Health & Wellness Articles

7 Tips to Conquer Compulsive Spending

Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

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What are the symptoms?
Compulsive spending often starts out small and grows into an increasingly destructive habit. These descriptions are just a few examples of feelings or scenarios associated with compulsive spending.

  • A home full of books you've never read, gadgets you've never used, and clothes you've never worn.
  • Spending money when you're feeling sad, lonely or depressed.
  • Spending money you don't have on things you don't really need.
  • Feeling excited when you buy something new, but guilty soon after.
  • Feeling reckless and careless when you spend money.
  • Forgetting how much you spend or suffering an emotional "blackout" after a shopping spree.
  • Lying about how much you spend.
  • Stealing money to keep spending.
  • Continuing to spend despite having large debts.
  • Feeling anxious, scared or unhappy about your shopping habits.
  • Fighting with loved ones over your spending habits.
  • Shopping to make yourself feel better.
  • Hiding purchases and spending habits from loved ones.
  • Not knowing (or not wanting to admit) how much you shop.
  • Turning to alcohol, food or exercise to help you cope with the stress of your debts.
  • Maxing out credit cards on superfluous purchases.
  • Taking out loans you know you can't repay to cover your debt.
If you can identify with most of the symptoms above, then you likely have a problem with compulsive spending. The next step if getting the help you need to overcome it.

Can compulsive spending be treated?
Yes, compulsive spending can be treated, but it can be a difficult problem to overcome on your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, simply changing your behavior and putting yourself on a budget is enough to conquer the problem. But for others, enlisting help from a friend, support group, therapist and/or financial counselor is a better approach.

As with any addiction, talk to a trusted loved one and your health care provider about what's troubling you. Do not be ashamed, as compulsion spending doesn't make you a bad person. Print a copy of this assessment to make it easier for you to discuss your problems.

Here are 7 tips to help you get a handle on your spending.

1. Admit you have a problem. The first step to recovery from any addiction is acknowledging that you have a problem. Having trouble controlling your spending doesn't make you weak or vulnerable; it makes you human. Talk to your health care provider to work out a treatment plan. (See #5 below for more resources.) Share your problem with a trusted loved one. They can serve as a support network and help you during your recovery. Remember that spending money is not solving any problems; it's creating new ones. Some people binge on food as a way to distract themselves from the real trouble in their lives. Others spend money as a way to numb some sort of pain or sadness. To get past that, you need to first confront those bad feelings.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • I've been a compulsive spender most of my adult life - I finally admitted it relatively recently and with the support of my sister who is now (in her own words) my Financial Engineer, for the first time I feel almost in control! We are working to clear my debts and I am now on a weekly budget, which really works for me as my brain can understand it - with a monthly one, the first week is "woohoo, lets spend money", closely followed by tears and worries as I realise I don't have enough to get me to the next payday - 6/17/2012 10:25:38 AM
  • I completely identified with these "symptoms". I used to be exactly what they call a compulsive spender. In the last 4 years, though, I have worked with a debt management program to learn how to budget. In those 4 years, I totally paid off my nearly $30,000 in credit card debt. Overcoming compulsive shopping IS doable and I'm proof of that!! Now I live frugally and have learned the difference between needs and wants. :o) - 7/28/2010 11:45:34 AM
  • Debtors Anonymous is a wonderful program that encompasses even more than the money aspect of debt -- indebtedness to self, friends and community. It's a life saver. It helps to ameliorate the shame of compulsive spending. Of course when we give up one addiction (food, booze, unhealthy relationships) other addictions get to have their day in the sun!

    - 7/5/2010 1:12:36 PM
    Wow, this made me realize I replaced food with shopping. Crap! I better find a hobby, that's inexpensive or free, because I'm broke from shopping all the time instead of taking up space in my kitchen all day! - 1/24/2010 12:47:37 PM
  • I've known for awhile that I have a bit of a problem but until now I didn't realize how to deal with it. - 10/6/2009 10:35:20 PM
  • I tried retail therapy during a marriage and life of benign and not so benign neglect. Over $40,000 in credit card debt I declared bankruptcy. Being mostly debt free, I owe on a loan and the IRS I have much less anxiety. I am now able to stay on a budget and have stopped the behavior. Since every dollar counts, I evaluate each purchase, even the thrift shop ones to be sure I will use what I have. I am so grateful to be able to overcome this habit. - 5/18/2009 7:53:07 AM
  • PAM_S_
    The article hit home. Thank you for the great article. - 12/26/2008 9:44:09 AM

    LOVE THE ARTICLE - 8/2/2008 2:15:26 PM
    Looked the article.
    While I am not NOW a spender, I am in debt recovery. I am happy to say, outside of my mortgage and car note, my debt is down 75%. - 7/22/2008 1:13:41 PM
  • Great article. - 7/17/2008 12:14:14 PM

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