With reports of rocketing food prices, spiralling energy bills and rents hitting the highest levels seen in years, you might expect that few people can afford to be splashing out serious cash at the shops these days – and retail figures suggest this is true.
Yet shopaholism remains a genuine problem for many of us – mainly women - that could actually be fuelled by feelings of unhappiness triggered by the recession.
There is overspending – which many of us are guilty of on the odd occasion – and there is an overwhelming compulsion to spend that is akin to an addiction like alcoholism, drug abuse or an eating disorder. This is known as shopaholism or oniomania, as it is called by psychiatrists .
It is estimated that a huge 10% of women worldwide suffer from shopaholism and are driven to spend far beyond their needs and affordability on a regular basis. Sufferers often experience feelings of low self confidence and go out to buy things to boost their mood. Yet when this temporary high ends, they are compelled to spend more and more – often the more expensive the purchase, the better they feel.
Figures from uSwitch suggest shopaholics in the UK have unsecured debts of £13 billion, with an average personal shopping debt of £3,353 - nearly three times the national average of £1,147.
If you suspect you are suffering from shopaholism, or are concerned that a friend or family member may be – the first step is to face up to the problem and admit it. A look through your bank and credit card statements should be pretty indicative – if you are regular buying things you do not need or cannot afford, ask yourself why.
To battle the problem, there are both short term practical steps to take, as well as longer term emotional triggers to address, possibly through counselling. Studies show shopaholism is often linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, so it some cases it can also be treated with similar medication.
Reining in spending requires a dramatic shift of mind set and commitment to only buy what you need. If you lack willpower, enlisting the help of a friend or family can help by giving you someone to be answerable to, perhaps each week or month, to track your progress.
Make a list when you go to the shops and stick to it. To aid this, only take the required amount of cash and start working in cash day-to-day as well – leave your cards at home, so you can't be tempted to pop out on your lunch break for an impromptu splurge.
Addressing debts is a top priority so speak to a debt charity if you are struggling to meet repayments on personal loans, credit cards or overdrafts. Try National Debtline, the Consumer Credit Counselling Service or Citizens Advice, and speak to your GP or visit the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy if you feel there is psychological trigger behind your spending.