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youngandthrifty shares how she cured her shopping addiction with goal setting, paying yourself automatically, separating needs vs wants, and avoiding temptation

I know I may seem all pompous and superwoman-like when it comes to not splurging and not succumbing to being a victim of consumerism.  I’ll have you know that this was not the case a few years ago.  I was a shopping addict, especially when it came to shoes and clothes, my two greatest vulnerabilities.  I would buy on impulse.  I would buy clothes when I was bored.  I would buy shoes when I needed a little emotional stability (aka shopping therapy).  I identified with Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic.  I fortunately didn’t rack up any credit card debt, though I didn’t save much money and basically spent everything I earned.

My closet was getting fuller and fuller and my bank account was getting emptier and emptier.

One day I looked in my closet and wasn’t really happy with the shoes or the clothes in it.  I realized that buying for the sake of buying had to stop.

Set a Goal


What helped me stop shopping without a purpose was that I set a goal.  I started setting a target amount of money I wanted to save per month.  I wanted to save that money instead for a big purchase, like my first trip.  The trip cost $2000 and it was set to happen right after my university life finished.  I wanted to use my money for something I really valued.  I didn’t value the clothes… they didn’t make me feel good.  Traveling makes me feel good.  So I decided to funnel my energy towards that instead.

Pay Yourself First

When I started setting a specific amount of money to save per month, I paid myself first.  I moved my money from my main banking account to a high interest savings account that was only accessible online.  This helped me feel poor whenever I looked at my banking account.  When I felt poor, I didn’t feel justified to spend my money on frivolous non-neccessities like clothes and shoes.

Separate Needs vs Wants

I think this is key in terms of controlling your spending.  I don’t need another sweatshirt, I don’t need another black dress (although there are so many different styles of little black dresses, it IS hard to stop buying more!), I don’t need another pair of jeans.  Until one of these items you already has fails on you, there is no reason to buy another one.  It will just end up sitting in the closet.

Avoid Temptation

For me, the biggest reason why I am “cured” from my addiction to buying is that I am not tempted anymore.  I used to work in a mall, and on my breaks, the only thing I would do is go around the mall and shop.  I would see something I liked and buy it.  Sometimes I would have a little more discipline and buy it on the next day I was working at the mall.  Just like if you were addicted to drugs and you wanted to get off drugs, you wouldn’t go into a detox program that was located in the epicenter of all the action (yup, beats me why there are detox centres for heroin and crack cocaine right in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, but that’s another topic entirely!).  I’m not saying you can’t work in a mall, I’m just saying maybe you can go for a walk outside on your break instead.  Or read a book.  Something to distract you from the temptation.

Slip Ups Do Happen

Just when I thought I was in the clear, my friend asked me to go to this warehouse sale.  Warehouse sales are my weakness, as my impulsive buying goes into overdrive.  I ended up buying three dresses and one clutch there.  The only thing I am happy with was the little black clutch because I needed one.  I learned my lesson- avoid temptation!  My friend ended up spending double of what I spent, so I didn’t feel so bad, but still….

Sometimes I look at other girls and I’m jealous of their wardrobe.  They seem so stylish and always have new clothes and shoes to wear.  Then I realize that even if I bought those clothes, I would still likely stick to a few key pieces and it would be pointless to buy more.  I then tell myself that I have priorities, and a $150 sweater isn’t one of them.  Just like with any reform from any addiction, it gets easier over time.  Now when I walk through a mall, I don’t feel like I need to spend.  I go in with a purpose and buy what I need and get out.  I sometimes go to clothes swap parties- that’s where I can run wild- because they’re free!

Now, if only I could cure my facebook addiction…. 😉

Readers, have you ever been addicted to shopping?  How did you overcome it?

Article comments

Lesa says:

It’s ipmretaive that more people make this exact point.

I loved that book, and the movie! I think it’s because it is so opposite of my own personality (I typically don’t enjoy shopping except I do like to grocery shop, play the drugstore game, and about twice a year I get a craving for the mall).

young says:

@Amanda L. Grossman- The drugstore game? You mean shopping/browsing at the drugstore for cosmetics etc.? I only read one of her books, and I remember liking it, though it was a long time ago 🙂

Leigh says:

@young No, I meant that when you schedule a transfer from your chequing account to your high-interest savings account, the money doesn’t usually leave your chequing account for a day or two.

This is one area of personal finance I’ve always had natural advantages in. Never been much of a shopper. I did have a weakness for sports Jerseys at one time, but kept it to a couple hundred bucks a year.

P.S. Congratulations on the PLUTUS awards nomination, you have our vote!

young says:

@My University Money- You got my vote too! Congratulations on making it!

I also have had an addiction in the past except it was for housewares. I had to get broke before I learned my lesson. Thanks for the tips on how to break this habit. I did similar things to cure myself.

young says:

@Miss T- I can see what you mean about housewares! So many cool gadgets with so many functions (like an ice cream maker!). I’m glad we’re both “cured” of our addiction 😉

Liquid says:

“Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 85 cents at the bowling alley.” ~Unknown

Leigh says:

I’m not addicted to shopping, per se, but my main way of avoiding spending too much money on clothes is to avoid the malls or going downtown. (Somehow, online shopping doesn’t get me very easily!) While I was in school, another method I used was to simply be far too busy with schoolwork to have time to go to shopping.

What has helped me when I DO end up going to the mall is to have a specific list of what I want to acquire when I go shopping. Anything further is simply not allowed to be purchased.

I’m glad that you have managed to overcome your shopping addiction!! Good luck with that going forward 🙂

I think one of the hardest parts for me about an online high-interest savings account is that when I make a transfer to it, the money doesn’t disappear immediately.

young says:

@Leigh- Great idea about the list! Thanks for the encouragement re: shopping addiction. Online shopping gets me! Especially when I start looking at Red Flag Deals. It’s bad!

What do you mean the money disappears in your high interest account? Are you taking money out of it?

The Wealthy Canadian says:

The fact that you’ve incorporated a policy of “paying yourself first” is half the battle. It ensures that you’re saving a sufficient percentage of your hard earned dollars.

I think a lot of consumers fall for the “needs vs wants” trap. I want a new four-wheeler but I decided to use the extras funds for my son’s RESP. I find a lot of people justify purchasing things because they feel “they work hard for their money”. I’m sure in most cases, this is true, but it doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy thing left and right. The worse example I can think of are people who go out and buy brand new vehicles every couple of years. These assets are bad debts and plowing money in this direction does not advance one’s financial objectives.

With that being said, splurging from time to time really helps me keep my sanity. We have to live a bit in life, there’s no question about it, and keeping a lock around your wallet for too long can cause me to crack up!

Nice post! 😉

young says:

@The Wealthy Canadian- Its so easy to fall into that trap! Thinking that we deserve to treat ourselves all the time. Good for you for putting money into your son’s RESP instead of buying a new car! Your son will be so grateful. Don’t forget to tell him this story when he’s 18 and may not seem grateful! 😉

Yup- totally know the feeling- locking up the wallet is a quick way to insanity and discontent 🙂 It’s a fine balance indeed.

High fives because I KNOW where you’re coming from! I think we all go through this when we try to get real with our finances…we love to shop but have so much emotion tied to it: the high, the low, the thrill, the guilt. We all love to acquire new stuff, but then it isn’t worth the feeling of lost control that seems to come with each bag of stuff and each credit card bill.

Kudos to you and thanks for sharing your story, I know it resonates with so many of us!

young says:

@Shannyn- You said it so eloquently! 🙂 Glad to share my story!

I think I was a bit addicted to going out and spending money to have a good time. We cut back quite a bit over the last few years though and only go out once or twice a week now. It’s still fun and we are probably a bit more appreciative now.

young says:

@retirebyforty- I think 1-2 times a week going out for dinner or something is very reasonable. Going out clubbing or for pub drinks is probably a bit much (b/c it can cost $100 a night I find), but I doubt you’re doing much of that with little RB40! 😉

SavingMentor says:

I have more of an addiction to buying electronics and computer items. I’ve slowed down a lot lately mostly because I have nearly everything I could want/need. I don’t have top of the line everything and hunt for bargains and extreme savings whenever I buy things to get a lot more electronics for my money.

I’m still ahead of most people when it comes to technology but I probably don’t spend more than most people who are mildly interested in it. The good thing about technology, is when you buy something there is usually a unique purpose for it. It does something different than your other techno gadget. With clothes, the purpose is often the same or nearly the same.

Money Pincher says:

I am addicted to shopping and I still am. I am starting realize that there’s a lot of clothes I don’t need, but for some reason, I keep giving myself excuses to buy this and that because I don’t have “it.” For example, this past couple of weeks, I am obsessed with lululemon. I won’t buy the clothes full priced but I will go and look out for deals at their outlet in burnaby. :/

I try to stop buying for a month, but after a month, I find myself buying more because I feel good about not shopping the previous month. It’s an endless cycle 🙁

I am trying to focus my energy on exercising now instead of buying clothes…. so hope that will help!

Aoife Quinn says:

Hi ,
My name is Aoife Quinn and I am a final year journalism student in Dublin City University. I am currently writing a series of features for my thesis based on addiction one of those being shopping. I would really appreciate it if you would be willing to have a quick chat with me regarding your experience either via phone, Skype or even over email.
Any help would really be appreciated,
Aoife Quinn