Hi. My name is Katie and I’m a shopaholic. It’s been 12 days since I last used my store card.
It all started so innocently, really. “Would you like to save an additional 15 percent today? You know the more you spend with us, the more you’ll save!” After years of avoiding credit cards, I ever so gradually flirted with the idea of my first store card to my favorite retailer and, two months ago, finally signed up. At first, it was pure bliss – buy now, pay later, qualify for discounts, accumulate rewards. In fact, the bliss had become a regular habit. Need to chill out? Go bum around my favorite stores. Just finished a tough week? Maybe there’s a sale going on. But sometimes my reasons for shopping weren’t always so leisurely. Feeling stressed out, discouraged or depressed? A new sweater would make me feel better! Feeling dissatisfied or alone? Maybe a necklace to go with it, too! And then I got the monthly statement…and it was clearly time to re-evaluate my relationship with shopping.
Millions of women are addicted to what is known as compulsive shopping. Compulsive shopping is “a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences.” One study found that compulsive shopping is more common among women than men. Just this morning, The Today Show featured a mother whose shopping addiction has her teenage daughter concerned about losing their home. Compared to other addictions, shopping is a seemingly respectable habit and often goes under the radar in our lives. If you’re mentally running through your receipts right about now, wondering if you might have a shopping situation of your own, consider some of these overspending-signs:
- Do you feel a rush of anxiety and excitement when you spend money?
- Do you shop as a pick-me-up when you’re feeling down?
- Do you buy things you don’t need or have multiple items that you’ve never worn?
- Do you spend an excessive amount of time shopping in stores, shopping online, or thinking about shopping, perhaps at the expense of your other responsibilities?
- Do you feel a sense of guilt, embarrassment or confusion after you’ve spent money?
- Do you conceal your purchases from your husband, family and friends?
- Do you spend more than what you’d planned to or have to return things after realizing you can’t afford them?
In her book, When Spending Takes the Place of Feeling, Karen O’Conner explains that “[Compulsive shopping] is a serious addiction for millions of women, every bit as serious as drug, alcohol, or food use.” She also describes some of the deeper reasons that drive women’s out-of-control shopping. For some women, shopping brings a sense of excitement. The temporary thrill we get from the swipe of our credit cards is a euphoric high. For other women, shopping lifts their emotions. Who hasn’t felt better by a trip to the mall after a tough day? And for some women, shopping masks a greater pain. It gives a fleeting fulfillment for those from emotionally distant homes. Or perhaps it provides a sense of self-worth by believing that they will be loved if they spend money on others.
Whatever the underlying reason, millions of women are shopping for fulfillment.
While chronic overspending and credit card debt are certainly manifestations of a shopping problem, they are merely symptoms of the cause. The solution to over-shopping isn’t in better financial planning, and a “Just Say ‘No’ to Sales” approach. In fact, you could stick to the most money-savvy, Dave Ramsey-approved budget and still have a shopping addiction. Or you could use just a petite-sized sliver of your financial pie on personal spending, maybe even completely denying yourself of everything but the basics, and still not solve the problem. Why?
Because the core of our shopping addiction isn’t about our money-management, it’s about our hearts.
You’re probably familiar with Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 5-7). Throughout Jesus’ message, He cuts straight to the motive of our hearts. And His words about money do just that! He warns us not to “lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (6:19-21) He also gives another sobering warning about money, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (v. 24).
But sandwiched in between these verses are these curious words: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (vv. 22-24) Perhaps you, like me, were wondering what eyes, lamps and darkness have to do with you and your shopping issues, almost as though Jesus got off-topic. But instead, He is cutting to the core of every issue with shopping and spending that you and I will ever face. The main issue isn’t about whether we have money, or how much we have, or what we spend it on. The deeper issue involves the perspective with which you and I view money, and how our devotion determines our direction. Our perspective is determined by where our eyes are fixed. And where our eyes are fixed, our hearts will follow.
The amount that we spend on things isn’t the primary measure of our hearts, but the affection that we give to those things is.
Our hearts are constantly being tugged toward the lure of the temporal, whether we’re spending $10 or $10,000. Before we ever had a problem with where our money went, we already had a problem with where our eye went. If shopping, thinking about shopping, or the next thing you want to shop for becomes the focus of our hearts and the source of our joy, we’ve set our eyes in the wrong direction and are enslaved to our own skewed perspectives.
There’s a lot of good advice out there on overcoming compulsive spending. Cutting up the credit cards, leaving your wallet at home when you shop and joining a twelve-step program can all be helpful decisions. But, as Jesus’ words teach us, controlling our circumstances still won’t change our hearts. So how do we break the cycle of addiction that keeps our shopping habit from going out of business? Here are a few places to start:
- Exchange it. We need a different kind of transaction to take place in our lives. That starts by acknowledging our shopping addiction for what it is – loving material things, giving in to our impulses and appetites and our attempting to satisfy a need apart from God. In exchange, God gives us His empowering grace to break the cycle of addiction.
- Get a personal consultation. Ask the Lord to reveal your heart and the motives behind why you shop. Perhaps you would benefit from the help of a Christian counselor to get to the core of your overspending habits.
- You can’t have just one. Don’t try to go solo or willpower your way to breaking a habit. Open up your life to godly accountability. On your next shopping trip, bring a trusted friend with you who will help you keep from purchasing more than you’d planned. Invite someone to ask you about the time you spend shopping online and consider staying off store websites for a while.
- Return it. What do you have in your house right now that you could give away to someone else? (I can think of a few things myself!) Not only does giving away things help us simplify our lives, it also helps to free us from the anxiety that often comes with acquiring more and more things. (For more on this topic check out “The Discipline of Simplicity,” in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.)
- Play Dress-Up. This is a fun one! Find some friends who are willing to contribute items from their closets and trade your clothes and accessories for a month at a time. You’ll get the variety of wearing different things. But even more, you’ll have to entrust your own things to others. Should something come back a little worse for wear, you’ll be reminded that it’s just stuff after all!
While I may be a recovering shopaholic, the more I confront it the more God frees me of from shopping for fulfillment. There are days when I’d rather spend an hour browsing online rather than face the discouraging mass of reading yet to be finished. I’m realizing that the thrill of the “new” wears off as I wear it out the door, and doesn’t take away feelings of loneliness. And as much of a fun escape as it might feel in the moment, spending the day at the mall won’t fix the worry I feel when I don’t trust God with my circumstances.
It isn’t easy to confront why we do what we do. But it is the start to a whole new way perspective. The price for our freedom from compulsive shopping has already been paid. (2 Cor 5:21) And we can’t max out on the grace that we need to overcome our addictions. Christ has provided all the fulfillment we could ever need. (Col. 2:10) We don’t need to shop for it.
Katie McCoy is pursuing a Doctorate in Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary. When she’s not studying for her classes (a rare occasion!), she loves hanging out with friends, eating sushi, learning new words and is currently a political news junkie. Connect with Katie on Facebook or Follow her on Twitter!read more