We admit it – it’s stereotypical to assume more women are addicted to shopping than their male counterparts, but for years, it’s been the image of a woman, both hands filled with oversized shopping bags with everything from two dozen pair of the same exact shoes and fourteen little black dresses. We see her with a wide brim hit hanging just low enough to cover her eyes as she steps into the elevator that will take her the building’s penthouse, which is something else she can’t afford. And while there’s bound to be truth in that story, the fact is, the numbers tell a different story – in fact, according to a recent study from Stanford University, the breakdown between men and women when it comes to shopping addiction is split right down the middle.
Never before has it been so visible as it was when a story broke in a recent issue of GQ Magazine, which included famed sports writer Buzz Bissinger’s admission that he has spent more than half a million dollars on designer clothes in the past two years alone. Suddenly, that image of the woman in the wide brimmed hat isn’t as clear as it once was.
For those in Debtor’s Anonymous, they know well how devastating it can be as many have either gone through or witnessed others go through bankruptcies, marriage breakups and even job losses. And then, there are those who don’t necessarily buy multiple cars or million dollar wardrobes – some will max out their credit cards on things like cantaloupe or 82 sets of silverware.
Another study, this one found in the Journal of Consumer Research, says that up to 30 million Americans could be compulsive shoppers (In 2008, that number was believed to be around 25 million). Arguments in relationships are most often about money – and it’s also the most common reason for break ups.
The average credit card balance for Americans has steadily increased, too. In 2008, it was around $10,000 and most of it, reports Time, is accumulated from unnecessary purchases. Many could benefit from professional help, such as Debtor’s Anonymous, but it’s often the one problem people don’t seek help for. Even as the average debt balance has grown, those in recovery say that it’s not about buying and accumulating material possessions, but rather, the power they feel when they do buy.
Men and Women Differences
Men and women buy different things too. While women focus on the latest fashion trends, jewelery must-haves and beauty treatments, men think bigger – they’re the ones buying houses and sports cars. They’re the ones who are planning multiple vacations a year. Most men are married or engaged and are well established in their careers. They typically are well educated, too. They have multiple credit cards and there are studies that suggest there are other addictions that share the spotlight, including drugs and/or alcohol.
If they find themselves suddenly free from job constraints, either because they lose their job, retire or go on disability, it often ratchets up their addictive behaviors. Often, “shifting” occurs. This is when one begins buying many of the same things for awhile and then shifts to a new focus, such as going from buying handguns to four wheelers and jet skis. Often, the patterns are found in the credit card statements.
Further complicating matters is the instant gratitude of online shopping. Not only is there an initial rush when a shopper keys his credit card number, clicks “Buy Now” and sees an authorization, but that thrill is extended into the day the shipment actually arrives. The pattern then often repeats itself. Access to computers and now our smartphones is always within reach. Even TV shopping networks provide an around the clock appeal. Humans, by nature, are impulsive and sometimes the temptation is just too much.
Often, and especially when there’s a life change that triggers a shopping binge, many find themselves isolated. This fuels the urge to shop and it’s not until their problems come to light and they actively seek help that real change begins. It rests solely on the one who’s struggling. Like other addictions, it comes down to being ready for a change.
Wondering if you’re a shopping addict or perhaps at risk of becoming one? Debtor’s Anonymous provides these tell-tale signs:
Are you obsessing over a purchase, even though it’s not a necessity? Are you lying in bed at night, planning on where you can cut payments on certain bills so that you can buy that product? Are you buying things that aren’t going to break the bank, but that you don’t need either? These types of obsessive habits could be indicative of a problem. In fact, many shopping addicts will spend thousands on items that are just a few dollars each. Just because you’re not dropping thousands on one item doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not facing a problem.
Are you hiding the credit card statements? Are you opening new credit card accounts that your spouse or family don’t know about? Are you hiding your purchases to keep others from finding out how much you’re spending? It’s called financial infidelity and those with shopping addictions will go to great lengths to hide their purchases.
Finally, are you isolating yourself from a social life? Breaking dinner plans with family and friends? Avoiding the family get-togethers? If so, it can be indicative of a problem. Unlike drugs, shopping isn’t illegal so there’s that whole dynamic, too, because of the shame and even guilt that’s associated with it. If you’re already struggling financially and then have a shopping addiction on top of that, you could find yourself isolating even more.
The sooner you can identify it and then begin the process of better handling it, the sooner you can return to a sense of normalcy. There are millions who manage very well with their overspending habits. It’s just a matter of seeking out the right help and then putting the plan into play that will make for a much richer life.
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