10 Ways To Break A Compulsive Spending Habit

“Addictive spending is often rooted in punishing feelings of low self-esteem and problems with impulse control,” says an addiction specialist in an MSNBC special report on compulsive spending. At its worst, it can wreak as much or more damage on your finances as any full-blown gambling, drinking, or drug addiction—and yet, a lot of people still consider it a moral failing that sheer will-power can prevent (just take a look at half the comment threads on this blog for evidence of that mindset). If you’re a compulsive spender, odds are you already know if you have a problem, even if you manage to hide it from everyone else. But here are ten ways to help get a grip on the situation.

(Paraphrased by us to save space:)

1. Understand the phenomenon. Read up on compulsive spending, so you know what you’re up against (and that you’re not the first one to fall into this pattern).

2. Know thyself. Get to the root of why you love to shop—especially if there are unhealthy feelings buried somewhere in there.

3. Reflect on how you feel when you shop. Yes, we know how new-agey this sounds—but the whole point of compulsive spending is that you shop for the wrong reasons, for emotional reasons. Track your feelings and look for patterns and triggers.

4. Think about the time involved. Add up the total amount of time you spend on shopping activities and ask yourself whether you’d like to use that time for other more beneficial pursuits.

5. Take control of the situation. No more unsecured debt. Only one emergency credit card that you leave at home. Pay for everything with cash or a debit card.

6. Start writing things down. Not just what you spend, but what you’re feeling when you spend it. Also write down financial goals.

7. Steer clear of unnecessary temptations. Avoid catalogues, warehouse sales, shopping channels, etc.

8. Find healthy alternatives. Try some form of physical activity whenever you feel the urge to shop.

9. Expand your possibilities. Fill up your time with volunteering, family activities, a work-out regimen, etc.

10. Know when to get help. It’s the problem is bigger than you, consider meeting with a professional or contacting Debtor’s Anonymous.

Another thing you can do: take MSNBC’s “Are you an over-spender?” quiz, or the one at Debtors Anonymous.

“When shopping and spending go too far” [MSNBC]

Debtors Anonymous
Quiz: Are you an over-spender?
(Photo: milesgehm)


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Apparently that quiz is physic. It said I answered yes to 8 questions before I even took the quiz.

  2. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    ^same thing here. You guys probably need to adjust the link.

  3. amoeba says:

    I join you guys, I am an over spender without knowing the questions. Walters, you need to fix the link.

  4. Trai_Dep says:

    (just take a look at half the comment threads on this blog for evidence of that mindset)

    Hey… Hey!

  5. Oops. Sorry about that! Link has been fixed.

  6. SoCalGNX says:

    I would also add to the list to look at previous purchases. Think of them in terms of did you feel you had to have them at the time and now they are far less important? For example, should you have waited til that item went on sale? Or should you have waited for paperback? What was the pressure to acquire it rapidly?

  7. ViperBorg says:

    Yay! Fixed link!

  8. Pasketti says:

    Even having an emergency credit card may be one credit card too many.

    One tip I heard to make it harder to use the emergency card is to wrap it in a plastic bag, then freeze it in a block of ice. It’s still there if you need it, but you can’t use it for impulse buys.

  9. SadSam says:

    Establish an emergency fund, who wants to go into debt when faced with an emergency.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I set myself a monthly budget for frivolous fun items, and keep a spreadsheet on my copmuter to track it. Whenever I feel the urge to buy something, I think, “Will I feel silly when I get home and have to record this and subtract it from my total? Will I want to spend this money on anything else this month?” Usually that’s enough to stop me.

  11. bohemian says:

    Keep a list of things you actually NEED. If it is not on your list why are you buying it?

    With that in mind Warehouse sales can still be a good deal.

    Rather than an emergency credit card save up the amount that would equal your credit limit and keep it set aside for such an emergency.

  12. hoo_foot says:

    Use cash only. It is much harder to count out and part with cash than it is to swipe a card. It’s easier to avoid overdraft fees as well.