When you hear the word shopaholic, you might picture a woman in high heels carrying handfuls of shopping bags full of clothes, shoes, and makeup. That’s what I have always pictured, likely because that’s what the media and popular stories have shown us to be true. There are books about shopaholics. Entire book series about shopaholics. Movies about shopaholics. And the picture on the cover is always the same: a woman in high heels carrying handfuls of shopping bags full of clothes, shoes, and makeup.
For that reason, I have never identified with the term. Aside from the car I had financed, most of my previous debt was a result of dining out and partying — living a lifestyle I couldn’t afford because my credit cards made it affordable. It was not all a result of shopping. I would occasionally hit the mall with friends, but it wasn’t one of my usual pastimes. I did some mindless spending, buying books I didn’t really need, and going into a store for two things and walking out with five. But I didn’t wear high heels, and I never brought home bags full of clothes, shoes, and makeup.
So I wasn’t a shopaholic — right? It’s easy to look at a picture of a stereotype, point your finger at it, and say, “I don’t look like that, so I’m not that way.” By announcing this, we somehow feel better about ourselves, even though we’ve just shamed every other person who does fit under that umbrella. I may not have identified as a shopaholic, but there was no doubt I was a compulsive shopper.
I was a compulsive binge consumer of everything, really, including food and alcohol. I didn’t even know how to stop myself from binging on television for hours on end, something I wasted all the rest of my time in my 20s doing when I wasn’t out actually getting wasted. I didn’t identify as an alcoholic, either, though a medical professional likely would have identified me as such at one time in my life. I often lied about how many drinks I had, I lied about how much I spent, and I lied about how I paid for it all — always with cash, never with credit, because “I could afford it.” When it came to my shopping, I told all the same lies and made all the same excuses.
I was also someone who, on occasion, fell victim to the retail therapy trap and bought stuff in an attempt to make myself feel better. Drinking was my usual go-to. But when big things happened — the things that pulled the rug out from under me, causing me to fall to my knees and have to shakily try to get back up — that was when I did the most damage to my finances through purchases I couldn’t really afford. For me, those big things were usually breakups.
A few weeks before I decided to do the shopping ban, I started seeing someone new. Andrew and I bonded over our love of numbers and spreadsheets, then quickly fell into a comfortable groove and made each other laugh. Despite the fact that we lived thousands of miles apart, we had an instant connection. The honeymoon phase was as wonderful as the name suggests. Because Andrew was in a different time zone, three hours ahead of me, I woke up every morning to a thoughtful text message that ended with a heart or a kiss. We would talk on the phone for hours, late into the night, and have Skype dates where we would eat dinner and watch the same black-and-white movies at the same time.