Shopping has been my biggest vice for my entire adult life. In college, I spent tons of time (and money) shopping.
During my emotionally tumultuous junior year, I blew through several thousand dollars spent in places like Victoria’s Secret, Lush, and Wet Seal. I had so much lacy underwear and so many tips that I only had to do laundry once a month. Even though I would feel guilt with nearly every purchase, the guilt was never enough to stop me from doing it. I would cast a cursory glance at my bank statement every month, but I didn’t really pay attention until my card was declined while I was out to dinner with my mother. My bank account was overdrawn by several hundred dollars. I was mortified.
As I sat talking with the bank manager, we came up with a solution: another credit card. This one had a high limit and was linked to my bank account to avoid an overdraft again. While I was responsible for a few months after the incident, the same thing happened again. My reckless spending was back with a vengeance, and while I knew what I was doing was wrong, I couldn’t stop myself.
I didn’t start online shopping until a few years ago. When it came to shopping, I wanted instant gratification, and the only way to get it was from going into a store and walking out with a bag in hand. While online shopping didn’t offer the same instant gratification, it offered a similar kind of high. Shopping online made me more aware of what I was buying, but that didn’t curb my spending at all. I could still drown my sorrows or cope with my stress by buying new pairs of pants or sweaters and books. When the UPS or FedEx delivery person would pull up with a new box for me, I was positively giddy.
Online shopping gave me an odd sense of control over my shopping impulses. Because I had more options, I would painstakingly pore over every page to find the exact thing I needed, be it a dress or new jeans. Every item I put in my cart was a carefully curated choice, weighed and compared to other items similar to it based on things like color and how it would go with other things I had in my closet. Watching my cart fill was like that gratification I felt pulling things off my shelf. “I’ll wear this all the time!” I’d say to myself when I put the gray boyfriend sweater in my bag. Ditto another sweater in the same style but different cut.
I like having options. I would match shoes already in my closet to the dresses I’d see on screen and try to think of all the places I could wear the outfit. It became compulsive, especially because I hate paying shipping fees. Seeing the total tick over $50, even if it was only by a few cents filled me with a sense of calm and content. At my peak, I had my debit card number memorized because I used it so much that it just made more sense to memorize it so I wouldn’t always have to get up and get it. (I know!)
It’s not just clothing that I love to buy online; it’s music and books as well. I was always a voracious music fan, and Amazon filled a void left in my collection by the absence of music stores. I could find every CD from other countries, and I did — original albums by artists I love and all the albums of the British pop groups that I loved but could never find in the States. Logging into my iTunes account became dangerous; I couldn’t stop myself from buying everything I saw and wanted. When I began shopping for books online, I didn’t have to stop buying books when I could no longer carry them home; I could buy as many as I could read. Amazon boxes full of books would arrive at my doorstep once a month or so. I could build my own library at this point.
But the thing that really gets my motor running is a sale. There are no words to describe the ecstasy I feel when I see that one of my favorite stores is having a sale. When flash sale websites first started, I signed up for all of them mainly because I have expensive taste, but not the cash flow to keep up with it. But thanks to those sites, I could score the designer jeans I coveted for sometimes 60% off the original price. It was a rush. I still cherish the cowboy boots I got at 40% off. I actually had to unsubscribe from a lot of store emails because I was going crazy trying to keep up with them. I still keep a few though, mainly stores where I shop for myself and/or my son. When I shop for him, I go into a bit of a fugue state as I load my cart with shirts and pants. He is seriously one of the best dressed 3-year-olds I know, but then I am constantly trying to find places to put all of the clothes I buy him. I can’t let a coupon expire, and when I do, it literally hurts me.
Though I have learned how to control my shopping impulses to a degree, it still brings me an immense amount of pleasure that is hardly replicated by any other thing. I love sitting up in the middle of the night with all the lights off in my pajamas scouring the pages of The Children’s Place or Old Navy’s website. I love the thrill of finding the most perfect shirt for my son or the most perfect pair of leggings for myself. I am overjoyed by the email saying that my order has shipped and still get giddy when the box shows up at the door. I have learned how to wait and save my money until I see a really good sale, but I don’t think it’ll ever be something I can give up cold turkey.
I have too many other financial responsibilities now (one of them calls me “Mom”) and my addiction has almost ruined me financially one too many times, in addition to being a bone of contention in my last relationship. Oops.
I know I’m not alone when I admit that shopping is my one true vice. I’ve learned that it’s about moderation, and when I keep my budget in mind, I find it is even more enjoyable. Unless there’s a good sale…