What turns women into spending-spree monsters? Shopzilla - Reining in buying binges

Published: Saturday | April 25, 2009

Shaunette Jones, Staff Reporter

You literally will your legs to walk by that shopfront window. Then some invisible imp forces you to shuffle back. The mannequin waves back, wearing that God-I-love-it purple top that would go perfectly with your sexy stilettos.

As if in a trance like those zombies in Dawn of the Dead, you hand over the debit or credit card and make sweet surrender to animal desire. You've been had. Again.

They can't help themselves. They're hooked. They are shopaholics, just like a 29-year-old Montego Bay-based hotel exec, who said shopping was akin to routine activities like eating or walking.

"Shopping was like a drug, which, admittedly, I used a lot of to overcome any negative emotions plaguing me at any given time - boyfriend troubles, job issues, family dramas. The immediate experience was always one of pure exhilaration," she told Saturday Life. She requested that The Gleaner not publish her name because of company policy.

Let it go!

With a smile of a woman who has been there, done all of that, she added, "Once you have the money, there just seems to be all these pretty (frivolous) things that, suddenly, you absolutely need to buy and it's almost like the cash/card is burning in your hands and you have to let it go! I was indeed a shopaholic!"

Karlene Gordon agrees. "Shopping makes me feel great! The prospect of looking exceptional, post handing over my cash, is an adrenaline rush."

The 31-year-old Jamaican educator, who resides in the United Kingdom, said, "I especially enjoy shopping for shoes, even though I might not have anything to wear them with or a have a special occasion on which to wear them.

"The piles of boxes of shoes in my flat make me feel accomplished, like 'I bought these, they are mine.' Every woman should feel this way when she shops!" she exclaimed.

And so they should, but as most persons will learn or have probably learnt at some point, overindulgence has disastrous affects.

For the MoBay hotel exec, that weightless, blissful feeling during shopping often disappeared upon reaching home and looking at the purchases and the swirl of figures on receipts - a hard thud back to reality.

"It's soooooo addictive," confesses Romayne Williams, 33, health practitioner. "I give myself pep talks all the time and sometimes I'm proud when I actually go into a store and leave empty-handed. But that's like 10 per cent of the time."

She has a big smile on her face but it belies the real pain she has had to deal with because of her shopping addiction. For her, the thrill of spending left a bitter taste in her mouth.

"When I got my first job, I couldn't save much. Almost every week, I would find some reason to buy clothes or shoes. Every month, after payday, I would splurge, and big time too. And I did it for me and my family!"

When shopping, she would scoop up things she thought she needed, hang on to them until she got to the cashier, just so no one else could have them.

"I would get strange looks from the cashier or from other customers. But I didn't care!"

Ballooning credit

In all of this spending, the credit kept growing. "It didn't help that I got depressed easily. Some people eat when they're depressed. I shop. And my bank accounts proved how depressed I was. At the end of three years of my working life, I had nothing to show for it. I was racking up huge bills," Williams said.

She realised she had to make some serious changes. She prayed about it and placed a great deal of her income in long-term saving schemes. She cancelled her credit cards and began making concrete plans for the future. With realistic goals in sight, the urge to save more and shop less became greater.

Gordon, on the other hand, does not consider herself a shopaholic. She firmly states: "I simply love shoes. If I could get them free, that that would be cool too, but not many women have that luxury, so I have to buy them.

"Usually, I stay away from my favourite shoe stores after one or two buys. That way, I won't go over budget for that month or feel 'forced' to buy another."

Our MoBay hotel exec explains that when she suffered from shopaholism, she was living at home. She had to contribute to groceries and utilities but was not burdened with payments of any sort, thus, more cash to spend.

"I was a shopaholic (albeit a mini one) but I still had a bit of control on my finances."

She says that while she still goes crazy on several occasions - twice-monthly sprees with girlfriends or on special days - she shops knowing how much she has to spend and how much she wants to save - at least by the next pay cheque! And even within the blinding whirlwind of fabulous outfits and jewellery, she can still make out the outlines of her dream - first car and home.

With pride, she said, "So far, I have managed to acquire one of these. I spend on things which I consider to have much better resale value - even in these scary financial times.

"Instead of craving the latest handbag or that darling pair of stilettos, I am more focused on tending to my vehicle or finding the right piece of furniture, appliance or accessory to best outfit my new abode!"

Male shopaholics too

But are women the only ones suffering from shopaholism?

A resounding no comes from Williams, who says her friend has the addiction. The father of two has the incessant need to purchase video games, computer parts, CDs, DVDs and trendy cellphones.

"I can't help it. I have to upgrade. If I had more cash at my disposal, I would purchase more," the 40-something, who preferred not to disclose his name, told Saturday Life.

He says he sells the old stuff as he buys the new, so he has control of his finances.

"I cannot recall being in deep debt. I think I manage my funds well enough."

Though shopping is a hedonistic delight, that giddy rush you get at the store can turn into a stomach-churner when the cashier hands over the 10-foot receipt. Don't mess up your mortgage over those so-called must-have outfits.

* Romayne Williams is a pseudonym.


Shopaholics anonymous

1. Browse for bargains

Smaller department stores (especially those Chinese-owned stores) offer great prices. The Silver Slipper Plaza in Cross Roads, bargain stores in downtown Kingston, Linstead, May Pen and MoBay are full of inexpensive surprises.

2. Mix 'n' match

Cultivate signature style. Go through your closet and pair pieces you never thought could be worn together. Anything goes these days (but no need to go over-the-top, Lady Gaga-style).

3. Play with colours

Combine different hues, especially bright shades. You can set yourself apart from others with dazzling colour mixtures.

4. Shine a little

Some people might consider synthetics like metallics and patent tacky but, if worn correctly, they can give you value for your dollar and actually look quite lovely.

5. Lay off the brands

While a popular brand-name outfit or that eye-catching handbag can put pep in your step, it can also dig a hole in your pocket! Below-radar brands can work - it's all about how you wear and care your purchases. Who's going to read your labels anyway?

6. Sharing is good

If you have sisters or very close girlfriends, sharing a top, purse or pair of lovely shoes now and again won't hurt, once it fits. Warning: Return to owner or there could be a catfight.

7. Think before you shop

Ask yourself: Do I really need this? How will I pay for it? Can I wait? Where will I put it?

8. Don't shop solo

If you know your weakness, ask a friend or family member, who can be your conscience, to tag along. They can track your purchases or nip that need to grab everything. You'll be forever indebted to them. It's cheaper, trust me.

9. Avoid buying the farm

It might sound mean, but it will help your pocket not to patronise everyone. Find creative ways of showing you care instead of purchasing gifts for family and friends. If you must buy gifts, make a list and stick to it.

10. Use cash

This might seem to be defeating the purpose, but handing over cash is much harder than using credit cards. Cash might help you keep a better check of your spending. However, if you're a card lover, point-of-sale limits might make it harder to spend on lots of small stuff that make a big debt dent.

11. Steer clear

Identify those things that make you splurge and avoid the aisles and stores that offer them. Run! Your life depends on it. Seek counselling or buy a fashion magazine and dream instead of spending.

12. Treat yourself

You don't have to be a spendthrift but once, twice or three times a year, spend big on yourself. If you clutch too tightly to your purse, shopping starvation might drive you to almighty binges that leave you penniless and peaceless.