Shopaholism: Reasons, Triggers, and Aftershocks
In her book To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, April Lane Benson speaks of overshopping as a “coping mechanism, a way you temporarily distract yourself from authentic personal needs that aren’t being met.”
An emotional and/or compulsive shopper would typically go spending money to overcome a bad mood, to escape facing pressing issues, to gain a sense of importance and security, to rid off boredom, loneliness, emptiness, etc… to feel loved, to hide behind a perfect appearance, and many other causes.
A digging-for-causes phase is proceeded by an identifying-the-triggers phase. “A trigger is a starter…anything that inclines you in particular toward shopping.” Triggers could be situational (sales or birthdays), cognitive (buying items you think would make you look better), interpersonal (specific people always take you shopping), emotional (anxiety sends you to the mall), or physical (shopping to distract yourself from a physical condition).
Whichever of the previous charms money out of your pocket or your bank account, at a point your shopping party will be over and you will be left with your receipts, upon which an inner voice rails at you! This is your guilty conscious opening your eyes to financial, interpersonal, emotional, professional, physical, and spiritual aftershocks. An overdraft you can’t afford, lies you can’t stop telling, secrets you can’t reveal, and places you can’t show up at. Mixed feelings of guilt, depression, and anxiety you can’t hush up. Dwindling professional performance you can’t focus on improving. A health issue you can’t afford attending to. An emptiness you can’t fill. All those are examples of what you face in the aftermath of your shopping spree. These are typical aftershocks experienced by overshoppers. These are instances from the life of Rebecca Bloomwood—the ultimate shopaholic of modern English chick lit.
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic is the first in the Shopaholic Series where Sophie Kinsella takes us to the world of Rebecca Bloomwood. It’s Becky’s mess of a life we laugh at and identify with. It’s her debts we calculate.
At 25 years of age, Becky is pretty much stuck in a job she hates; she is a financial journalist at Successful Saving. She offers people advice as to how to manage their money but applies none herself because shopping is her passion. The only wealth she seems to have is in her wardrobe: her top-designer clothes that cost a fortune (Becky would never tell her mom the real price of any of her clothing items). The only investments she can make are buying with advantage points and at a sale.
She has a shopping pattern so crazy that at moments you would be compelled to yell at her “Don’t buy this!” and “You can’t be serious!” But when it comes to shopping, nothing can stop her. Becky is buying for all sorts of reasons, and lack of them; her triggers are commonly emotional. She is often counteracting her boredom with a small—or huge—purchase, compensating her half-hearted performance at work with exuberant spending sprees, taking her frustrations and failures to the mall, and taking it out on her debit and credit cards.
As for situational triggers, she has no immunity: birthdays mean buying multiple gifts for the same person; sales are definitely not to be missed—not withstanding overdue payments; and special offers entail stocking up goods. It is as though once she walks into a shop, she is hypnotized. She is back to her senses only when she receives the bills and so often she panics at the items listed there. Still, she keeps spinning out of control.
To handle her ever-growing bills and bank statements, Becky follows a unique approach: she drops the “ominous-looking” envelopes in a skip on the way and that’s enough to relieve her. She is always making up unbelievable fantastic stories to escape arranging a meeting with the bank manager to handle her huge overdraft. She has a lie for every fix and an excuse for every purchase, and in that she is tremendously resourceful.
When she is not sweeping debt statements under the carpet, or living in a state of denial and pretending that the outrageous bills must have been sent to her by mistake, Becky retreats inside her mind in perfect situations where a mix-up would happen at the bank and someone else would pay her dues, where she would win the £10 million lottery, or more substantially, where she would marry a millionaire (that last one has some foundation in reality indeed; she was only taking a situation further.) She would take a tiny piece of reality and transform it in a whole perfect world, leaving the former to rot even more. Becky tries to Cut Back and to Make More Money, none of which works for her.
The shopping mania goes unrestrained and the debt keeps growing. The climax is when Becky runs away to her parents’ house from an alleged stalker, who is only her bank manager trying to get her to a meeting to discuss her crisis. Finally, however, she manages to write an important story in The Daily World that gets her hosted on TV and from there opens the door for a more flourishing and fulfilling career, makes people who used to take her for a joke see her in a totally different life—including Luke Brandon, the famous top-ranking millionaire of Brandon Communications (with whom she has earlier had a few misunderstandings and/or clashes). With such a favorable twist, Becky pays her old debts and gets into a relationship with Luke Brandon.
– Avoid your danger zones. Limit the amount of time you spend in any store. Limit the number of stores you visit. Beware of displays that almost require you to ask for sales help (with sales help, you are more likely to buy.) Reduce your exposure.
– A stand-alone store has a milder effect than a whole mall.
– Don’t get “on a roll.” If possible, leave the store after your first purchase.
– If you have a choice between a handheld basket or a cart, opt for the basket. You’ll buy less.
– Consider hold and layaway, two strategies that can protect you from your more ardent urges.
– On the Internet:
* Do what you can to keep uninvited Internet retailers from finding you or learning about you.
* Remove all shopping milieus from your “favorite places” directory and avoid “bookmarking” temptations you happen across.
 Benson, April Lane, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, p.13-25
 Benson, April Lane, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, p.40
 Benson, April Lane, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop,p.244-45