Holiday Compulsive Shopping and Spending

by Kay Sheppard, LMHC

Overspending during the holiday season is an issue for many, but especially for compulsive spenders. The holidays are a good excuse to “let loose” and indulge in this addiction. Be aware that time spent shopping, even without spending large amounts of money, can be an addictive process. Both shopping and spending take us out of reality and away from our daily concerns and responsibilities. We escape into MallWorld where everything is beautiful and all things are possible. We get a false sense of power from the purchase. We become obsessed with it and develop lists of gifts for others, the house, and self. The advertisers would have us redecorate the house, purchase a new wardrobe and serve only gourmet food and drink. ‘Tis the season to spend, spend, spend. From Halloween to Valentine’s Day, we can go on a 90-day jag.

Credit cards have made it possible to buy now and pay later, mortgaging our future in order to have things now. Huge credit card debt is the burden of many Americans, but it is especially an ordeal for compulsive spenders. Often this spending and debt production is driven by guilt. Addicts often feel “less than,” and try to make it up to loved ones with material goods. Would any of us have the courage to cancel spending next holiday season? I think we would wonder if our loved ones would continue loving us. We are the victims of the mass media. Print and television ads relentlessly shout what we must do and be in order to create a Martha Stewart-kind of holiday season.

Take some time to write about the feelings you experience while shopping and spending. Talk about the high of the pursuit, the glitter and glitz of the department stores, the thrill of the music, the spirit of the crowds, euphoric recall of childhood holidays. Make a list of the ways that you are powerless over spending and shopping. Make a list of the ways that your life has become unmanageable due to that shopping and spending.

In recovery, we must find a way to bring sanity into our world of spending. There is something joyless about the word “budget”! It is a bucket-of-cold-water kind of word. But we begin to understand that with recovery comes responsibility. In recovery it is finally possible to take charge of our financial life. There is power in money management. How to Turn Your Money Life Around by Ruth Hayden is a wonderful resource for those who are serious about spending recovery. There are 12-Step programs for those who need support in this recovery. If you are interested in more help, the General Service Office number of Debtors Anonymous is 212-642-8220.


May Higher Power bless us with sanity and recovery this holiday season!