than my usual pre-holiday sell-off on eBay (to buy presents). I mean, I had given away dozens of boxfulls of clothes, shoes, and accessories to friends, relatives, and charities in previous months (about triple what I normally donate each year), and any additional unwanted items quickly found themselves on the J.Crew Aficionada Great Weekly Exchange to be sold or traded and hastily and sent off to a better home.

Thus I found it rather difficult to go into my closet and select stuff that I actually liked and didn't want to part with but was only selling because I needed the money. But for the purposes of parting with them graciously, I reluctantly deemed them "unnecessary" compared to the items I'd get clinically depressed about if I gave away. Despite these parting pains, I forged onward with the sell-off. It was for a good cause, after all. It gave me great satisfaction to add up each $20, $50, and $100 and subtract it from my current credit card balance. It also had the unexpected perk of taking up a good deal of my time -- an annoyance no doubt, but time nonetheless that would normally be spent trolling the web for sales and new goodies to acquire.

The subsequent steps, however, would prove to be more difficult that I imagined.

Days 4-8:
Work to the rescue! I toiled from the wee hours of the morning to late at night, barely surviving on limited sleep and small rations of caffeinated beverages. On the road constantly and meeting with clients daily, taking care of business meant no time for shopping. No time to even think about shopping. Took advantage of the workaholic vibe by neglecting to bring up any catalogs that had collected on the counter from the past days.

Day 9:
Pummeled by a major snowstorm. Expected 8 inches and actually got it -- even in my town which rarely gets hit by the region's severe weather. Clients finally left and I (thankfully) didn't have any meetings. Which was good, because just about everything in D.C. shut down. Even Alexandria City schools, which never shut down. Goes without saying that my office was closed.

Wasn't off the hook for work, however. Still put in a full 10-hour day at home, continuing to finish the previous days' projects by deadline. Tried not to think about shopping. So tired, I abstained from reading the new J.Crew catalog that had come in the mail and was already waiting on my bedside table (thanks, dear!).

Day 10:
"I can resist everything but temptation," quipped Oscar Wilde. Truly, temptation is the linchpin that proves to be the undoing of many recovering addicts. But how to resist the ever-present siren call of things to buy at must-buy prices?

Homebound due to the still-present snow and now widespread ice, stayed home since hubby took my car to work. Finally finished the massive workload and ended the workday at normal hours. Decided to leaf through a few of the enticing new catalogs that had flooded the mailbox and were piling up on the counter.

Also opened up the multiple envelopes from stores that had streamed in over the past week. Uh oh... Fished out coupon after coupon from my absolute favorite stores. First my DSW rewards (free money!), then the Boden catalogue with its bewitching models (and equally bewitching 15% off).

Sat back down to finally catch up on my personal emails. Bad idea! Opened message after message containing such dangerous offers as 30% off at Cole Haan (a much anticipated one for me as I had found during my latest multi-day hoofing that I desperately needed more Nike Air dress shoes), $15 off at Piperlime, 25% off at Gap, plus freebies from Nine West, Macy's, and more. "So far so good, I assured myself. Nothing to go crazy about here. I'm sure Cole Haan will have another 30% one day..."

Day 11:
Had a relapse.

The day started with the arrival of the holy grail of coupons in the mail, ushering in a new level of anxiety: 25% off anything at Coach. Oh, the agony! Oh, the torture! Oh the moral dilemma! How could I resist the new Parker collection when it's priced so well and is just the perfect thing for my work and personal needs? How could I not take advantage of a solid 25% off the exquisite new trenches in mouthwatering colors that I had been watching so carefully? My blood pressure skyrocketed as I dared to tempt fate by going to the Coach website to take a small peek.

Youch! Shouldn't have done that. Now I would be obsessing for the next week straight. Good thing the coupon didn't start for another 2 days. Maybe that would give me some time to calm down and gather my senses. Decided to get out of the house on my first day with the car back. Obviously, being housebound for the last 2 days wasn't doing my willpower any favors.

Ran out to finally return the pile of bags that had sat uncollected on my living room floor. Had to hit J.Crew, Coach, DSW, and TJ Maxx. This would be the ultimate test -- could I, a recovering addict with just 10 days under my belt, survive a trip to the lion's den? Only one way to find out.

First stop: J.Crew. Rushed over to a different J.Crew, far, far away. Knew that if I went to my J.Crew on the day that my manager was working, I wouldn't stand a chance. Made a beeline for the cash register, averted my eyes from the amazingly arranged tables, and successfully returned the goods. Phew!

DSW: Nothing new, and I didn't really want to take the time to check out the clearance section. Stood in line for a long time and finally got rid of the oversized bag I'd been holding.

Next stop: Coach outlet. All I can say is, thank goodness this wasn't the real thing. If it was, I would have broken down and bought something, because that coupon was burning a hole in my pocket (I mean Coach purse). Fortunately, the outlet hadn't gotten anything new in since my last fateful visit, and much of the previous stuff had been cleaned out. Felt much better about not buying anything. Did a half-hearted tour of the store before marching up to the register and laying out my returns on the counter. Managed some feeble story about having just bought 2 bags at the Coach store for full price. The associates asked me how I liked the new Parker collection. Saw stars in my eyes for a moment as I dreamed silently about the new Parker bag on my wish list. Replied with a polite "It's amazing! What gorgeous designs!" and ran out of the store as soon as I signed the return slip.

Last stop of the day: TJ Maxx. Either it was the heady scent of blossoms drifting toward me from all the new spring bath products, or, the emporium of cheap thrills that called out to me from the pleasingly jumbled racks. Whatever it was, my defenses broke down. Of all the places to fall of the wagon, this seemed absurdly unlikely. And yet, I could resist neither the myriad candy-colored treats nor the heaping shelves of luscious floral scents. I sprung for a lovely vat of pink peony hand soap and a hot pink hoodie to match.

As soon as I got home that evening, my better half inspected my packages. "You fell off the wagon, didn't you?" he interrogated me, seeing the conspicuous Coach J.Crew shopping bags.

"No," I implored, "Those are empty. I was just returning." But the look on my face must have given away my guilt, because he made me unpack each shopping bag "just in case." Out fell the hoodie and the hand soap.

"You fell off the wagon for soap?" he challenged. "That's really pathetic!" I knew that already. But now, I felt like a recovering alcoholic desperately trying to get my fix through rubbing alcohol--ashamed, but too desperate to care.

He continued, "I'm willing to overlook your temporary lapse in judgement. If you return these tomorrow, they won't count against you."

"Um, okay...." I trailed off, not knowing if going back to the store that caused my downfall was such a good idea. Went to bed that night questioning my ability to resist serious temptation when I couldn't even resist peony hand soap.

Day 12:
Took the day off work, and so did my hubby. We slept in a little, had good coffee, and savored the mid-day sun in my sunroom/office. Then, for reasons that logic cannot explained, the following words were heard exiting DH's mouth: "Let's go to the mall."

Come again? This was, after all, a man who avoided the mall at all costs, making me buy all his clothing, shoes, and even his video games oftentimes. I checked his head for a fever but all seemed normal.

"I want to look at electronics. And we can grab lunch afterwards," he offered. "Oh, and I want to make sure you make good on yesterday's indiscretions and return those items." Well, okay then - no argument from me!

So off we went, making the rounds to all said places. I even convinced him to stop into J.Crew to meet the "family." After a very late lunch, we wandered around like high school mall rats playing hooky. It felt quite exhilarating and naughty. The mood must have gotten to him too, because he suggested that we make a detour past Vickies on our way out.

"You could definitely use some new underwear," he declared, clearly showing off that he had actually read my recent post on the subject. Again, no argument from me. I pranced delightedly through the store examining various specimens of lingerie in delicate silks and high-tech materials. Finally, I settled on 3 pairs of lacy hiphuggers in dainty shades of pink and coral.

Score! The rewards of not shopping had finally kicked in. I got free lunch (though not a particularly appealing one at the food court), a day of browsing, and a sexy present! I vowed to stay on the wagon in the hopes of procuring more gratuitous gifts.

Days 13-14:
The effects of taking one day off piled up on my desk and inbox. Spent the next 2 days catching up on work.

Wondered what the next week had in store for me...


Anonymous said...

I don't understand - why don't you just delete coupon emails and throw away mail like that without even opening it? That way you won't even know what you're missing.

GingerSnap said...

I just love reading your blog. I think it is wonderful how honest you are :) Also, do not beat yourself up over the soap made it right...and got cute panties out of it. Way to go, you are stronger than me :)

dinagideon said...

I meant to post at your other Lesson post, but like you, I am a bit swamped at work! (Curse Alexandria City Schools and their lack of more than one or two snow days a year--I feel like I am always working...)

You are amazing for going through this and with such clarity and honesty. I think your husband was very sweet to take you out and get you that present at the lingerie shop. He knows how hard this transition to spending less is for you and is subsequently letting you know he appreciates it by doing such a nice action.

I am most amazed that you handled going into a J. Crew and not buying something. That is truly my weakness. It sounds like the Coach store might be yours.

Good luck...I am thinking of you through this process. I also can't wait till the will be good to see you and the other ladies again!

shopaholicdiva1027 said...

Three penny what amazing strength you showed. I am proud of you...and those small indescretions at TJmaxx pale in comparison to what damage you really could do. Your husband is wonderful to reward you for your efforts. I thought that was a very cute gesture. Keep up the good work and thanks for your encouragement. P.S. I was on pins and needles waiting to see what happened. (smile)

HeidiG said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing such an honest look with us all. I admire you for what you are trying to do and working toward. Your hubby is so sweet to support you and help you out.

I am truly impressed at how you handled the returns - that is so so so hard. Much luck to you and I am so looking forward to meeting you 3/29!!

FabulousFloridaMommy said...

I am very proud of you! I know how hard it is to *just return* without it becoming more of an exchange. I'm also glad you got a day with your DH to spend enjoying each other's company...sounds like it was a lot of fun. :)

3-Penny Princess said...

anon @ 2:11 - I thought about that yesterday and the day before and set out to do it, because you're right - it's the best way to curb the temptation. The problem is, I woke up this morning and felt weak. I keep thinking, what if I need this or that in the meantime and don't have my usual coupons... Especially since I got 2 invitations to showers and know that I need to go and buy presents. I know it's terrible to think this way, but it's extremely hard for me to cut that cord! Hence the problem...

3-Penny Princess said...

GingerSnap and shopaholicdiva - thank you for saying that! I do pat myself on the back for the first couple of weeks that I as able to resist a lot of shopping. The hoodie and the soap were not as bad as it could have been, and I did return them. However, you won't think very highly of me when you find out how bad I was after that! I really fell off the wagon badly this past weekend and week! But thank you for sticking with me and keeping me hopeful. Someday, I will find a cure...:) Good luck to you as well!

HeidiG said...

3PP, I don't think anyone thinks badly of you because we've all been there, be it shopping or something else. I think your blogging actually helps us all

Maybe regarding the coupons, you could toss half of the paper ones and keep the others in a specific spot just in case you need them (but out of sight). If you are like me, they come pretty regularly.

My email inbox has gotten easier to manage since I've been doing the deleting - but since they stay in the "deleted items" folder until I delete them for real, they are there if I need them, but not in my face tempting me.

I look forward to the rest of your journey!

3-Penny Princess said...

dina - sorry to hear you've been crazy busy! I hope you are enjoying a well-deserved break. BTW - how was CW's half-birthday?

Thank you for thinking of me during my fast! I can't wait to see you on the 29th and catch up! I will try to be as good as possible until then so I can actually shop with you ladies. Have a good one!

3-Penny Princess said...

HeidiG - I was just going to respond to your earlier comment as well...You're sweet to say that! Yes, my hubby is an absolute doll and I feel really bad every time I spend too much time or money, and especially when I lie about it. That's one of the biggest reasons I want to reform my habit.

Maybe you're right. Maybe some people can quit cold turkey, while for others it's better to do it gradually. If maybe I can eliminate one wave of emails, then go onto more emails/coupons, that would work better. I wouldn't feel as if I'm being cut off completely. You also have a point in that it would be easier to manage my inbox. I have to admit that some of the emails I signed up for are essentially useless and overspam me.

Thanks for sticking with me and for the good ideas!

3-Penny Princess said...

FFM - thank you for your encouragement! Yes, we did have a nice day together. (Don't know if I can drag him to any stores again for a while, but that's probably a good thing...) I wasn't so successful at returning lately, unfortunately. J.Crew got me this time, as did a few other (more expensive stores).

But I did make a solid dent in one credit card and hope to make a solid dent in my J.Crew card. And this time, I really, truly, intend to not put (very much) back on them. Or maybe none at all if I can just force myself to bring a wad of cash when I need to buy something.

Thanks for cheering me on!

Anonymous said... shouldn't be buying anything until your credit cards are paid off. Pay off your highest interest card(s) first (guessing that is J Crew) and then go form there.

If you have to use a credit card because it's too much $ to spend your cash on, then you don't have the money in the first place. Use cash only but not until the cards are paid off STOP buying and stop exposing yourself to places that only increase the chances that you will spend more money!

You should not be looking for ways to shop at all. Look for ways to stop. I have been there. You are still in denial. As much as you have exposed the way you feel and all that you have said in your posts-you are not being true to your word or yourself. You do have a problem and unfortunately it doesn't sound like you have hit rock bottom yet. When you do, you will be forced to change for some reason that is never good.

Can I tell you this comes from a place of love and support? Honestly-I feel your pain and this is no joke. You have to stop.

3-Penny Princess said...

anon @ 3:51 - you're wise to bring up the credit cards! I know this is a major reason I am where I am today. I did just make a big payment on one card (incidently not my J.Crew card) that has the highest balance and high interest rates. I'm due to pay my J.Crew bill next week and I definitely intend to make a dent in it.

Interestingly, I thought the same thing as you suggest - that it's best to pay off the card with the highest balance/rate. But then my husband was telling me that he heard from a financial advisor taht it's actually more effective to pay off your smallest cards first, because then you'll get rid of them card by card. Also, he said that this gives you a sense of accomplishment and visual proof that you've paid off a whole debt.

I know that when I pay my biggest card balance each month, I still feel as though it comes back again and again and the large balance constantly makes me lose hope and perspective (like I'll never pay it off). But maybe if I go after the smallest card first, followed by the J.Crew card (while paying some portion of the largest card), I'll be free of the first two within 2 months. Then, I can really attack only 1 card, knowing that it's my primary focus.

I don't know... I know that obviously, like you said, I have to pay off the debt before I can even begin to think about shopping. But I also know that, if I don't curb my shopping hunger, I'll keep getting credit card statements each month with the exact same balance. It's a vicious cycle.

Thank you for caring enough to tell me things I don't want to hear! As of now, I am still in denial. I am looking for some big thing (just like you said, only I'm praying it's not a bad thing) that will push me over the fence and make me truly break the habit.

Tough Love said...

^FYI this Anonymous here is me
"A supportive Friend" aka "Tough Love" not to confuse things. I meant to put Tough Love in the title but somehow it went up Anonymous.

Anyway-you can see I refer to my comments in my second response in your Part 1 posting. Clear as mud??

What does this mean?
"But I also know that, if I don't curb my shopping hunger, I'll keep getting credit card statements each month with the exact same balance. It's a vicious cycle."

I would love to help but not sure what you mean. Are you kinda saying if you do not shop-you aren't sure what to do?

shopaholicdiva1027 said...

3penny. I haven't fallen off the wagon yet. i just take one second at a time and when the urge hits, i remember how out of control i felt, followed by the feelings of guilt and the secret shame that to my friends/family i look like i have it all (new lexus suv, home, high end designer jewlery, designer handbags, Ethan Allen furniturek traveling here and there etc. you name it i have it in abundance)buti "don't really have it going on" The way i was spending money shopping was lunacy. girl, i was "dropping it like it was hot" lol A woman who "has it going on" is financially responsible. And i certainly am not.

3-Penny Princess said...

Tough Love - good questions! Part of it means, what do I do when the urge to shop strikes? The other part maybe means what do I do when I'm faced with temptation? Maybe these are related. This is a big challenge for me.

3-Penny Princess said...

shopaholicdiva - I am so proud of you for not falling off the wagon! Honestly, I really feel like, if a real person can do this, then I can also do it. Although my last 2 weeks were awful in terms of relapses, this week, I'm really vowing to get back and stay on the wagon.

shopaholicdiva1027 said...

3penny, we can do it. I have to set realistic goals for myself and stick to a budget. Everyday that familiar voice in my head tell me to "buy this or buy that" then i rationalize and think to myself "this is the last time i splurge or spend so much money" I lie to myself all the time. Hang in there and know that we are here for you, praying for you and cheering you on

Tough Love said...

When you hear that voice, immediately ask yourself what you are doing at that given time? Are you online shopping, getting an email from an etailer? Then in response, be positioned to tell yourself what you are feeling. Maybe write it down, then have a response--go for a walk, call a friend or your DH and tell them you were thinking of shopping (or maybe just have a friendly conversation and don't even mention the urge-that may not even be necessary) but realize you are just feeling ____(fill in the blank)perhaps it is bored? uninspired? etc but have a course of action that pulls you away from the urge and I promise, you will not even miss that thing you thought you needed so badly.

If you are like me or many people with this problem, you are actually just seeking out the "feeling" that the new thing gives you. I know you already mentioned that the new sweater gets mixed in and forgotten pretty quickly thus it is just money spent for essentially a quick "fix" and to keep that feel good feeling you are after. So we have to try to do something else, find a decent replacement that gives you that feeling without costing you money such as a walk--take in nature and really appreciate it now that Spring is here this is ideal. If this is not possible, try reading a magazine or book or self-help website or finance website that reminds you of your goals. That works well for me;)

Slastena said...

3-PennyPrincess- you are doing amazing!It's not a stright walk from where we satrt. It might take 3 steps forward , 2 steps back to get where we are going. So, as long as you are making mroe steps towards then backwards- yo are doing great! Keep up a good work!

Went to LV J crew yeterday and did not buy anything!!!! Hotel where we are stayong is breaming with high end boutiques, I haven't been to a single store . Instead, I am enjoying long walks, site seeing, slamm coffee shops adn tea-houses with my sweetie and friends. We did visit several fancy restauarants and shows, but those things are definitely splurge-worthy!

What are we to do on March 29th though, lOL!

3-Penny Princess said...

shopaholicdiva - I've definitely said that to myself recently: "This is my last splurge, I swear!" But there is no last. One day, we just need to make that mental decision that there will be no spending. I think I'm learning a lot though and I am getting beter. I think your prayers are working!

3-Penny Princess said...

Tough Love - so much insight from you, thank you! I am writing down all your ideas. I even told my husband about some of your suggestions. This is all really helpful! One of the inintended results of logging my experiences so far is that I've already learned a few things about the behavior that motivates me. All your recommendations are really smart and I will try them this week as I head into the final week... Wish me luck!

3-Penny Princess said...

Slastena - welcome back! I'm so unbelievably impressed and proud of you for going to Vegas and staying at the Wynn (the shopping mecca) and not shopping! That's like going to Italy and not drinking wine. Or going to France and not eating bread... I simply cannot fathom how to do something like that! But I'm really glad you got to visit fabulous restaurants and see great shows! I have never been to Vegas but people keep sayign it's a fun place to visit. You definitely make me want to go there!

Thanks for all the words of enouragement! You're right to notice that sometimes we take 3 steps forward and 2 steps back -- or, in my case with the past 2 weeks, 2 steps forward and 5 steps back. But we must forge onward! We will succeed! And yes, we will all shop together (responsible and in moderation) on the 29th!