I Am A Compulsive Spender

“Never spend your money before you have it.”  Thomas Jefferson made that quote famous, and it still rings true to this day.  It seems like common sense, right?  If you don’t have the money to buy something, don’t buy it.  

If everybody, including me, listened to common sense, nobody would be in debt and everybody would be living their dream life.  Nope, not happening.

When you mix this with the approximately 18.5%, or 43.8 million Americans that live with some form of mental illness, you are adding fuel to an already existing powder keg.  

I don’t hide the fact that I am one of those 43.8 million Americans that suffer from mental illness.  I have suffered from depression for about 20 years.  I have been on and off various medications and have recently begun to see a therapist to get a handle on things.  In doing so, I have come to realize the cause and triggers of my depression and how to better handle my situation.

One of my major symptoms was low self-esteem, which was triggered by various things, but I often turned to one thing to make myself feel better.  


Why shopping you might ask?  Why not shopping I would reply.  I don’t feel good about myself.  I am terrible, I am not as good as anyone else, I am worthless.  Having something shiny and new that will make my friends, or even strangers for that matter, jealous will make me feel better.

It didn’t matter how expensive this particular thing that I bought was, if it made me feel good inside I was buying it and I would worry about the financial repercussions later on.  Hell, I even bought a motorcycle at one point because I had a really bad period of depression in my life.  

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I have to tell you the truth, these things that I bought were pretty darn cool.  Really cool actually.  For about a week or a month.  Then I realized what that purchase really cost me.  I realized that it cost me not only money, but a piece of my life.  

It cost me more work to pay these things off, fighting with my girlfriend and now wife about things that I would buy and hide from her, and feeling like I was so out of control all of the time.

It’s not until my wife and I were talking to my therapist and mentioned one of my purchases and a huge fight that we had about it that I realized what I was dealing with.  As with anything in today’s society, it has a name, and that name is Compulsive Spending or oniomania.  

Compulsive Spending is a problem that occurs when a person has an obsession with buying and shopping that has negative effects on their life.  If Compulsive Spending becomes extreme, it can lead to Compulsive Buying Disorder.  It has serious financial repercussions but can also affect a person’s social and personal life.

As I did more research on Compulsive Spending, I found that it is often used a coping mechanism.  More specifically, like in my situation, when you are faced with uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or depression, you feel like going shopping to replace those feelings with happiness.

Spending money will provide a brief break from your negative thoughts and emotions.  Compulsive spenders also tend to tie their self-esteem and self-worth to their possessions, so the more cool things they have the better and cooler they think will be.

What Makes Compulsive Spending Different From Overbuying?

There are people who love to shop and buy cool things.  They are able to do it whenever they want.  Are they compulsive spenders?  Maybe, but they don’t have to be.  There is a difference between compulsive spenders and overbuyers.

The defining characteristic of the compulsive spender is that the spending feels irresistible.  Compulsive spenders will continue spending money even when doing so causes them emotional or personal distress.  They will spend money even when they have little money to spend, and even when the things they buy give them no joy or go unused.

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Obviously, being a compulsive spender triggered by mental illness can get you into financial trouble.  Imagine going shopping and buying something every time that you feel depressed or your self-esteem is low.  That could be the start of a vicious cycle that you will have a hard time getting out of.  You’re depressed, you buy things that you can’t afford so you go into more debt.  You become depressed about your financial situation so you go buy things you can’t afford, and it starts all over again.

I was stuck in this loop and still find myself in this loop every once in a while.  I am not going to lie and say that the impulse and habit goes away.

Signs Of Compulsive Spending

As I mentioned before, I had absolutely no idea that I was a compulsive spender.  I thought I just liked to buy things and I knew that it made me feel better.  I couldn’t tell you what I bought a couple of months later or how I accumulated all of my credit card debt, but at the time it felt great.

There are some definite signs compulsive spending and they include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about shopping
  • Spending money as a coping mechanism
  • Fighting with a significant other about spending
  • Feeling a rush when spending money
  • Feeling guilt or regret after spending money
  • Lying about spending
  • Going into debt to support overspending
  • Continually spending despite resolutions to stop
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones
  • Being more excited about making the purchases than owning the items
  • Not using everything you purchase
  • Feeling like the next big purchase is the one that will really improve your life

I can honestly say that I have 10 of those signs.  

Treating Compulsive Spending

Treating compulsive spending is a two-pronged approach.  I have discussed this with many people from the mental health and the financial world and they tend to agree that you will have to both receive some form of psychotherapy and well as financial advising.

The psychotherapy will more than likely show you that you are trying to fill a void in your life with the shopping and material things that you are purchasing.  The financial advising will hopefully help you develop a plan to get you out of debt, if you are in debt, and help you build wealth in the future.

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The first step is to put yourself under the microscope, especially if you are already aware of any other type of mental illness.  Track your emotional state and see if they line up with any purchases.

Your spending habits can be one part of your life that is negatively affected by your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.  You need to give it just as much time and attention as any other part of your life.  It is often the most mundane things that become the most devastating.  

  • I like to buy things, but I don’t think I’m a compulsive spender. I suppose that makes me an overbuyer. My biggest vice is Technology. It makes achieving Financial Independence difficult.

    What are some examples of purchases that you make as a compulsive spender?

  • Captain DIY says:

    I think it’s huge of you to talk about this stuff so openly, and I’m sure there are lots of people out there reading this and feeling like your voice resonates with them, and that is so cool!
    While I have never been a compulsive spender, I am a recovering Stupid Spender. In other words, I’m really bad at finding a good deal on things, and would much rather just buy the thing I want when I see it.
    It sounds like you are on the right path in combating this compulsion, and I wish you the best on your journey!

  • Lake Girl says:

    Nice post! Shopping can be both a high and a low. I pretty much do all of my clothes shopping at thrift stores these days. I can spend $14 in a few hours and end up with a whole outfit. Life is good in my little blue kayak!

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