We can be addicted to many different things, alcohol, gambling, food or even another person. We often light-heartedly add the suffix ‘aholic’ to describe the things we love like chocolate or coffee. Many of us may quip that we are hopeless shopaholics, but when our love of shopping intrudes on our wellbeing, it has a more sinister implication.

The meaning of ‘aholic’ is a person who can not stop doing or taking something. If an addiction like shopping gets a real grip on us it can ruin our lives just like alcohol or gambling. Shopping is a far more socially acceptable pastime than say alcohol or drug abuse because it does not have any socially repugnant behaviours attached to it, in fact it is regarded as a perfectly reasonable past time. However there is a big difference between a harmless trip to the mall with friends and chronic overspending that compromises our financial security.

The affliction of overspending affects mostly women but men can also be afflicted, it affects young and old, rich and poor. When we hear a woman say ‘I am addicted to shopping’ it is not just a turn of phrase it is as real as being addicted to drugs.

Many researchers are now confirming that compulsive shopping is a mental disorder rather than a silly trait of the female gender.

Compulsive shopping starts out much like any other addictions, at first it’s an innocuous social event then it escalates to damaging proportions. It becomes a problem when a pleasure turns into an uncontrollable urge. Severely affected individuals, like drug addicts and alcoholics, find it difficult to think about anything else.

Many compulsive shoppers feel a distinct, rush of adrenalin when they hand over their cash (or more likely their credit card). This rush keeps them going back for more.

So how can you tell if your behaviour is outside the realms of normality? There are a few obvious indicators, for example if you routinely buy items that sit in your home unopened for weeks, clothes hanging in the cupboard unworn, gadgets unused, new bedding unopened.

Marketers and retailers know all about the triggers that can fuel our spending desires and have devised alarmingly clever ways to hook you. They use techniques that engage all the senses, smell, sight touch, hearing and even taste. Take upmarket coffee shops for example. The aroma of the coffee, the free morsels of cake on the counters, cool jazzy music, inviting comfortable chairs, all to make you feel you are in someone’s luxurious lounge so you will not feel the pain of blowing R40 on a coffee and a muffin that would cost you less than R10 at home. Putting coffee shops in bookstores is pure genius, further entrenching the at home experience.

How to break the habit.

The simplest solution is to avoid malls like the plague and condition yourself to do other activities. The gym for example, would be a much better place to be addicted to.

If you think that you may have a problem with overspending then ask yourself what facets in your life are you unhappy with. It could be work dissatisfaction, a stressful relationship and strangely enough, financial stress could be the cause. Focus on dealing with these issues and you may find the desire to spend is curbed. Stress can be exacerbated by a poor diet and lack of exercise. Just one workout can release a cache of natural antidepressant chemicals from your body’s medicine cabinet, such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, all mood enhancers. A study at Duke University found that intense bouts of exercise are every effective in reducing feelings of depression, tension, anger and confusion.

The rush you get from buying things give you temporary relief from the pressures in day to day life. The fact that medical experts have used anti-depressants to treat chroming overspending underscores the strong link between spending and depression.

Take stock

Take the time to record and add up all the items you¹ve recently purchased and classify them as essential or impulse purchases. Seeing it all in black and white (and probably red) will amaze you and perhaps create a stronger resolve to kick the spending habit.

Goal setting

Creating financial goals is part of constructing a financial plan. Be clear about what you want, jointly with your partner if you are in a relationship and personally. Prepare a budget according to your committed goals. Then stick to it. Having a healthy respect for money and how it is spent is one of your most important steps toward financial stability.

Warning Signs that you may be a shopaholic.

1. If you walk into a store and buy items that you don’t need or can afford but you feel you can’t stop yourself, question your motives.

2. If you get into debt to feed your shopping habit.

3. If you write out cheques knowing there’s no funds

4. If you have a belief that somehow things will sort themselves out, but you have no plan in place.

5. If you are asking your friends and family to lend you money to support your shopping.

6. If you are losing friendships over borrowing money.

7. If the high that you achieve purchasing the item dissipates and you feel depressed as soon as you get home, there are definitely some emotional issues that need to be dealt with.

8. If you hide your new purchases from your Partner


Keep a detailed record of what you spend each day and a running total. It will give you a daily picture or what you are spending and keep you focussed on a budget.

Before you make a purchase, ask yourself these questions :What is my money situation like for the month? Do I really need the item? If the item weren’t on sale would I still buy it? Will this purchase adversely affect my family?

They say it takes 28 days to change an attitude or form a new habit. Start now and try and stay away from the malls for a month.

If you believe you are really addicted it may be worth your while going to see a therapist they could save you thousands in the long term.

See the addiction for what it is, make a list of all the negative elements of the overspending and what it is costing you so you get a full picture of its harmful effects.

Think positive, instead of saying I don’t want to overspend replace the thought with, I want to save, and identify a goal to work towards.

Iona Minton is a financial education consult and financial journalist. Iona’s 20 years of experience working in diverse financial markets has given her a broad and detailed knowledge of how the money world works. In addition to her writing and consulting, she is a professional speaker and frequently asked to do public presentations on the subject of personal finance. She is the author of two best selling books, Financial Fitness for Women and ‘The Property Game’ which helps first time buyers deal with the intricacies of purchasing a home. She is passionate about helping people build wealth from knowledge.

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