Awhile back, I wrote about the “The Reasons We Shop Too Much” and recently shared a more personal perspective in “Why Continue to Shop?” Today I’d like to look at how our compulsive shopping affects our spouses and loved ones.
Many shopaholics, who may be honest and trustworthy in other areas of our lives, engage in lying and hiding behaviors to cover up the fact that we shop too much. In “The Serial Return Phenomenon,” I wrote about how compulsive shoppers return items we buy as a means of extending our shopping. The returns fund future buying excursions and allow the shopaholic to get another “fix.” The following are some other duplicitous behaviors commonly committed by compulsive shoppers, myself included.
White (and Not So White) Lies
Has your spouse ever complimented something you were wearing and asked if it was new? Did you tell a “little white lie” and say you’ve had it for ages, even if you just bought it last week? If so, you’re definitely not alone! Many of us find those white lies just roll off our tongues without any malice of forethought.
A variation on the “this old thing” theme is when we say something was a gift or a hand-me-down when we actually picked it up at Nordstrom just the other day. If we actually do cop to having bought something new, we might deflate the item’s price by saying, “It was on sale” or “It was an amazing deal,” even if we purchased it at full price.
I know I usually thought nothing of telling these white – or not so white – lies. I’m not typically a liar, but my need to protect my shopping “addiction” would often supersede my desire for honesty. I have a long history of these types of lies, going back to my anorexic days, when I would tell my mom I ate at school or a friend’s house in order to protect my self-starvation. Old habits die hard…
Do you leave bags in the trunk of your car when you see your spouse’s car in the driveway? Do you shove the new top you just bought into your purse rather than carry a shopping bag inside your house? How about stashing new items in your kid’s closet or the spare bathroom cabinet so as to remove the evidence from view?
Hiding purchases is a common behavior of shopaholics and one I’ve engaged in many times. Not long ago, however, I got caught. I came home from a shopping trip and my husband wasn’t there, so I went out to the car to bring my bags into the house. Well, it turned out he was not far behind me and saw me with the bags! Needless to say, I had some ‘splaining to do!
For most of my marriage, I’ve been in charge of our personal financial accounts. I’m highly detail-oriented (as you’ve probably noticed) and I had more time on my hands, so it made sense for me to manage the household finances. In almost all respects, my accounting was impeccable, but occasionally I’d enter a purchase in the wrong category in QuickBooks. Something that should have been listed under “Debbie’s Clothing” somehow got placed under “Gifts” instead. Imagine that!
Another popular maneuver was a bit less shady. I actually would buy a gift for someone, but I’d also throw in a “little something” for myself for good measure. Then I’d just “forget” to split things out when I updated the accounts. In the “white lie” column under creative accounting are date changes. If I exceeded my shopping budget for one month, I’d enter the extra purchases in the following month. Of course, I was always “behind the 8-ball” in terms of my budget and never seemed to be able to catch up!
The examples above are just a few ways compulsive shoppers hide their spending by means of the financial planning tools we’ve come to rely upon. Some shopaholics also open secret accounts or get paid “under the table” for freelance work and use their covert funds to finance shopping sprees. I’m sure there are other covert accounting operations I haven’t mentioned, but you get the idea.
Buying with Cash and Variations Thereof
This behavior is an offshoot of creative accounting, but since I’ve used it so often, I decided it needed its own category. Instead of using a credit card for my shopping or alterations expenditures, I’d use cash. Consequently, those expenses wouldn’t fall under my shopping budget and I would appear to doing better with my shopping than I really was.
Buying with cash is something I’ve done in the very recent past, so I’m “outing” myself by writing about it here. The numbers I reported in “The Cold, Hard Facts: Finances” and in my monthly accountability posts are all at least somewhat “off” because my cash-based shopping was not included in the reported numbers. How off? It’s hard to say, but it may be as much as 15-20%, which is not trivial!
A variation on this theme is shopping at charity thrift stores. Since such establishments benefit legitimate charities, I would categorize the shopping done there under the Charity budget category instead of the Clothing bucket. Of course, the money did go to a “good cause,” but I was still being dishonest to my husband by not admitting the truth of how the money was actually spent.
Deflection and Placation
The final area I’m covering (not that there aren’t more areas of dishonesty to address) is deflection and placation. These are the behaviors of which I’m the least proud. There were many times when my husband would confront me about my shopping problem and I really did know it was an issue. But instead of being sufficiently remorseful and willing to change, I would often placate him with empty promises. I’d promise to do better and stick to my budget, all the while internally scheming about how I could continue to shop.
Another common tactic would be to deflect the focus of the conversation away from my shopping and onto areas where he spends a lot of money or the financial mistakes he’s made. While he doesn’t have a flawless financial history (who does?), his issues really weren’t the point and I knew it. I just didn’t want to talk about my shopping and I used my communication prowess to shift the focus away from me. Not a good thing to do to a wonderful man who has always been unflinchingly supportive of me and my life pursuits.
The Road Back to Truth
You may identify with all of my examples of covert shopaholic operations or just a few. My list is probably not comprehensive, but it does include the more common ways compulsive shoppers deceive their loved ones in order to continue shopping. How do we overcome these duplicitous behaviors? I feel the first step is to come clean, as I just have. As with many things in life, the truth shall set you free. Telling the truth may not make everything better, but it does start us on the road back to honesty – and to being our best possible selves.