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Has Your Retail Therapy Become a Shopping Addiction

By Lori Butler December 29, 2021 Mindset

In her early 40s, Mary divorced her multi-millionaire husband who had been successful building a mortgage industry empire across 22 states. Her alimony of $15,000 plus $8,000 a month in child support, a fortune for some, had been barely enough to support her “ladies who lunch” lifestyle in Newport Beach, CA.

Still, she was able to leverage her house and run up her credit cards to keep her Gucci handbag lifestyle of shopping at only the finest stores for something when she felt depressed. As she aged and the kids moved from home, her child support ended, and her husband went back to lower her alimony.

Depressed now more than ever and in her 60s, Mary just can’t stop herself from shopping, even though she doesn’t need most of the luxury items she buys and can certainly no longer afford them. Does Mary have a problem or is she just stubborn?

Why Do Older Women Feel Compelled to Shop?

There are various reasons that might explain the need of an over-60 woman, like Mary, to buy, buy, buy. Some, like Mary, have been shopaholics most of their lives. Just because she got older, and had less discretionary income, didn’t mean that she could automatically adjust her deeply ingrained behavior.

In fact, even seniors who weren’t big shoppers previously can increase their spending in an attempt to ward off feelings of boredom, depression and loneliness.

As family and friends dwindle alongside our own abilities to remain as active as our younger selves, retail therapy can give us older women a big boost of “feel good.” And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, family members don’t suspect that an increase in online ordering, television shopping and mail-order catalogs is a symptom of a shopping addiction.

We’re just protecting our health, they reason. Unfortunately, this increase in shopping activity comes at a cost and can turn addictive.

In more challenging circumstances, hoarding accompanies reckless spending. Studies have shown that symptoms of compulsive hoarding typically emerge before age 20. However, we don’t have to go too far from the TV screen in our own living room to see shows featuring seniors barricaded by stuff in their own homes.

I suspect the reason why these shows feature so many senior women is that behaviors do intensify and grow as we get older. That, coupled with our limited mobility and other age-related health issues, will eventually make it hard for us as older women to cover up a shopping/hoarding problem. We will get found out.

Mental Health Issue Vs. Bad Habit

If an older woman, who has had a track record of spending her money responsibly and always kept a tidy home, begins overspending and accumulating items this could be a first indicator of something more serious. Overbuying combined with sudden extreme disorganization may indicate a cognitive decline or other serious mental health issues.

Dementia can play a role in excessive shopping. I noticed this in my own mother when she first got “forgetful.” She actually needed some of the items she was buying, but when she lived alone and her whole freezer was crammed full of her favorite ice cream.

I realized she was shopping over and over again for the same thing and not remembering what she already had at home. Oddly enough, in her end stages of dementia, the only thing the nursing home could get her to eat was butter pecan ice cream. No matter what, she claimed she hadn’t had any in years although she had just eaten it for breakfast.

Dementia patients like my mom eventually lose the ability to manage their finances responsibly and understand the consequences of their spending. What’s worse is she became suspect to being taken advantage of by others when family members weren’t around.

She’d been talked into putting her home into a reverse mortgage to pay off all her overspending and it was too late to do anything when we discovered. How did my mother, the once Coupon Queen of Dorothy Drive, become and overspending hoarder?

Signs of Shopping Addiction

Some of the signs that you may have a shopping addiction include:

Spending More Than Planned

You may spend far more than initially planned every time you shop, or use money meant for other things to cover the costs of an unplanned shopping excursion.

Lying About the Problem

You may stretch the truth – about what you purchased and how much you spent – to others to cover up your habit.

Compulsive Purchases

You compulsively buy things you don’t need, or buy multiple copies of the same item, such as 10 pairs of the same pants.

Chronic Shopping

Your unhealthy shopping habits have become chronic, such as you overspend every time you shop or shop at a highly frequent rate.

Feelings of Guilt

Many shopping addicts experience feelings of anger and remorse often followed by sadness once the “high” of making purchases wears off. If your mood tends to get worse after you arrive back home, you may be suffering from a shopping addiction.

Ignoring Consequences

Those who suffer from shopping addiction often keep shopping despite knowing the bad outcomes, like broken relationships, financial hardships, and declining mental health. For individuals with a shopping addiction, they simply aren’t able to stop. It often requires treatment that teaches how to overcome such out-of-control behaviors.

What You Can Do to Curb Your Shopping Addiction

If you’re addicted to shopping, or have other (additional) addictions, like to alcohol or drugs, a gender specific residential or outpatient program like the one offered at New Directions for Women can definitely help give you the support you need to tackle each addiction, one at a time.

Whether you have a substance use disorder alongside a shopping addiction such as you drink, smoke or pop pills to ease your guilt from overspending, consider calling a hotline or a center like New Directions for Women at (800) 939-6636 to seek help. You may just very well be buying more time for both your mind and body by choosing recovery.

You can also check out our article on alternative shopping techniques.

How often do you shop? Do you find yourself shopping more since the pandemic began? What do you buy most often? Have you noticed shopping turning into an addiction?

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The Author

Lori J. Butler, CFRE is the Director of Development for New Direction’s for Women Foundation in Costa Mesa, California. To find out more about this special non-profit recovery center for women see: www.newdirectionsforwomen.org.

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