Tis’ the season {For Compulsive Spending}

So it turns out that December is a tough month to admit to yourself–and try to change–your compulsive buying habits. There are two reasons for this. Most importantly (and unavoidably), you have to buy things, especially when your family equates love with gift giving and has high expectations for what you’ll leave for them under the tree. Also, if one of your triggers is a good sale, 40%-50% off signs can be siren songs too compelling to ignore.

Obviously, I am a work in progress.

I continue to fall back on holding myself accountable to my husband, who has been so supportive in going over every purchase with me. He always agrees with me to get something, but I have definitely not suggested purchases that I knew were too frivolous or I was simply embarrassed to bring up. When I went on g.ap.com to use my reward cash to get my mom a Christmas present (and some tops for my daughter who somehow doesn’t even fit in 5T clothing anymore, despite being 4.5-years-old) I showed him my shopping cart before I made the purchase (but also before I applied my reward cash which almost gave him a heart attack). There was one shirt in there for me, which I admitted, but he was very nice about it (he will wrap it for me and put it under the tree). I feel awful for putting him in this position, but I know that I need his help holding myself accountable until we combine our finances and he can just see how much money is going out and to where.

I have avoided Tar.get like the plague because I know I make horrible choices there. I’ve even stayed away from Cost.co, even though I’m pretty good at sticking to my list when I’m buying in bulk.

I’m starting to recognize that shopping, more so than actually buying things, filled a real need in me and I’m trying to find other ways to meet that need. Shopping is definitely a way I combat boredom and loneliness–I didn’t realize that being with other people, even if I wasn’t communicating with them, helped stave off loneliness. I’m compiling a list of places I can go and be around other people while not spending money. It’s hard at this time of year when the cold and dark force us inside. So far I only have a library and a cafe on my list (I figure $2 for a hot chocolate is better than $20 for some dumb shit I don’t need). If you have any suggestions, please tell me.

On Friday afternoons my in-laws pick up my daughter for a spend the night (yes, I know how lucky I am) and in the past I’ve used that time to “run errands” with my son. This almost always meant a trip to some store to “get a few things we needed.” Last Friday it was rainy and cold and I was dying to go out, but I knew I couldn’t go shopping. There was a good 30-45 minutes where I was crawling out of my own skin I wanted to go shopping so badly, but I breathed through it. I texted my husband asking for suggestion on where we could go that didn’t involve a cash register and he sensed my panic and called me and talked to me for a while. In the end I just stayed home with my son and sat quietly watching him play. It made me realize that I almost never do that with him because long stretches of time (ahem, two hours) with no plans make me incredibly anxious. After the initial hour of checking my watch with crazy-making frequency I finally settled in and started enjoying it. By the end I felt way more calm than I would at the end of a bout of retail therapy. Learning that lesson was uncomfortable, truly painful at time, but I’m glad I did it and I’m actually looking forward to that unstructured time with him today.

{Though I think I subconsciously chose to write this post today to psyche myself up for this afternoon and remind myself that it was a positive experience in the end. That first hour was brutal and there is a part of me that is anxious to endure it again tonight.}

So that is where I am with the compulsive spending. As someone who can much more easily embrace a cold-turkey no-shopping (or insert other-vice-I’m-set-on-avoiding-here) rule, having to navigate holiday shopping while keeping a handle on my compulsive buying has been really hard. It’s a trial by fire to be sure, but I’m hoping that if I can get through this, the next couple of months will be a lot easier.


  1. My husband works from home and goes to meet-up kinds of groups once every week or two. His are happy hours and board-games, but there are a lot of choices on meet up, even in our relatively small town.

    My sister does a book-club and dance classes. Some of my friends do zumba or just go to the gym.

    With the kids we go to a lot of playgrounds. We take walks. I think public finance blogs often run suggestions of free outings/dates. It’s a good topic.

    And as you’re thinking about gifts and so on this holiday season, it might be a time to introspect on meaning and love languages and consumerism. Being able to separate the “stuff” from its purpose (usually, showing love, sometimes bringing happiness, sometimes showing obligation) can be eye-opening in terms of gift-giving and can pause the need to buy for buyings sake. I think some of the minimalist blogs talk about these sorts of things. I also have really enjoyed reading about people’s experiences on “the compact” which are usually done for environmental reasons. (Only buying used, only buying mindfully.)

    One of my favorite blogs is http://www.miser-mom.blogspot.com/ . She’s not exactly a minimalist (more of a good steward of resources) but I always find her blog eye-opening. She shows how to live a wonderful life full of heart spending on what’s really important. She’s worth reading from first post to last.

    1. The time of the day that is hardest for me is the few hours after my son’s second nap and before dinner. That is when I need to keep myself occupied and that is when most “kids places” are closed (after 4pm). We have memberships to a lot of places in the city and we go to them on the weekend (and spend a lot of time outside) but those later hours

      I am trying to see if I can budget a yoga class for myself on Saturday mornings. I think that would be a good way to get away and do something nice for myself while being around people, but I’m not sure if I can afford it yet. I have to see how things shake out after I get a handle on my spending.

  2. Your writing about this is forcing me to confront my own similar issues. Mine isn’t about going to a store & being around people, since I do much of my retail damage on-line. Its just the thrill of the bargain and the pick-me-up of buying something shiny and new. It can be addictive, and yes, its hard with holiday/birthday gift shopping to reign it in (and not to throw a couple of things for myself into the cart, for good measure). With online shopping there is the also the anticipation of the item actually arriving (though often-times, by that time its lost its appeal, but I am too lazy to deal with the return process and end up keeping things that I don’t love). Ugh. I am getting tired of constantly working on myself, too. One more issue to fix.

    1. Online shopping is a HUGE issue for me. I have an Amazon.com VISA card, I buy TONS of stuff from there. I also buy a lot from online clothing retailers. And it has definitely been hard to stay away from those and I have been bummed out that nothing is ever at home waiting for me. But, as I try to get rid of things, I’m more stressed by stuff coming in, so that makes buying, even online, easier to avoid.

      I didn’t realize that I like to shop just be out and around other people until I started getting a hold of my online shopping and realized that actual in store shopping was something I craved apart from just buying things. It has been really eye opening.

      1. leechblock (a firefox add-on) has worked wonders for me for my compulsive online stuff– in econ we call it a commitment device. I would be completely useless without commitment devices.

        Btw, that Habit book is really good, isn’t it? You might also enjoy Willpower by Baumeister.

  3. … which reminds me of another thing that works for me

    Commitment devices and hard rules (lines in the sand) are one way to make it easier to stop a bad habit and not drain your willpower. So that’s like leechblock, or getting rid of (or freezing in a block of ice) credit cards or switching to Paleo, or what have you.

    Another way is to tell yourself you can have something later. Apparently in studies, knowing you can have it later allows you to keep your willpower even if you end up not actually having the thing later. Often by the time later happens, you’ve forgotten about it or decided you don’t really want it. This works really well for me throughout the year, because when ever I want something, I put it on my amazon wishlist. Then right before Christmas and my birthday, I sort through the wishlist and take off the things I no longer want as I sort them from highest wanted to lowest wanted. I can also use the amazon wishlist as a way to find books at the library.

    1. The waiting to get something works really well for me. I have quite a list of things that I want to get and already I’m taking things off it. My biggest problem with that is if something is crazy on sale and I worry I won’t be able to get it for that price again. That is hard for me.

      I definitely need to draw a line in the sand but I haven’t figured out where that line needs to be yet. I think in a few months I’ll know, but right now I’m still figuring it out.

      1. “My biggest problem with that is if something is crazy on sale and I worry I won’t be able to get it for that price again.”

        I used to do this too– but then I ran some numbers and discovered I was actually saving money by not buying things just because they were on sale. The amount saved by not buying things on sale was MUCH larger than the amount lost by buying things at full price. On top of that, people started getting me things off my wishlist that I actually wanted!

        I used to also worry that by the time I actually got the thing it would be gone forever, but then ebay and amazon sellers and craigslist and ABE books happened, and I can use the internet as my storage system.

  4. Amazon is definitely my #1 struggle lately. Our credit card is to the point where we can’t pay it off for the 2nd time EVER (like, by thousands), and though my husband spends recklessly when it comes to eating out/drinking, if I’m honest, the majority of our spending overages are from me on Amazon / at Target. BUT I HAVE PRIME FREE 2DAY SHIPPING IT’S A GOOD DEAL…I tell myself. UGH. I’ve been trying to take a hard look at this since reading your posts the last couple of weeks. Just getting a chance to comment now, but know that I’ve been reading and nodding along. I don’t actually like/care about gifts at all, but the impulse purchases on Amazon get me every damn time.

  5. Kohl’s sending me a 30% off coupon, which happened just a few days ago, is like a drug for me. I’ve finished my Christmas shopping, but like you, I worry that I’ll miss out on getting items the cheapest I can (even though I know there’s always going to be a better sale in the future). It’s definitely my happy place, especially with that golden 30% off ticket!

    I also agree that having my husband see my spending helps. We have two separate bank accounts (due to us getting married older and not wanting to give either one up), but both of them are now joint accounts. His credit card purchases are tied to his original account, my credit card to my original account, but he has to transfer money over to my bank for me to pay my card each month. If my bill gets a little too high over the course of a few months, I have to explain why I need a transfer sooner than the last round. It helps keep me accountable for my spending, even if it does kind of annoy me that I have to regularly ask him for money. 🙂

    The only suggestion I can think of for things to fill your time might be some interactive apps like Words with Friends. You can play with random people, not just people you know, and if you’re on the app at the same time, it can be like interacting with others in the same room.

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