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August 27, 2013 | By: Editorial Staff

Financial help for the online shopaholic. Call it therapy.

For the addict, the next fix might not be found in a gambling joint, a local bar, or a crack house; it might be found on a desktop or in the palm of one’s hand.

I’m talking about online shopping addictions, which may not be physically debilitating, but they can certainly wreak financial havoc in one’s life. It’s serious business. More widespread than most acknowledge.

A very large number of those who come to us at Credit Canada seeking credit counselling share a common trait: they are compulsive spenders hoping to fill holes in their lives that can never be filled with material goods. Many of these poor souls are feeding the spending beast with the help of technology. They are what I would call today, shopaholics with techno savvy. They have a very easy go of getting their fix these days.

The Internet and cell technology provide ready access to a mind-boggling array of online places and spaces full of stuff to salivate over and buy. There was a time when shopaholics had to put some effort into satisfying their acquisitive desires and racking up credit card debt. They had to travel from home to distant stores and malls providing only a tiny fraction of the spending options now instantly available day and night wherever there’s a computer or wireless capability. Got your eye on the latest designer label fashions you can add to your already full closet? Want that gleaming set of new tools for a garage already plum full of equipment? Don’t bother to get up from the couch. Just reach for that digital pad or smart phone, and let your fingers do the shopping.

I think that by removing distance and effort from the shopping equation, technology puts the shopaholic increasingly out of touch with reality. Proving the point are testimonials from those who come to us at Credit Canada for financial help. Clients frequently impart the same story: when they buy stuff online, they don’t really feel like they’re spending money. They liken it to playing a game – or taking up a hobby – with the additional factor of being irresistibly driven to do so. But of course the consequences of the behaviour share little resemblance to the normal, worry-free outcomes of pursuing games or hobbies. Shopaholics almost always in the end need credit counselling because they must pay the piper; that is, unless they are fabulously rich, and often even in these cases the addicted soul experiences big debt problems.

To this point, I’m reminded of a story I read some years ago about the actress Kim Basinger, who out of nostalgia for her native Georgia purchased an entire town near the place of her upbringing. She bought Braselton (population 500) for $20 million in cash. The package included all of the commercial property and some private homes in the small community about 60 kilometres northeast of Atlanta. Apparently, Basinger gave no thought to what kind of return she would get on her investment outside of the fact that it made her feel good (Braselton is not exactly what you would call an economic hub). In a very unusual way, the actress got her fix as a shopaholic. But she also got her comeuppance, because it wasn’t too long after the purchase that she filed for bankruptcy. It only shows the lengths to which shopaholics are willing to buy, buy, buy.

So what’s to be done about the online shopping addictions? Well, it’s a question that was posed to me recently by reporter Alexandra Posadzki of The Canadian Press (https://twitter.com/alexposadzki). I told Alexandra, in so many words, that while online shopping can be a very convenient and time-saving exercise, it can also involve desperately obsessive behaviour. One of the keys to getting past the obsessiveness is to step back and treat money with the respect it deserves – and to replace bad behavioural patterns with good ones. All shopaholics – be they surfers online or simply viewers of The Shopping Channel - must learn to set specific financial goals such as paying off bills, or saving for a vacation, a wedding, or a home. 

Goal setting – and by this I mean goals put in writing - is important not simply from the point of view of sound personal money management, but from the standpoint of establishing new ways to deal with the emotional hole in one’s life that shopping is symbolically trying to fill. It’s frequently not enough for the shopaholic to simply employ self-restraint. Something more is needed to replace the bad habit with a good one.

The replacement process is fundamental to the cure. That’s where goals come in. As I told Alexandra, goals help curb frivolous spending because the shopaholic now has something bigger in life to strive for.

Necessarily, as we have found at Credit Canada among those seeking financial help, the whole curative process also involves some serious soul searching in order for the efforts and advice our Credit Canada credit counsellors provide to really be effective. That means examining the roots of one’s attitude towards money going back to even early childhood.

In the end, credit counselling for the online shopaholic really comes down to being a form of therapy.


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