Nancy’s problems with spending began when her job stress increased. As she felt more anxious and depressed, she found herself turning to shopping as a way to make herself feel better.

At first, the “high” of a new purchase would help her forget her stress, but Nancy found herself spending more and shopping more often. As the bills piled up, she found herself hiding her purchases from her partner, and feeling guilty, too.

We all spend too much money from time to time, but there are some clear signs of compulsive spending:

  • Being preoccupied with shopping or spending money
  • Shopping when angry, sad, or anxious
  • Buying things that are not needed or too expensive for the budget
  • Experiencing a “high” after a purchase, but then having a mood crash afterwards
  • Having relationship and/or legal problems because of the spending behaviors

Compulsive spending has the double-edged sword of both positive and negative reinforcement. Your partner experiences positive feelings from the purchase, and also relieves the negative feelings that led to the urge to spend in the first place. This can make breaking a spending habit really difficult…but not impossible.

Common treatments for compulsive spending include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and sometimes medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. CBT can help your partner understand the motivations underlying the urge to spend money, and encourage other coping skills, such as relaxation techniques, exercise, and changing thoughts, to decrease the behavior.

Other tips for curbing compulsive spending include:

  • Cutting up credit cards (Don’t cancel them, as this can further damage credit scores!)
  • Avoiding TV shopping channels, catalogs, and Internet shopping sites
  • Not shopping alone. Go with your partner if they must go to the store.
  • Substituting another healthy activity for shopping when the urge hits
  • Attending a support group such as Debtors Anonymous