Editorial Policy

7 recovery tips for shopping addiction

Allie Johnson

May 4, 2015

If you're a shopping addict, your credit cards may have enabled you to rack up 100 pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes, the same shirt in 10 different colors, every gadget seen on TV — and loads of debt.

There is good news, though: You can mend the way you spend and pay down the balances on your maxed-out cards.

The first step to overcoming compulsive spending is to admit you have a problem, says Terrence Shulman, a counselor and founder of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding. “Some people are in flat denial,” he says.

Compulsive buying can hurt your relationships, suck up your free time and decimate your finances, says April Lane Benson, a psychologist and author of “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.”

“The most common negative consequence is financial — being up to your eyeballs in debt and having no savings or retirement,” Benson says.

But you can get help and recover your finances. If you think you might be a shopaholic, here are seven steps to take:

1. Assess yourself. The first question to answer: Are you really a shopaholic? To find out, you have to take a serious look at your buying habits. Start by visiting Benson's website, ShopaholicNoMore.com, to take a free self-assessment test. The quiz asks questions about how often you go on buying binges, whether you get a high from shopping and if you've ever tried to quit shopping so much. It's also important to look at how long you've had an issue with overspending, Shulman says: “Addiction tends to be a pattern over time.”

2. Cut up your credit cards. “Credit cards make it easier to spend a lot more money,” Shulman says. Shopaholics may increase their credit use over time, getting more cards, asking for credit limit increases and running up balances, according to Benson. It might sound extreme, but destroying your plastic and closing your accounts is a good way to curtail spending and prevent yourself from getting deeper in debt, Benson says. “That's a cold turkey way to go,” she says. First, though, consider the credit consequences of closing your cards. By decreasing the amount of credit you have available, you lower your credit score, but if your temptation to shop is severely curtailed without the plastic, then close the accounts.

3. Create a spending plan. Just as compulsive overeaters still need to eat healthy foods, shopaholics still need to spend on groceries, household items and other necessities. So, make a budget that allows you to spend within your means. “The goal is not to never spend money, but to find balance,” Shulman says.

“The most common negative consequence is financial — being up to your eyeballs in debt and having no savings or retirement.”
–April Lane Benson, psychologist

4. Pay down your debt. Debt is a common problem amongst shopaholics, Shulman says. If you're in debt, create a plan to pay down your debt, Shulman says.

5. Figure out why you shop. Each compulsive shopper has underlying reasons for buying, such as seeking love and affection or entertainment, Benson says. Once you know your real reason for overshopping, you can figure out healthier ways to meet your needs, Benson says. For example, if you shop because you love the social connection you feel when you go to the mall with friends or chat up a salesperson, consider doing a volunteer activity or starting a hobby, she says.

6. Avoid temptation. A big part of recovery from compulsive spending is determining what your overspending  “triggers” are and making a plan to avoid them, Shulman says. For example, you might have to steer clear of your mall buddies or install software on your computer to block your favorite retail websites, he says. (For example, Cold Turkey, which is free, allows you to block specific websites.) “Your lifestyle may change fairly dramatically,” he says.

7. Repair relationships. It's fairly common for shopaholics to open secret credit card accounts, hide purchases and lie about their shopping, Shulman says. “This can feel like a betrayal to a husband or wife,” he says. As you recover, it's important to communicate honestly and re-establish trust.

How shopaholics can seek help

There's no need to go it alone when trying to overcome shopping addiction. Choose a method of help that fits your personality, lifestyle and budget, Benson says. Here are three options:

  • Head to the library. If you're self-motivated and want to get inexpensive help, you might try bibliotherapy, which involves reading one or more books about compulsive spending, Benson says.
  • Get support. Another option is to join a support group such as Debtors Anonymous, Benson says. “There are DA groups online, on the phone and in person, so it's very available,” she says. However, she says some DA groups focus on compulsive under-earners — people who don't make enough money to meet their needs — and so that might not be a good fit for a compulsive spender, Benson says. Simplicity circles, groups of people who get together to support each other on the quest for a simpler lifestyle, also can be helpful to compulsive shoppers, she says.
  • Go to therapy. You can also get one-on-one help or group therapy from a therapist who treats compulsive shopping, Benson says. The Financial Therapy Association offers a list of financial therapists. In some cases, because couples' finances can be so intertwined, an overspender and his significant other might need to seek couples therapy, according to Benson. Treatment can help shopaholics reduce the number of compulsive buying episodes and the time they spend shopping, Benson says.

The bottom line is that you can get better, if you accept responsibility and work at it. “People can recover,” Benson says.