Getting to the Root of Compulsive Overspending

“Ok. don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s only a VISA bill. It’s a piece of paper; I know exactly how much this VISA bill will be…. It’ll be about … $200. Three hundred, maybe. Yes, maybe $300. Three-fifty, max…

…Instead of doing what I normally do – look at the minimum payment required and ignore the total completely – I find myself staring straight at the bottom figure.  Something hot is blocking my throat. I think it could be panic.

$949.63. In clear black and white.” – Inspired by Sophie Kinsella’s, Shopaholic series.

Have you ever felt this exact, numbing, sinking feeling when staring at the amount due on your credit card bill?  Panic sets in, followed by confusion and righteous indignation. You make statements like: “There must be a mistake!” “This can’t be my credit card bill… I didn’t buy all this!” “Somebody used my credit card! Identify theft…that’s the only explanation!”

But it’s not.  These are your purchases and these are your debts. 

Now, here comes the fear, the shame, and the self-recrimination. You exhaust yourself in mental gymnastics trying to figure out how to make your minimum payment. You may even plot to hide this situation from your spouse and avoid another fight.  After all, this isn’t the first time this has happened… but once again, you promise yourself it will be the last!

How does this keep happening, you wonder? What drives me to buy things I don’t need with money I don’t have?  Is it an addiction? Is it a compulsion?  An impulse? Is it genetic? After all, aren’t my mom and dad exactly like me?

In my experience as a psychologist, spending money helps some people feel important, competent and worthy.  For others, it provides a feeling of being in control or a feeling of freedom. Unfortunately, these feelings promptly fade away once reality sets in, to be replaced with shame, helplessness and disappointment.

The big question is whether you can stop this madness. And the answer is “Yes”!

To do so, you will need to identify the situations that drive your behaviours and develop healthier, more functional coping tools. For most people, this means doing a deep dive into your behaviour, to uncover the triggers for overspending. Once you know how you make your spending decisions, you can develop a strategy to manage them. Some management tactics could be removing yourself from the situation or people that may be a trigger, or talking through your angst with a supportive loved one or psychologist. You may find that having an objective person, like a money coach, holds you accountable to your spending and may lead you to make permanent changes to your behaviour.

To succeed, you must be honest and supportive of yourself, while making a concerted effort to think differently about your spending. Personal work, such as understanding your pattern of overspending, is hard work. It also takes time. Yet, won’t it be worth it when your next credit card statement comes in the mail and doesn’t pose the threat of bankruptcy?