I shop, therefore Iâm broke

cube1067February 6, 2008

I am a financial backslider. I have begun again my journey to financial freedom; I’m full of fear because I am almost 50. I took a sharp detour from financial freedom four years ago, even though “totally debt-free living” was then a stone’s throw away.

Don’t know why my spending went out of control. I did notice that during this four year spending binge, I stopped keeping a spreadsheet of my spending and I stopped watching Suze Orman.

Well, I’ve resumed both of those habits now. Suze is helping me learn to forgive myself and start over, although I still hit myself in the head about once a week. One thing Suze says is if we do not determine why we are spending recklessly, we are destined to repeat the same financial mistakes. I’m living that truth.

Ten years ago I thought I had discovered why I spent money. Happen-stance threw me into a workplace where an old boyfriend worked. I saw his name on a work phone directory and called him up. Ours had been a torrid affair with a very emotional break-up, 10 years earlier. After we talked on the phone, and both agreed we did not want to meet, I remember hanging up the phone, going to my car and driving to the nearest mall where I charged $300 of clothing. That was the first time I had such a direct connection between my emotions and my spending. I realized that when I did not get emotional fulfillment from a person, I tried to get it by spending money on things.

Fast forward 6 years, it’s 2004, I have no mortgage, no car payment, no CC debt, one year of living expenses saved, and a $31000 HELOC balance. And I am crying at the smallest things for absolutely no reason. I also have no close relationships and can’t seem to foster friendship. It seemed to me that I was working to save money to continue this cycle of working and saving so that I could live to a ripe, secure, lonely old age.

Then, TV shopping came into my life. Finally, someone is ringing my doorbell to see me, but it’s the UPS man. When I watch the TV shopping channels, I rue knowing I am 40-something and I identify with the old ladies of 70 and 80 who are finding community with the TV shopping hosts.

I did substantial CC damage in these four years. Forced to turn the unsecured debt into secured debt in order to handle the payments. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

My goal this year, besides reducing debt, is to rid myself of the clutter of “stuff” in my home. By October I want nothing in my home that I am not using. I am selling things, donating to charity, and now I have a coworker who overheard me saying I am donating size 14 clothing to charity. Audrey is a size 14 and said she’s not too proud to take a handout. We don’t know each other well, she’s a little annoying, but we don’t work directly together. Another coworker gave her a nice coat, but I overheard Audrey complaining that “the top button was missing”. That turned me off. I once let an acquaintance come to my house and take some shoes off my hands. She tried them on, took what she liked. Then, 3 months later, the acquaintance decided she did not like all the shoes and wanted to give them back! I was amazed at her brashness, told her they were hers to do what she liked. I didn’t like that attitude.

The thing is, I am sitting here actually tense over Audrey’s acceptance of my hand-me-downs. Why the “F” do I care what she thinks?? I think therein lies some clues as to why I shop.

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If the thought of giving the clothes to Audrey is making you so tense, don't give her the clothes.

Tell her that you are donating all the items to (insert Thrift Shop, etc. of your choice here) -- because you can really use the tax donation. Then she is free to go to said Thrift Shop and select only the items that meet with her approval.

Someone else will really appreciate your donation.
And you don't have to deal with the possibility of your precious items being looked down upon by Audrey....

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 12:18PM
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I'm not a psychologist, but your financial insecurity may stem from loneliness. Based on your post, it appears that you are trying to fill a void in your life by periodic excessive spending.

You may want to consider joining a community organization, becoming involved in church activities, or donating some of your time to a charitable cause. These groups are always looking for new members. Not only will you provide a service to your community, you'll have an opportunity to make new friends. Who knows, maybe you'll find that perfect life companion!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 3:10PM
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Just consider the fact that Audrey might simply be a "taker". There are those who can afford but neither want nor need things and are happy to accept anything they don't have to pay for. It would give me more satisfaction to donate decent usable clothing to charity - thinking wouldn't it be great if someone had something nice to wear to a job interview, etc. etc. Let Audrey fend for herself.

Second, I don't think you've done yourself a disservice by stopping paying attention to Suze Ormond - she's another one in a long string of financial "gurus" who gets rich because people pay to attend her feel good seminars, buy her books and crap. Take what good advice you gleaned from her - ignore the rest of the seemingly persuasive rhetoric and claptrap - and use it to make a plan for yourself.

You don't need Suze Ormond to learn how to forgive yourself, learn how to pay yourself first, or to be able to write down every cent you spend keeping track of where $$ is going; what's frivolous waste or emotional buying. You've already determined that bouts of unhappiness and loneliness have led to overspending in the past. You've figured out what many people never do! Go from there.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 3:32PM
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One thing that helps fend off depression is physical activity. Join an exercise class; many are free or low-cost. It's amazing what a difference it can make in your mental health.

As duluthinbloomz4 says, forgive yourself and start over. Life is a series of exercises in getting to understand and motivate oneself.

To feel rich, do some volunteer work: Habitat for Humanity, your local Food Bank, any senior center. It's humbling and helps bring perspective to your life.

Love is attracted by love. One finds it in life by giving it to others. There are many different types of love, but all of them will enrich you, not impoverish you.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 4:37PM
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Consumption is ingrained in us and we know no other way. And even if we wished to amend our ways, how could all our retirement funds take the hit? America is built on borrowed money, spending and consumerism.

Fueling the problem of consumption is the games the Federal and World banks play with interest rates. They manage the economies in ways to fuel consumption and mask the real trend. We know the story...stock market goes down so there are cries for Federal bankers to lower interest rates...so the stock market can go up...fueled by spending of the consumer.

It is drug habit that Greenspan got us hooked on and we just can't get away from.

Our economy is not based on sustainable health - it is based low interest credit to encourage compulsive spending, debt and living a life of constant consumption with a 'disposable mentality' when it comes to durable goods.

All this consumption to artificially fuel our economy to make our retirement funds only go up contributes to more and more global warming and the depletion of our natural resources. Then the governments juggle the numbers to make the inflation figures seem artificially low, so everyone's retirement portfolio will make them happy so they will continue to buy and consume more...and on it goes....IT IS ALL WE KNOW

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 11:31AM
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....My discussion of this topic from an earlier post.

My compulsive spending was mainly due to...

1) Lack of real self worth.

I was constantly trying to buy self worth and happiness. Wanted to live the rich life, could not afford it and was defiant about it and resorted to "forcing" things. Also was envious and jealous of almost everyone. Was out to "show them" and "out do" them. Whenever you think about outdoing others, think about what road your on? Having a big ego and an excessive amount of pride are big factors too. Had little acceptance or gratitude. Now I get my self worth from living within my means, comfortably fitting within my space and gratefully accepting my current position in life...one day at a time.

2) Did not want to face the issues in my life.

I used spending, debt, clutter and other addictions to "occupy" my time. Per an article in the WSJ regarding famous con man Ponzi: "When a mans mind is concentrated, he is blind." It turned out to be a death spiral as I always needed to generate more drama and sickness to occupy my mind from dealing with the past problems. Was blind to it all until I stopped debting, spending and participating on many other addictions and started to recover. Study the Virtue theory of the ancient philosophers. It details how we get this way and our whole lives start to revolve around dealing with the problems we have created for ourselves. Restructuring my life got me back to sanity, although it has taken 8 years of hard work to get there. It didn't happen overnight and takes constant diligence to keep me there.

3) Self sabotage due to many irregularities, falsehoods, lies that was my life.

I lived a very unbalanced life and was out to consciously and subconsciously ruin my life. Being dishonest was the foundation of most of my troubles. Once I started with the 12 steps, debt recovery, did some inventory work, developed grateful acceptance. I had too many complexities in my life and worked on living a simpler life through the Voluntary Simplicity movement. Inventory work identifies all these past spiritual problems and gets them off your back when you give them away. No one is perfect, we have to continue to take inventory work as long as we live.

4) Another reason for my spending is pleasure; it just feels good to buy stuff.

If it feels good, I over do it to excess until it becomes painful. I think this is a big area of why we spend. It is just enjoyable and we have a hard time controlling it. Personally, I'm an excessive pleasure seeker and use pleasure to escape stress and unhappiness. I needed to find pleasure in more healthy and positive areas than spending as a hobby. Spending produces pleasure chemicals in the brain and I was hooked on this drug fix. Only trouble was it lasted a day or two and I need more spending to keep me high. This led to debt, clutter and self loathing and I was headed in a death spiral. "Maybe the next purchase would make it all better for me?" This was my only hope in life. I had nothing to look forward to other than what to buy next.

5) Greed, plain and simple.

I am very greedy and suffer from what I call "The Big Eye's" syndrome. Nothing is ever enough. I want it all. I want to buy everything that catches my eye. I want to eat all the food I come across, I want every woman that I lust after, and on and on with all the addictions. I have no natural means on my own to know when I am full or have enough of a thing without the help of the program. Practicing a program of grateful acceptance as well as being more generous with others and less selfish helped counteract my greedy tendencies.

6) Bordeom

Did not have anything else to do with my time, so I shopped.

An old post on "Positive Time Fillers"

Developing a list of positive time fillers was a big help with my addictions. As Thoreau wrote in Walden , "The devil finds work for idle hands." Before heading in this new direction, most of my time was occupied by what to buy next, overeating rich foods and getting fat and when I wanted a break from that I had a picnic basket of other addictive areas to get drugged up with. Most of my new activities are sport or movement related as they also serve the purposes of helping with my overeating disease and have the added benefit of improved health and don't produce clutter like some hobbies do. In addition they help with depression, balance and equilibrium and brain functioning. Now, keeping busy is not the cure all for addicts, but it is a necessary foundational pillar.

Other areas of importance are those activities that relax our minds or stimulate them for healthy growth potential. Bottom line: is the activity pleasing to us, healthy, nurturing and sustainable? You can also use the SCA guidelines for any questions about the activity: is the activity placing unreasonable demands on my time and energy, will it place me in legal jeopardy or endanger my mental, physical or spiritual health? Remember, as Jack LaLane said, exercise and eating healthy, natural foods are the King and Queen of good health. If you hate to move and hate to eat well, then do as he also said; "I developed a liking for things that are good for me."

Now I have much to look forward to in life for activities or rewards that are not destructive and are sustainable. Activities to occupy yourself that don't revolve around spending, eating, gambling, drugs or alcohol or other addictive areas only go so far in recovery though. You also have to be careful to take time to relax and not escape life through activity. Horace wrote, "Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt--You can run away as far as you like but you'll never get away from yourself." 12 Step work, reducing stress, repairing the wreckage of the past and living a balanced life all contribute to heading in the right recovery direction.

I've enclosed a few of some of my activities below for your perusal. Also be careful you don't find another excuse to compulsively spend with each new activity or sport you take up. That is something I have to watch. For instance. If you take up rollerblading, you buy one pair of skates and one set or protective gear, etc. You don't buy 5 pairs of skates 5 different skate bags and 8 sets of skate clothes, in all colors for each day of the week plus one extra for holidays. If you want different skates, you sell the old pair and then buy a different set. Everything is on a "one in ~ one out" basis to avoid compulsive spending, stockpiling and clutter.

Partial List of My Positive Time Filling Activities:

Hiking, Mountain Bike, Climbing Gym and Rock Climbing, Basketball, Rollerblading, Trail Running, Jet Skiing, Racquetball, Swim, Sun Bath, Fishing, Canoeing, Skateboarding, Weight Training, Target Shooting, Camping, Jogging, Kayaking, Motorcycle, Snowshoe, Downhill Skiing, XC Skiing, Yoga, Massage, Meditation, Dirt Bike, Free Lectures and Movies at a Local University, Snow Tubing, Snorkeling / Scuba, Napping or Relaxing in a Hammock, Bar B Q, Picnics, Library, Spiritual Studies, Free Musical Events and Concerts, Church Services, Scenic Seasonal Car Trips, Travel.

Exercise and healthy eating are the king and queen of good health. They must also sit on a thrown of low stress living. I hope you make the king and queen part of your life. Here is a small snip from Psychotherapy Toady regarding the benefits of exercise with addiction.

Why does exercise have such an impact on the emotional brain? Naturally, there is, first of all, its effect on endorphins. These tiny molecules secreted by the brain resemble opium and its derivatives, such as morphine and heroin. The emotional brain contains many receptors for endorphins, and that's why it is so sensitive to opium-it immediately radiates a sensation of well-being and satisfaction by hijacking one of the emotional brain's own intrinsic mechanisms. Opium has a powerful effect on emotions-in fact, it's the strongest known antidote to the pangs of separation and mourning. However, when derivatives of opium are used too often, they can become habit forming. Brain receptors become inured to them, so the dose must be systematically increased in order to produce the same effect. Moreover, because the receptors become less and less sensitive, regular pleasures lose all their power and potency-including sex, the pleasure of which is often reduced in drug addicts.

The secretion of endorphins brought on by physical exercise does exactly the opposite. The more the natural mechanism of pleasure is gently stimulated by exercise, the more sensitive the mechanism itself becomes. In addition to relishing sex and life's other big pleasures, people who exercise regularly actually get more pleasure out of the little things in life: their friendships, their cats, their meals, their hobbies, or even the smiles of passersby in the street. Essentially, it becomes easier for them to be satisfied, And in fact, the experience of pleasure is just the opposite of depression. Depression is defined, above all, by the absence of pleasure, more so than by sadness, which is probably the reason why the release of endorphins has such a potent antidepressant and anxiolytic effect. Stimulating the emotional brain by exercise also kindles the immune system. It promotes the proliferation of "natural killer" cells, making them more aggressive against infections and cancer cells. The opposite effect occurs with heroin addicts, whose immunedefenses collapse, often causing them to become gravely ill.

Exercise may also strengthen another physiological mechanism related to emotional health. This mechanism involves what we have already learned about heart rate variability. "'People who exercise regularly show a greater variability in heart rate and more coherence than people who do not. This means that their parasympathetic system, the physiological "brake" that brings on periods of calm, is healthier and stronger. A good balance between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system is one of the best potential antidotes to anxiety and panic attacks. All the symptoms of anxiety start with an overactive sympathetic system, a dry mouth, accelerated heartbeat, sweating, trembling, a rise in blood pressure. The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are always in opposition. Thus, the more stimulation the parasympathetic branch receives, the stronger it becomes-like a developing muscle.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 11:32AM
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"Consumption is ingrained in us and we know no other way."

I disagree.
There are plenty of people who have NOT got sucked into consumerism (and who are not in debt).

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 11:45AM
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oops... meant consumption, not consumerism.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 12:48PM
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My shopaholism stems from loneliness, boredom, and the fact that I have always loved clothes. I take refuge in my clothes. When I am feeling down, I play with my clothes closet, hanging things in groups, like items, color gradateditÂs a gift and a curse. Sometimes I feel my clothing drives a wedge between me and others, so my consumption certainly is not to impress other people. Right now for me, getting dressed is the best part of my workday.

Four years ago, when I was almost completely debt free, I did not feel any joy about my financial situation.

Fear is a large motivator for saving. Fear of being out of work. Fear of major illness. Fear of losing oneÂs house. What a drag.

The smug savers on this site are hard to take. I assume that financial security is rewarding to them in a way that I have not experienced. Back when I saved more than I spent, I felt like I was heading to a secure boring life. But now that I have recently spent more than I saved, I have a financially insecure boring life. So by comparison, secure and boring is better.

I have a single older friend who has never earned as much as I, at most she may have earned 50K a year, she is 61, no mortgage on a home worth 350K+, has 450K+ in retirement, and thousands in personal savings. She was divorced at 30, and at that time realized she had nothing. From that moment on she saved most of her money. She is the most ill-dressed person I know. She could use a car, had a friend willing to sell a 1 year used one for 9K and she turned it down for fear of spending the money. Fear again.

I saw a quote that said "Financial freedom is incredibly liberating". For some it is, I guess. For others, the emotions surrounding money will never let you feel free.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 5:16PM
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I think your latest post goes a long way towards describing an issue that has nothing to do with money (as you already know) and everythng to do with self-worth.

My DH and I are consistently heavy consumers. We have to prioritize what we spend our money on simply because there isn't enough of it to go around all the categories we like to spend on! We always had a difficult time saving money and regularly run the cards up, then pay 'em down.

We've had some good luck ($$ gift from my MIL) and some bad luck (bankruptcy in the '90's). But even now, in semi-retirement, our credit card charges run $1500 to 2K/month, although fortunately we are in the position of being able to pay them off entirely without paying interest. And we still save money, albeit by automatic deposit. I finally opened an on-line savings account because that way it takes enough effort to stop me from transferring money into the checking account two or three times a year.

You can look at financial independence from different perspectives, ones that are just as valid. Am I saving money and avoiding CC interest out of fear? Or am I being prudent so I don't NEED to fear late payment charges (that these days jack your interest rate up and damage your credit report) or those outrageous overdraft fees every bank now charges? I certainly know these from personal experience, and it wasn't pleasant. Why injure myself when a little forethought can avoid it from happening ever again?

Is my DH driving a used 1996 Buick Regal (that we hate) because we're afraid of spending money? Or is it because it's only a second car, and even our first car barely manages to achieve 10K mileage/yr? So spending excessively on cars (even though I love them and can reel off reams of boring statistics on Acuras, Audis, MINIs, Porches, and even the Bentley Continental GT - the car of my dreams) is a waste of money when we'd much rather spend it on going out to dinner once a week and buying dozens of books every year!

I bought a lot of clothes when I worked, and still like them - but the reality is, I retired back in 2006 and haven't worn 85% of them ever again. I love them, they're beautiful, I look great - but when I'm only going grocery shopping or gardening, I know I have to stop buying them because I'm not going to get any more use out of them.

I still have quite a few nice things; just enough to smile when I look at my closet. But right now there's a lot of people who could really use our cast-offs, so we've been periodically cleaning out the closets at least once a year when the charity truck rolls around. Last night we hauled out to the curb five big bags of good-quality clothing, all in perfect shape. Maybe someone will get more use out of them than we have, and that's good.

They are just things, material possessions. Nice to have, but I don't need them to feel good about myself. They are not and should never be, the source of true joy in my life. As I'm retired, I'm in a different place now where even though I love nice clothes, I don't need so many of them any longer. Believe me, I'd buy all new clothes in a heartbeat if I had any real excuse, so I understand a little of where you're coming from.

The question is, do YOU want to be in a different place or not? It sounds to me as if you are very conflicted and maybe even a bit depressed. No discussion forum of strangers is going to help you with such a fundamental problem, even if we would like to assist.

Because this IS a problem, one of personal viewpoint. It took you time to get into this mental place, and it is going to take you time and some effort for you to get out of it. You may need to find someone you trust who can help you work towards real change in your mental well-being.

Good luck and I wish you the best in finding a safe and happy place in life.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 12:25PM
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I have a financially insecure boring life. So by comparison, secure and boring is better.

That's a distinction you will have to make on your own for your situation. People who save and share their ideas aren't necessarily any more smug than those who spend and have all kinds of justifications for their expenditures. But what might come across - especially to those who choose a different path - is the belief that because I can do it, so can you. Obviously, that ain't necessarily so.

If your comfort level is hanging in your closet as opposed to being set aside - the part of me that accepts the fact that people make choices of their own free will, says so be it. But there is also the part of me that might harbor some resentment for the distinct possibly that the rest of us will have to pick up the tab for your indebtedness.

And what's wrong with a healthy dose of fear being a motivator? I'm just trying to weigh the alternatives here: a lifestyle with some restraint (boredom?) vs being the best dressed person living on a park bench.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 12:44PM
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I think the key to a healthy, happy, financially secure life is to really understand yourself, your weaknesses and what makes you happy.

A classic example is if you know you can be an impulse shopper, leave your CCs at home and frozen in a block of ice. Don't put yourself in situations with a high probability of failure. Know your own temptations and avoid them. If you know problems happen when your bored, fill your time with a part time job or volunteer doing something your enjoy. I have relatives in thier 60s that really enjoy their part time jobs and the extra money they get. This in addition to their normal full-time job. It also gives them a lot of self value because they don't sit around and feel sorry for themselves.

Forget the notion you can have everything in life, this is not limited to material items either. Make choices and write them down on paper. Don't let yourself skate on making these difficult decisions. For example, I forego eating out all year, but take grand vacations. One hundred dollars a week to eat out or $100 in your vacation fund.

Reward yourself for success, take the pile of money you save each month and distribute it based on your priorities (60% retirement, 15% vacation, 10% kid education, 15% short term wants). Live in the present, with an eye on the future. Keep track of your spending and make sure it is consistant with your priorities.

You are obiviously lonely, so get out and start doing things where your likely to meet people with common interests. Make a list of things you enjoy doing and then figure out how your likely to meet people who enjoy the same things. There are lots of opprotunities out there, you just need to figure out how to motivate yourself to move out of your comfort zone and try something new.

In the end, none of the keys to success work, unless you do.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 3:47PM
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Cube, since you love clothes and love to play with them, you might want to work with a women's shelter that provides interview clothes for women looking for a job. You could probably be of great help to these women, many of whom don't know how to put a professional outfit together.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2008 at 8:00PM
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