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Spending addiction is real and those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction might be vulnerable to it without really giving it much conscious thought.
Buying stuff is like a drug. Going to the mall or to a store and making an impulse purchase gives us that little rush of excitement. The rush comes from splurging on ourselves, for rewarding ourselves with something. It’s like the feeling of winning a prize for a six year-old. Except almost all of us are vulnerable to it as adults, including people both in and out of recovery.
So we might waste some money and splurge on ourselves buying stuff we don’t truly need and feel bad about it. Some of us will notice these destructive spending habits and take action to correct it. Others might have a harder time doing so and continue to waste money on non-essentials, keeping our financial life in a perpetual state of imbalance. We never really get ahead or build up any savings because we are too busy feeding our spending addiction.
Things get really out of control if you bring the idea of credit into the picture. Now we are spending money that we have not even earned yet, just to get that little rush of excitement that is similar to a drug addiction. In almost every case we are buying stuff that immediately loses value and so we are squandering money on useless stuff.
When we use credit to buy something, it is like selling ourselves into slavery. We are ensuring that we are going to have to work hard in the future in order to pay that debt down, just to get back to even. We might get a rush of feeling when we make the purchase for that slick new flat panel television, but after a week or so, that feeling has worn off, and now we are stuck with the bill. Our world crashes down around us and we have to figure out how to tighten up our spending in order to manage our accumulated debt.
There are many parallels between impulse buying and drug addiction – not the least of which is this cycle of euphoria followed by crashes.
Those who have a spending addiction are definitely experiencing powerlessness in their lives. Even after a few months of running a negative balance sheet with their personal finances, many people cannot bring themselves to get their spending under control.
There are only 2 solutions to the credit addiction equation: you can spend less or earn more. That’s it. Most people have a fairly steady rate of income – it’s not going to change much. Therefore, you have to stop frivolous spending. This is the only real solution for most people who are struggling with money.
When you try to present this truth to people, it is a real turn off for them. It is the same as telling an alcoholic that abstinence is the solution for them. If you want to overcome your financial problem, you have to tighten up your spending habits. Period. And for someone who is addicted to spending, someone who thrives on that rush of euphoria from making that next purchase, this can be a very depressing truth.
The only way to break through this spending cycle is for someone to confront it head-on and stop spending. After a few weeks of abstaining from frivolous spending, the addict will discover that they are no less happy than they were before. Life goes on and they find that they can still enjoy themselves without having to constantly spend on things.
The problem is that the impulse buyer does not really believe this at first. Remember that they are addicted to the rush of buying new junk, and they tie their level of happiness to that euphoric feeling. This is the root of why they feel powerless. They believe they will be miserable if they stop spending. It’s going to take a few hard weeks of abstinence before they realize that their happiness in life has nothing to do with buying more and more junk.
It is not hard to see why the credit addict has an unmanageable life. Their addiction is such that they cannot manage their finances, and for most people this will be devastating. The long term consequences of credit addiction can be very severe. People can potentially lose their car, their house, their livelihood. Some people go so far as to commit suicide due to overwhelming debt.
But even without reaching that level of desperation, many will find the constant cycle of spending and debt to wear them down. The feeling of hopelessness that comes from constant debt is not completely unlike the feeling of being trapped in a cycle of drug or alcohol addiction. Being deeply in debt can be like having a black cloud hanging over your life. It taints your ability to feel freedom.
Solutions to credit addiction
If you have credit addiction then you must read this book here. There are a number of personal finance books out there but Your money or your life is considered to be the best one, especially for those who are seeking financial freedom. I have read the entire book and it definitely transformed how I thought about money.
Instead of making so many impulse purchases, I can now mentally translate a potential purchase into the hours of labor I am going to have to put in so that I can pay for that purchase. Instead of just swiping a credit card and getting that rush of euphoria, I have learned how to “play the tape all the way through” and can now see how debt is slavery. Reading this book allowed me to start valuing time-freedom instead of the rush I used to get from buying junk. I would rather have the peace of mind that comes from debt freedom, instead of a house full of junk that I have to work harder to pay for.
When you stop spending frivolously, a change starts to occur and eventually you start to see the huge benefits of frugality. You learn that you can still enjoy your life without spending money all the time. As your financial position improves and you start reaping the benefits, your success will drive you on toward further success. Practicing frugality will become automatic for you and you will still be happy and enjoy life, just without a cloud of doom and debt hanging over your head each day. This is true freedom – just like freedom from chemicals and alcohol becomes a new freedom for the struggling addict.
Ultimate online resource
There is one more resource that is too powerful not to mention, and that is an incredibly talented writer over at The Simple Dollar named Trent. This is the man who inspired me to start examining my own spending habits and help to get my own financial life back under control. If you are interested in examining your own spending habits and financial life, then I would strongly urge you to check out his website and sign up for his daily emails. He typically writes about 2 or 3 articles each day and there is always something useful that you can apply in your own life. If you are serious about getting your finances into shape then you should definitely check it out.
Now it’s your turn….does anyone else struggle with their spending habits in recovery? Is anyone else looking to improve their finances? Let us know in the comments….