Reader Case Study: How Can I Overcome My Shopping Addiction?
Neko and her husband Jerry live in Toronto, Ontario with their dog and two cats. Everything about Neko’s life sounds perfect on the surface–a loving marriage, engaging work, fun hobbies, a close-knit family living nearby–but she’s harboring secret debt that’s causing her immense physical and emotional pain. Neko would like our help understanding how to overcome her shopping addition, which has led her to live paycheck-to-paycheck and carry a debt load on her credit card. Let’s work together to offer Neko a plan and a sense of hope for her future.
What’s a Reader Case Study?
Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comments section.
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The Goal Of Reader Case Studies
Reader Case Studies highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!
The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 96 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.
I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight, queer, bisexual and polyamorous people. I’ve featured women, non-binary folks and men. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender people. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.
Reader Case Study Guidelines
I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.
There’s no room for rudeness here. The goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.
And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises.
I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.
With that I’ll let Neko, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
Hi Frugalwoods! My name is Neko and I’m 41 years old. My husband, Jerry, is 46. We live in the Canadian city of Toronto, Ontario in a house that’s co-owned by my uncle and dad. We have three beloved pets, Jasper our chihuahua who is 4 years old, Seth our tabby cat who is 12 years old and Willow our good luck black cat who is 18 years old. We chose a few years ago to live a childfree lifestyle and have not once looked back on that decision. We’ve been happily married for 15 years and look forward to many more years of happiness together!
Neko & Jerry’s Careers
I work full time in the head office of an industrial bakery doing invoicing, data entry, order processing and whatever other odd jobs pop up. My husband works in a home supplies warehouse doing pretty much everything from backroom stocking to front line customer service. He recently completed a forklift operation license course for free within his work, which has increased both his duties and pay. We both enjoy our work and–since we live close to both our workplaces–we enjoy the flexibility of a short commute. Another advantage is that I save money on bus fares by walking home a few nights a week. My workplace is also close to my in-laws’ home and Jasper, the chihuahua, spends the day with them while my husband and I are at work.
About 10 years ago, I was working in the spa industry as a massage therapist and waxing technician. I worked in that industry until my early 30s when I decided I wanted to change my focus to something more recession-proof. With financial help from my parents, I took some online continuing education college courses to upgrade my computer skills and become certified in the basics of business invoicing, accounts receivables and general logistics. I then found a job with a shipping firm, which led me to my current position at the industrial bakery. I have worked in this field since 2015.
Neko & Jerry’s House
Two years ago my uncle (my dad’s youngest brother) decided he wanted to move into a house as he was done with the condo lifestyle.
He and my dad approached Jerry and I with a deal:
- My dad would loan my uncle $60,000 to contribute to the down payment my uncle had ready for a house in Toronto.
- The house had been renovated to separate the main floor and the bottom floor into two independent living areas.
- Jerry and I would move into the bottom half of the house as my dad’s tenants.
- Once we have paid back the $60,000 contribution through a rental deposit of $1,500 a month, the mortgage will be re-drafted to list Jerry and I as partial owners.
- Currently, my dad and uncle own the house 50-50 and my uncle lives on the main floor.
It was definitely an adjustment to move into a house from an apartment and we are enjoying the learning curve that comes with this new experience. Having our own laundry room is the best part of our new living arrangements as I was sick of scrambling for quarters for our shared laundry facilities in our last apartment. And we have a backyard! All three of us pitch in to take care of the outdoor maintenance and Jerry and I have the freedom to redecorate/renovate our living area as we please. We set up an agreement with my dad to send him the rent payment as a bank transfer to an account he opened solely for rent payment collection.
Neko & Jerry’s Hobbies
I love to exercise and have a lot of workout equipment at home, plus I use a city-maintained outdoor gym a short walking distance from home. I also love comedy and have found an amazing improv studio where I take classes. These classes are a welcome escape for me as it allows for some unstructured fun and laughter, which also teaches communication skills. I know that my confidence and overall interpersonal skills have improved since I started studying improv. I have also made some incredible friends through improv class. My third vice is baking! Pretty much every Saturday morning I’m in the kitchen covered in flour while I mix together something yummy.
Since moving into our new house Jerry has found a new talent with gardening. He grows yummy tomatoes and peppers in our backyard and tends to some beautiful flower arrangements in the front yard. He is also handy and built a gorgeous stone pathway leading to the backyard. Together we enjoy playing basketball on the public court nearby our house and taking Jasper on long scenic walks in our neighborhood.
Overall we live a simple lifestyle and are very grateful for the support we have from both sides of our families in addition to the support we give to each other.
What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?
Let me put it this way: anyone who has watched the TLC show ‘Intervention’ knows that the show starts with a montage of the amazing things the person suffering from the addiction has done and how much he or she is loved, but then the addicted person stares blankly into the camera and admits to the truth of his or her addiction, which is ruining not only his or her life but also the lives of anyone associated with the addicted individual.
Well, I’ve done my montage of all the great things I have in my life, so that means it’s time for my big reveal:
I am addicted to online shopping and have over $9,000 in credit card debt
I’ve had this addiction for about 5 years now. It started with compulsive impulse buys whenever I was out shopping for essentials and then it moved to the online world. My biggest expense is shopping for clothes and shoes. There aren’t any triggers for my compulsive shopping, I just want to shop all the time. All I think about some days are the things I want to buy and how long it will take before I have the money or credit to buy them.
I have deliberately withheld the details of my debt from my friends and family, which only adds to my sense of shame about it.
The only motivation behind this behavior that I can identify is that I’m addicted to the feeling of anything new. There is something so satisfying about knowing that I have something brand new and that more new stuff is just around the corner. This feeling is accentuated by knowing that I can get the next new thing through the simple push of a few buttons.
My motivation for submitting a Case Study is to, for once, be honest about the mess I’ve gotten myself into and figure out if it will be better to focus all my resources into paying off my debt, or build some savings while simultaneously paying off my debt.
What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?
One of the best parts of my current lifestyle is that I enjoy the work I do and get along well with my manager and coworkers. My workplace is a small business, which means that the voices of all employees are listened to and I have had my commitment rewarded with two raises over the past 3 years. I also enjoy having evenings and weekends off. I longed for a 9-5 lifestyle when I was working in the spa field, so now that I have it I am very grateful. Another good thing is that I have the advantage of living close to my family and in-laws, which means my husband and I have a lot of help or can lend help whenever a family member needs it. Having a close knit family is something that is very fulfilling to me. I also love that I’m able to incorporate exercise into my daily life by having the space at home for a mini gym, walking with Jasper or using the free outdoor gym facilities near my home.
What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?
The worst part of my current lifestyle is that, because of my debt and shopping addiction, I am always broke. I barely have enough money to last much more than 5 days after payday, which then means I turn to my credit card for spending. My debt far outweighs any potential net worth I could have and I also have no savings since I’m always dipping into what I intended to be my savings account to cover everyday expenses.
Being broke because of my addiction has made me become the very definition of living paycheck to paycheck and as such, I have no choice but to obsessively budget every dollar coming in and out of my bank account.
The cherry on top is that, thanks to many shopping websites accepting Paypal payments, I often have spent a good chunk of my paycheck a few days before I have receive it. This is because a Paypal payment will be approved right away and then take up to 3 days before it is withdrawn from my account. So if I order a new outfit on Tuesday and my payday is on Thursday, that fee will be deducted within a day of my pay hitting my bank account.
For the past few years, my mental state has been nothing short of a mess because of my spending habits. I’ve crunched the numbers of my debt and expenses time and time again until they’re nothing but abstract shapes on a computer screen.
There are the negative financial effects of debt for sure, but they are nothing compared to the emotional effects of debt by a long shot.
I remember a time when a friend was going through a divorce and he said he’s rather remember what it was like to be happily married than to remember why the relationship ended because remembering the good times was the only thing that gave him hope. This is how I feel about my debt. I prefer to remember the days of 15 years ago when I had money in the bank, was able to put down physical cash in a restaurant to cover my part of the bill, go shopping at the mall as a once-in-awhile treat (and therefore be grateful for my purchases) and was able to loan money to a friend in need because I had more than enough to go around. However, I can only avoid my truth for so long before it comes creeping back up on me.
I am constantly feeling a massive sense of shame and guilt. I feel like this isn’t the way a 40-something woman should be living. I should be able to control my impulses and understand the importance of saving for a rainy day. I should have smartened up long ago, should have found a healthier outlet for my shopping cravings, should have learned from all my past mistakes, I just should, should, should, should. I should be doing anything except what I am doing because everything I’m doing now is the wrong thing.
Neko’s Physical Health
My physical health has also suffered from my debt. During the summer of 2020 I became injured from a bad wipe out while on a run with my dog. I tripped over a rock while running at a high speed and ended up with injuries to my knee and low back, plus a bunch of deep scrapes and bruises. My mom took me to a walk-in clinic where the doctor diagnosed me with depression once I described my compulsive exercise regimes coupled with my overwhelming sense of despair. I was prescribed an antidepressant medication that I’m still taking today which is an out of pocket expense I have no choice but to budget for.
The medication has definitely calmed my mental state somewhat which helps me to get by in my day to day life. My knee and back injury have healed up with some efforts of my own though I know I could definitely benefit from seeing a chiropractor or physiotherapist to treat the ongoing pain and stiffness issues I’m having. However, the fact is those are out of pocket expenses that I can’t possibly afford as long as I have my debt hanging over my head. People have told me to look into an insurance package which would help cover healthcare expenses, though paying for insurance coverage is impossible too as that’s another monthly fee I can’t cover.
I also haven’t been to a dentist for a checkup of any kind since my early thirties and I’m about 5 years overdue on seeing an optometrist to get my prescription lenses checked and updated for the same reason I can’t see a chiro or physio- I can’t afford to because of my debt. The only reason I was able to even speak to a doctor is because standard walk-in or family doctor checkup appointments are covered by the government in Canada and therefore are not billed to the patient.
My situation is compounded by the fact that I have reached the top of my earning bracket for the type of work that I do. Any job move I could make would be a lateral move and would also most likely mean giving up the convenience of a work location I can walk to. I have dreams of pursuing higher education and completely changing my line of work, but that’s just another thing I can’t do because of my debt.
That being said, I know my income is more than enough to cover my necessary expenses and I also know I could be making wiser saving and investing decisions if I didn’t have my debt and addiction to deal with. I’ve looked into finding a second stream of income, however any attempt I have made of monetizing content I have posted online has turned up absolutely nothing and I’ve realized that I’m just not willing to give up my evenings or weekends for a second job like working in retail. My time outside of my full time work is spent with my husband and pets or in improv class and having that time means too much to me to give it up even temporarily.
As I’m sure many of you have figured, I can’t see a therapist to get help for my addiction because that would be another out of pocket expense I can’t afford. I’ve looked into some free online therapy groups and so far haven’t had much luck though I’m still holding out some hope I can find something soon. I managed to find a free phone-in therapy line which I have used a few times and have found somewhat helpful.
The final point I must make here is that declaring bankruptcy or a consumer proposal isn’t an option for me. I already declared bankruptcy in 2009. This was mainly to deal with debts I incurred while I was in college full time and depending on two credit cards to get by. I was discharged and had my credit report cleared 5 years later. Declaring bankruptcy again would completely trash my credit rating (not that my credit rating is great now, though if I manage to pay down my debt there will be the eventual result of it improving) and getting any kind of credit again would be next to impossible. This matters to me as I understand that having bad credit can affect me in many negative ways further down the road and my ultimate goal here is to get out of debt on my own. I know that this is a realistic goal as my debt is only from one credit card which could be paid off with some discipline, however it’s finding that discipline that is the difficult part.
Neko’s Future Career Ideas
I once heard the advice that if you feel stuck in your current situation, remember the things that interested or inspired you as a kid or teenager. Odds are these are the things that will still spark your interest today and could provide a starting point for a new direction in your life. One thing that really sparked my interest as a teenager was the field of psychology. I took a few psych courses in high school and was fascinated with the different theories of behavior both individually and within a group.
I found an old university psychology textbook of my mom’s and poured through it over a school break in my last year of high school and began to entertain the thought of being a psychiatrist. But then of course I succumbed to peer pressure and decided I needed to build a life that looked ‘cool’ to everyone else. So I pursued fine arts in college which I now know was my first in a long line of huge mistakes through my late teens through early twenties.
Lately I’ve been thinking more about my old psychiatrist dream. The first step to achieving this would be obtaining a degree in psychology. I could do this remotely while continuing to work my current job. I’ve also been thinking about going back to school in general. I could potentially upgrade my accounting skills and get the title of Accountant. This could lead to a higher paying job and I could still pursue remote school part-time.
Another route that appeals to me is taking courses–or a ‘boot camp’ training–in coding. I know people through my improv classes who took this route and it led them into the positions of website development and web traffic analysis. These types of jobs pay higher than my current position and can be done remotely. While I don’t love the idea of a remote job, I see the advantage of saving a ton of money on travel costs and I know I could benefit from anything that will save money in the long run. What appeals most to me about these types of jobs is the analysis aspect, which is also what interests me most about Psychology. I love the concept of being able to identify Pattern A, link it to Behavior B, predict it to lead to Outcome C and then analyze Final Outcome D.
Another potential avenue could be becoming an elementary school teacher. In my province there are a lot of teaching positions opening over the next few years as the generation of teachers who have held the longest running positions are retiring. There’s a big push now for younger people to pursue a degree in teaching. However, I would have to obtain a degree of some kind before I would be eligible for Teacher’s College and that would be a minimum of three years of study depending on the subject. However, I can see the long-term advantages of a position like this as it would mean steady pay and an employer retirement match.
Clearly the psychology degree option would be the most costly and take the longest. It would run for 12 terms and cost about $2,000 per term. The coding classes would run about $300 per class and run for 6 sections, so that could be completed within a year. Any of these options are a possibility and I am continuing my research into all of them.
However, before I make any type of choice about the future I know I have to get a handle on my spending and clear my debt.
Where Neko Wants to be in Ten Years:
- To be debt free and have a savings account with at least 6 months worth of expenses.
- My vision of the future isn’t really that grand. I simply want some financial security and to have the cloud of debt lifted. I dream of a time in which I could take a spontaneous weekend trip with my husband or treat my family to a nice dinner out for a special occasion because I have the money in the bank to do so. I guess it just comes down to one word – Freedom. I want the freedom of being debt free and therefore able to take advantage of the opportunities that a debt free lifestyle provides.
- Career: This is one area I’m still not sure about.
|Item||Gross Income||Deductions & Amount||Net Income|
|Neko’s net income||$2,880||taxes $270-$300||$2,325|
|I don’t have any kind of insurance or benefits through my workplace as I have chosen to opt out of the plans to lessen my deductions|
|Item||Outstanding loan balance||Interest Rate||Loan Period/Payoff Terms/Your monthly required payment|
|Capital One credit card||$9,294||2.15%||$400-$550 per month|
|Item||Amount||Notes||Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker||Name of bank/brokerage||Expense Ratio|
|Tax Free Savings Account||$24||Tax free savings||Tangerine||N/A|
|Neko’s share of the Rent||$624||This is transferred to my husband in chunks of $312 on every payday during the month|
|General shopping||$500||As I have described above this is mainly spent on clothes / lingerie / shoes which is a combination of spending from my checking account and my credit card.
This ranges from $300 – $700 per month.
|Groceries||$350||Includes household cleaning supplies and dry kibble for all my pets|
|Personal care||$150||Includes haircare, skincare / makeup products and non prescription sleeping pills|
|Drop in improv classes||$150||This includes grabbing a small meal before class and each class is $25|
|Public transit||$125||I cut down on bus fares by walking home from work once or twice a week|
|Pet store||$100||Includes higher quality cat litter and wet cat food for the senior cats, also includes treats / chews for Jasper|
|Smartphone||$92||This is for my iPhone|
|Jerry’s smartphone and Mom in law’s phone||$72||This plan includes a cheap add on for Jerry’s mom to have her own phone, the price for cable and internet is added into the rent payment that Jerry and I transfer to my dad|
|Mental Heath pills||$15.58||I purchase both of these prescriptions in 90 day supply packs, I divided each price by 3 for the monthly cost|
|Birth control pills||$15.35|
Neko’s Questions for You:
- Should I make whatever sacrifices necessary to pay off my debt in the shortest time frame possible? Or should I or focus on saving up an emergency fund while making smaller debt re-payments?
- Does anyone have advice on how to break a destructive addiction?
Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
Neko, you’ve done a very brave and wonderful thing today. It is challenging to share our finances even when we’re in the best of circumstances and you’ve done the remarkable work of being honest and vulnerable about the struggles you’re having. You should feel proud that you’ve come face to face with your debt and are asking for help. I want to commend you for doing this and for your desire to change your relationship to spending. I am cheering you on! Let’s get to it.
The Root of the Issue: An Addiction to Compulsive Spending
While Neko’s questions are technically about a financial problem, the deeper issue here is addiction, which Neko already knows. I will certainly offer advice on how to pay off her debt; but as Neko articulated, without tools and a support system behind her, she’s likely to slide back into the cycle of debt–>payoff–>debt.
→Neko needs to tackle the root of her addiction and she needs to do this with a trained therapist.
I know that therapists cost money and I know this is why Neko hasn’t been to a therapist, but, I think it’s imperative she find one. And fast. This is one of those rare instances where I recommend that someone spend more money in order to get out of debt. Neko demonstrates a great deal of self-awareness in her writing and she is fully cognizant of the financial and mathematical problems at hand. In light of that, she needs a therapist to work with her to untangle the emotional threads binding her to this addiction. There is help out there and there is hope; Neko you can do this.
Suggestion #1: Hire a Therapist Today
I encourage Neko to find a therapist who specializing in shopping addictions/compulsive spending and has experience helping people with this specific challenge. I consider this a non-negotiable investment in Neko’s future. While yes, it might temporarily push her further into debt, it is a vital tool for Neko’s longterm success. Finding a good therapist is made all the more crucial by the fact that Neko’s physical and mental health are suffering alongside her financial health. Neko, you do not have to live this way–you can overcome this addiction, but you will need help to do so.
Suggestion #2: Start Attending Debtors Anonymous Meetings This Week
I strongly encourage Neko to start regularly attending Debtors Anonymous meetings. Here is a list of meetings in Toronto that are happening later this week.
Debtors Anonymous offers hope for people whose use of unsecured debt causes problems and suffering. We come to learn that compulsive debting is a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution, and we find relief by working the D.A. recovery program based on the Twelve-Step principles.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop incurring unsecured debt. Even if members are not in debt, they are welcome in D.A. Our Fellowship is supported solely through contributions made by members; there are no dues or fees.
Debtors Anonymous is not affiliated with any financial, legal, political, or religious entities, and we avoid controversy by not discussing outside issues. By sharing our experience, strength, and hope, and by carrying the message to those who still suffer, we find joy, clarity, and serenity as we recover together.
Debtors Anonymous offers hope for people whose use of unsecured debt causes problems and suffering in their lives and the lives of others.
Please go to a meeting this week, Neko. I had a Case Study participant in 2020 who was in the Debtors Anonymous 12 Step program and she shared her story here: Reader Case Study: Debtors Anonymous Helped This Wildlife Biologist Recover From Compulsive Spending.
Additionally, your local Debtors Anonymous group may be able to offer recommendations on therapists familiar with treating compulsive spending.
Suggestion #3: Focus on Healing Right Now
While Neko’s income is low and she outlined a number of ideas for increasing it, my sense is that an increased income would just equal increased debt.
Until Neko has effective tools for handling her addiction, I don’t think that more money is the sole solution.
I encourage Neko to focus on healing right now. I encourage her to put her energy into working with a therapist and attending Debtors Anonymous meetings. That’s going to feel like a second job and she should allow herself the grace to not worry about finding another career path right now. Right now, her job is to heal.
Suggestion #4: Cancel The Credit Card
Neko needs to cancel her credit card. She will still be responsible for paying off the entire balance (and it will still accrue interest), but she will no longer be able to use it to go further into debt.
Some credit card companies won’t let you cancel a credit card that carries a balance. If that’s the case with Neko’s card, I suggest she instead freeze the card.
→Another option is to look into a balance transfer credit card.
In this case, you transfer your credit card debt to a 0% interest card in order to pay it off without accruing more interest. If Neko does this, however, she has to commit to not spending on this new card and to closing this card as soon as the balance is paid off. Note that with most of these cards, the 0% interest is an introductory rate and the interest often skyrockets after the introductory period ends.
The goal here is to stop Neko from going further into debt. That’s the first step before we get to debt payoff.
Suggestion #5: Pay Down The Debt
Once Neko is no longer accruing debt, she should use the average of $500 per month she was spending on shopping to pay off her credit card. I made a chart below demonstrating how this pay-off could play out.
Suggestion #6: Save Up an Emergency Fund
In my opinion–and if I’m understanding Neko’s family/living situation correctly–it is less imperative for her to save up an emergency fund prior to debt payoff because:
- Her father and uncle own her home;
- She is splitting house expenses with her husband and uncle.
Thus, if she were to suddenly lose her job, I can’t imagine her family would allow her to become homeless or not have food to eat. To be clear, Neko does need her own emergency fund; however, in my observation, her need for an emergency fund isn’t as imperative as discharging her debt.
Suggestion #7: Review Expenses
Let’s take a look at Neko’s expenses to determine how she might go about paying off debt and then saving up an emergency fund. As I noted above, Neko’s income is low, but her costs (aside from the shopping) are also low!
Anytime a person wants or needs to spend less, I encourage them to define all of their expenses as Fixed, Reduceable or Discretionary:
- Fixed expenses are things you cannot change. Examples: your mortgage and debt payments.
- Reduceable expenses are necessary for human survival, but you control how much you spend on them. Examples: groceries and gas for the cars.
- Discretionary expenses are things that can be eliminated entirely. Examples: travel, haircuts, eating out.
I’ve categorized Neko’s expenses below and made suggestions on where she might be able to reduce her spending. The caveat, of course, is that only Neko knows which line items are priorities and which can be reduced. I do my best, but it’s up to Neko to decide what (and how much) is feasible for her to spend less on:
|Item||Amount||Notes||Category||Proposed New Amount||Liz’s Notes|
|Neko’s share of the Rent||$624||This is transferred to my husband in chunks of $312 on every payday during the month||Fixed||$624|
|General shopping||$500||As I have described above this is mainly spent on clothes / lingerie / shoes which is a combination of spending from my checking account and my credit card.
This ranges from $300 – $700 per month.
|Fixed (as debt pay-off)||$500||This is now going towards debt pay-off, not shopping.|
|Groceries||$350||Includes household cleaning supplies and dry kibble for all my pets||Reduceable||$300||Is this split with Neko’s husband? Is the pet food cost shared?|
|Personal care||$150||Includes haircare, skincare / makeup products and non prescription sleeping pills||Discretionary||$50||What opportunities might there be for reductions here?|
|Drop in improv classes||$150||This includes grabbing a small meal before class and each class is $25||Discretionary||$150||While this is discretionary and could be eliminated, it was clear from her write-up that improv is a crucial part of Neko’s sense of wellbeing and general mental health. I’m not inclined to suggest she eliminate something so important while she’s going through the challenging work of recovery.|
|Public transit||$125||I cut down on bus fares by walking home from work once or twice a week||Reduceable||$100||Does Neko’s employer offer any transportation benefits? Are there any discounts she could take advantage of? Would walking more often be an option?|
|Pet store||$100||Includes higher quality cat litter and wet cat food for the senior cats, also includes treats / chews for Jasper||Reduceable||$75||Any opportunities to reduce this? Is this cost split with Neko’s husband?|
|Smartphone||$92||This is for my iPhone||Reduceable||$15||Time to get an MVNO! Yes, Canada has them too! I suggest Neko get on this ASAP as this is low-hanging fruit!|
|Jerry’s smartphone and Mom in law’s phone||$72||This plan includes a cheap add on for Jerry’s mom to have her own phone, the price for cable and internet is added into the rent payment that Jerry and I transfer to my dad||Fixed?||$72||I’m confused about this expenses, but am assuming this is somehow part of their rent and utilities cost share since I don’t see any utilities listed? Electricity, etc? Correct me if I’m wrong, Neko!|
|Mental Heath pills||$15.58||I purchase both of these prescriptions in 90 day supply packs, I divided each price by 3 for the monthly cost||Fixed||$15.58||Very important fixed cost|
|Birth control pills||$15.35||Fixed||$15.35||Very important fixed cost|
|Monthly subtotal:||$2,194||Monthly subtotal:||$1,917|
|Annual Total:||$26,328||Annual Total:||$23,004|
If Neko is able to make the above suggested reductions, she’ll be on track to save an extra $277 per month, which she could put either into an emergency fund or towards debt repayment.
Suggestion #8: Create and Follow a Debt Payoff Timeline
Concurrent with seeing a therapist, going to Debtors Anonymous meetings and cancelling her credit card, I suggest Neko enact one of the two below Monthly Debt Repayment Options.
→Option #1 entails Neko putting the $500 she previously spent on shopping towards paying down the credit card.
→Option #2 entails Neko putting the $500 on shopping PLUS the proposed additional savings of $277 per month towards paying down the card.
I’ve included the interest rate accrual for both of these options.
|Month and Year||Monthly Debt Repayment Option 1:
The $500 previously spent on the card
|Monthly Debt Repayment Option 2:
The $500 previously spent on the card + the $277 in additional savings per month
|Option 1 Credit Card Monthly Interest Accrual (Rate of 2.15%)||Option 1 Debt Balance||Option 2 Credit Card Monthly Interest Accrual (Rate of 2.15%)||Option 2 Debt Balance|
|June 2024||$500||$777||$104.20||$4,450.56||$15.96||PAID OFF!|
|April 2025||$500||$777||$10.38||PAID OFF!|
As we can see, with Option 1 ($500 per month), Neko’s debt will be fully paid off in just over two years in April 2025. With Option 2 ($777 per month), her debt will be obliterated in just over one year, in June 2024.
→Neko, that is really soon!!!!
I hope that seeing how quickly she can be debt-free gives Neko hope and shows her how well within reach this goal really is! This is not an insurmountable amount of debt. This is something Neko can do, and pretty quickly too!!!!!!
Suggestion #9: Invest for Retirement
Once Neko has:
- Paid off her debt (and committed to never going into debt again)
- And saved up a full emergency fund, which should be three to six months’ worth of her expenses…
She can turn her attention to investing for her retirement. I also encourage her to pay for the health and dental care she’s been deferring. The above debt payoff schedule is a quick one and it will take perseverance to follow. But once that debt is gone? Neko can focus on these other important priorities.
- Find a therapist who specializes in compulsive spending and book an appointment ASAP.
- Begin attending Debtors Anonymous meetings this week. Commit to going regularly.
- Cancel or freeze your credit card ASAP so that you cannot go any further into debt. Explore the possibility of a balance transfer to a 0% interest rate card.
- Review the above suggested expense reductions and determine where it will be possible for you to save more.
- If you are able to save more every month, follow the Option 2 debt repayment schedule, starting next month (May 2023).
- If you are not able to save more every month, follow the Option 1 debt repayment schedule, starting next month (May 2023).
- Once your debt is paid off, save up an emergency fund of three to six months’ worth of your spending.
- Once that’s done, put money towards your deferred health and dental care and begin researching your retirement investment options.
- Know that you are not alone on this journey. There are many other folks out there with these same struggles. That is why Debtors Anonymous exists and that is why you need to attend their meetings.
- Keep us posted on your journey–I know that we are all cheering for you. All of Frugalwoods wants the very best for you!
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Neko? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask questions!
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Once frozen, I would set that credit card to autopay. Delete the card info from your phone and laptop! You can become a debit card user or cash instead. Literally put the physical card away in a hard-to-reach place. Remember- you totally CAN do this. You pay your housing payment every month, right?? This is going to be the same thing- it’s a bill now and you’ve successfully paid bills for decades. I’d also suggest unsubscribing from any sale emails and consider doing a purge of your social media to remove any accounts that trigger you to shop. Set really firm boundaries to set yourself up for success. Really think about what triggers you- it’s so clear you want to stop, but if you don’t figure out the trigger, it’s going to be harder. Willpower alone is never enough for ANYONE. PS I also struggle daily with an urge to shop online for clothes! My biggest trigger is feeling bad about my looks- I spot a new grey hair or see an old pre-kids picture of my body… and my immediate response is to add to cart. Instead, I’ve identified replacement activities that make me feel better- moving my body (like a walk or a workout, or even just scheduling a workout) or doing a face mask. It’s related to the underlying bad feeling I’ve had, but it is productive and not destructive. GOOD LUCK!
Thank you so much for your response and supportive words. I will respond to everyone here!
I have cut up my credit card and have removed the card info from many retail websites. I am taking to heart what you have said here about identitfying triggers. This is something that I know I need to identify though I haven’t been able to clearly pinpoint anything yet.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and for taking the time to repond.
I have a couple thoughts, based on working with patients who have gambling addictions. and offer them in the hopes that they may aid your healing journey. You have some very good first steps toward recovery. First, depression and behavioral addictions often travel together. We have found, from past clinical work and research, that moderate or higher intensity cardiovascular exercise is *the best* single depression intervention. Clinically, we have seen that other interventions (medications, therapy) and exercise multiple the benefits of each other. I strongly encourage you to increase your exercise frequency, walking works well as long as it does not increase any pain from your exercise accident. Second, I strongly encourage you to drop the credit card and possibly any access to cash/checking/other spending sources. Many of our patients find that pre-paid and refillable gift cards (possibly refilled by a family member who knows what you are facing or automatically after paychecks arrive) to specific, necessary vendors–grocery store, pharmacy, others?– strongly helps. Anything that you and your family can do to make acting on the addiction as difficult as possible will aid recovery. It gives you some time between the onset of the urge and the addictive behavior during which you have an opportunity to disrupt the addictions pattern. Third, finding a community support group is very important. If DA does not match your needs, you may also want to consider SMART or Dharma Recovery. The key component for any such group is the social support. Fourth, I hope you can find an excellent therapist to help you with this. I wish you the best on your recovery journey.
Thank you for your supportive words.
Walking is an activity I enjoy and having my dog gives me many excuses to walk places. I have found that my head feels more clear after a long walk. I plan to get back into running once the weather in my area improves a bit more, keep your fingers crossed for me that I won’t experience another fall.
I will look into your suggestion of using prepaid gift cards for shopping, I think this is a good method for using Amazon.
I commend you Neko for seeking help and sharing your story. There is no shame in admitting your addiction and getting support is the first step. I agree with everything that was already shared and think that a cash envelope system (or prepaid gift card system) is likely the best way for you to move forward with your spending. I know there are pre-paid reloadable visa gift cards out there that would enable you to purchase necessities online that you cannot find in store. I know there are lot of cash envelope-type systems out there and youtube/tik tok videos out there for them that can give you motivation to commit. Good luck on everything! You can do this.
Thank you for your kind any supportive words.
I have found that YouTube is a good reasource for finanacial tips and budgeting, plus there is the bonus distraction of cute cat videos!
I am looking into both the prepaid gift card and cash envelope systems.
Neko, you sound absolutely lovely. I understand the impulse buy thing. It’s getting too easy to order stuff online. My suggestion is twofold:
1. Create friction that makes it harder for you to browse/shop. You can add an extension to your phone and computer that blocks certain sites completely or after a short time. You can delete all your payment methods so if you really want something, you have to physically get your credit card and put it in. The idea is to make mindless shopping harder for yourself.
2. Figure out what you get out of shopping that’s missing in your life. I racked up credit card debt at some points in my life because I felt like I had no control or to make myself feel better when I was unhappy. Ultimately, ditching the shopping opened me up to reflecting about the kind of life I want for myself. It was scary at first, but I’m much happier now. I changed jobs, ended an unfulfilling relationship and started focusing on myself more. Maybe there’s an area in your life that needs similar attention. Is there a deferred dream you maybe forgot about? Maybe it’s stress or anxiety that requires attention? Is it possible you have ADHD? One of the hallmarks of ADHD is impulsivity that can manifest itself in compulsive shopping, risky behaviors and more. If you have ADHD, medication may be a good option. Therapy that focuses on developing good skills is also important.
I have a few other practical suggestions about habits:
1. Get into selling used stuff. Go through what you have and see if you can sell things on Marketplace and so on. I get the same rush of dopamine from selling stuff that I used to get from buying things and it’s super nice cause I put all that money away in savings.
2. Write things down by hand. I don’t know why, but keeping a paper budget and track of my spending in writing helps me feel more connected to my finances. It’s a weird thing, but maybe you’re the same?
3. When I want something, I try to figure out if I can get it for free by doing surveys or using a rebate app like upside. You collect money there very slowly, but I’ve used that to “save up” free gift cards for something I wanted. Last year, I got myself a knife sharpener for free, for example. I keep a running list of the things I want and when I get a free gift card, I’ll buy whatever it is. It’s really slowed me down, but also made the act of collecting free cash a game. It gives me the same kind of satisfaction I used to get from mindless shopping.
I know you must be feeling anxious and helpless with the debt. You’re not alone. Please be kind to yourself in this process. It’s not easy.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words. You have also asked some very poignant questions.
I think that for me the shopping is a way of making to up to myself all the things I didn’t have when I was a kid / teen. I was a selfish and ungrateful kid who always had to have IT and I remember very clearly feeling as though I was ‘lesser than’ by having to do without. I know logically now that this was not true at all (I lived a very priveleged childhood with parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me and my sister) but I think I am holing onto that ‘I have to have IT’ mentality. Plus I do genuinely enjoy the creativity that different fashion and makeup can provide. However, all things come at a price and in the end all these things are exactly that, just things.
I will follow your sugestion of writing out the budget by hand as I agree that the handwritten method feels more ‘real’. I guess that is a left over effect of being part of one of the last generations who learned cursive writing in school. :p
When you say you were a “selfish and ungrateful kid who always had to have “IT” is that your voice or is it how a parent or someone else spoke to you? What I mean is it can be a genuinely hard experience being on the poorer end of a richer place, there can be a lot of whispered or unspoken judgements, social exclusions, etc. If any of that was at play it’s ok to own those feelings, even if it was not on the same order of magnitude as going hungry. Speaking as a former hand-me-down wearing private school kid whose parents made a lot of sacrifices, but I do get a little twitchy to shop when my self esteem if feeling a bit shaky. I will also say I genuinely take pride in mending and repairing clothing, so sometimes fixing something to be nice again scratches the itch, as does going through my current items and picking out something a bit neglected to wear more
This is fantastic advice from Layla, and I concur with it all as someone who’s struggled with much of the same as Neko (and clearly many others). Good luck to you, Neko. I can tell that you’re going to do this—and well. You’re going to feel so great about yourself too. I’m proud of you already!
Wishing you the best of luck Neko. It’s clear from the case study that you are in a lot of pain, and I really hope that you are able to find relief through debtors anonymous and therapy.
Its normal for our brains to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and I think your shopping has been part of that pattern. So one way to reframe is to look at that as something that emerged as a way for your brain to do what is natural to it- but in a way that is ultimately harmful to your well being. So now you need to learn new ways to give your brain pleasure, ease and relief without relying on the click of.buy now for a dopamine rush. I suggest writing a list of things that make you feel good that are free and posting that wherever you may be tempted to shop- qt your desk, at home, on your phone lock screen etc. So when you get the impulse, you can pick an activity instead.
I also recommend inner child work as well- the compulsion to treat yourself is very much an impulse and rather than talking to yourself with harshness (why can’t I be more disciplined, I always make bad choices etc), imagine yourself as a small child who is struggling- who just wants the “treat” now and doesn’t understand why they can’t have it- and speak to them with compassion and kindness. You would want to protect a child from doing something self destructive but you wouldn’t do it in a mean way, right? Bc that wouldn’t be helpful. I’ve found that exercise to be very healing when I can be self critical and negative.
Practically speaking, I have 2 more suggestions: call or go into the bank to discuss your options for the credit card. When we were in a bad situation with a balance we couldn’t pay, due to medical issues, I called and arranged for monthly autopayments and got a 1% interest rate. I would explore that over a Balance transfer since there’s no temptation to open a new card. Second is to explore browser blocking shopping sites so you’re not tempted to see things.
The pleasure/pain thing made me thing of a book I just read that you might enjoy, Neko: Dopamine Nation. It’s by a psychiatrist who focuses on addiction and it’s about finding balance in an ultra-indulgent world. She’s got interesting stories and a great practical approach to interrupting dopamine-seeking behaviors. Might be worth a look!
I will check out that book, thank you! I am always a sucker for a good read.
I thought that book was eye opening as well. Readily available for free from the library digital collections.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
Any negotiations with my credit card interest / balance aren’t an option unfortunately because my interest is already low. I’m not sure about a balance transfer card but it is something I will look into.
The inner child work is something which is intriguing to me. I have been trying to soften my inner critic and focus on solutions instead of reminding myself of my mistakes. There is a lot of good advice here!
Thank you for your productive suggestions.
I strongly agree with the advice to cut up the credit card and stop using it completely. Don’t even have the temptation there. When payday comes, make the rent and the debt payment, and be super mindful about what’s left, to only spend that and nothing more.
I believe in you. 🙂
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
My credit card is cut up and I have removed it from the retailer websites I frequent.
I admit it was hard to cut it up but it a way it was somewhat of a relief. I destroyed the tool that was aiding in my self destruction.
Or maybe I’m just being too dramatic ;P
Read a great book: Affluenza and break away from material acquisition, see it as a spiritual move and earth empowering. I know this sounds flakey -but in the book you can read cases and see the futility in it. Also its a good dive for a future therapist! Good Luck and take all the practical advice above as its already been said.
Agreed. Great book. ‘Your Money or your Life’ was also an influential book for my financial journey vis a vis consumerism.
Fellow Canadian here. I live about an hour west of Neko. Thanks for bravely sharing your story. Kudos to all the work you’re doing.
I also wonder if watching old “Til Debt do Us Part’ episodes, easily found on YouTube, might offer food for thought. The show is Canadian and focuses on the financial journeys of families and couple coping with a range of financial issues. Neko might find some practical tips, but also inspiration and a sense of “community,” – that she’s not alone in all of this, other’s have been there and emerged happy and successful.
All the best Neko.
Gail VazOxlade is a real Canadian financial icon, and she tells it pretty straight up! The shows are very old now, but I still watch them for tips and tricks.
I agree that Gail is a financial icon, I have read her book. I will see if I can find any of her shows on Youtube.
I loved that show. Gail was straight forward and didn’t put up with excuses.
She helped many people.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
I checked out the book Affluenza on Amazon. It looks very interesting! Instead of buying the book I will see first if I can check it out of the library.
If your library doesn’t have it, see if they offer interlibrary loan — they can usually get it from another library!
The thing with CC’s is this: In teh cash money world you take out , say 200 a week or bi weekly. When that is spent on incidentals like gas, objects & food you will SEE your money and SEE how close to being empty before your payday comes.. Then you postpone purchases until pay day – live low for 2 -3 days.
Wilt a CC its just swipe swipe swipe and then in 1.5 month massive bill. You never know where you are. That’s why they design the payments that way.
Its a trap! Oh sure you can peep at a balance with an app or what have you.. but how many do that?
Cash is physical and in your hand.. you watch your roll peel off and you feel it and you SEE it…
That is all true about credit cards and no one knows that truth better than me. I find that using debit is easier to track than credit as I am somewhat scared of carrying a lot of cash. I had my wallet stolen some years ago which meant a bunch of cash missing that I knew I wouldn’t ever see again. With debit cards there is more security.
I appreciate your honest take on the credit card phenomenon.
That sounds super stressful having your wallet stolen, but I wonder if, even assuming a stolen wallet every few years, may be a better financial situation than using cc’s
Here are a few comments. I am currently halfway through paying off a large credit card debt, and I have found a way which works for me. You will have to find the way that works best for you. I got myself into the debt through not having enough savings to cover emergencies, so I had to use my credit card; and I added to the debt by going on excessive spending sprees to alleviate stress and yes, I can relate to how having something “new” helped me feel better for awhile, and also would fantasize about the purchase before and after, when stressed or bored. I, too, work a less than well-fitting office job — it’s one I can do well, I make “enough” money at it, but it’s not a thrilling job and to be honest, kind of boring and dead end.
Here’s what I decided to do last August, which is a plan that is working out very well for me so far:
1) I had a high interest credit card, paying about $100 interest a month which was part of my minimum payment. I transferred my balance to a 0% interest for 15 months card. This pressures me to pay it off in 15 months, and also there is a trick and danger to this — you cannot spend even a penny on this transferred balance card, or it is subject to even higher interest. So this card is parked in my dresser drawer and it is ONLY for debt payoff and I am sure that is not making the bank happy, but it is working for me.
2) I did NOT cancel my other credit card (which now has a zero balance) because cancelled cards affect your credit rating negatively; I have also “parked” this card and do not use it.
3) I realized I needed to have a savings cushion so that I would not need to charge anything — so my plan has been to add automatically once a week to my savings account. Most of my money goes to the debt payoff, but a decent portion goes to savings.
4) I made myself several spreadsheets to track spending carefully, to plan out spending in as great detail as possible over the debt payoff period, and I check my bank balance as close to daily as I can, to make sure I am on track. I am shifting my fantasizing about the shopping, to fantasizing about the debt going down and the savings going up, and concentrate on the good feelings I get from being debt free and having a savings cushion — though this will not happen until December this year. Each month that goes by, I see the debt going down and the savings going up, and my stress eases because I can see this is working (it is not just theoretical).
5) I have stopped spending impulsively because I have told myself if I stick to this plan, I will have $xxxx by the end of this year, and then I will be “permitted” to spend again “if I want to, and if it is in my budget.” I am finding that I can change these habits — I avoid looking at the websites and catalogs, and the ads that pop up in my feed. I am also planning in advance (but months from now, not days from now) to possibly buy more clothing. But I’m also enjoying the clothing I have, and I tell myself that even though being in debt is the price I have paid for this, in some ways it is nice to have these nice things to “get me through” this debt payoff period.
6) the other thing I started doing was overcoming my shame and embarrassment of the debt — or what I mean is keeping it hidden from others. If someone asks me to meet up for a drink, I will be up front and ask for a cheaper place, or I’ll say “drink only — no dinner — I’m a bit tight at the moment, paying off a debt.” Honestly, everyone understands, and they all say things like “good for you!” I don’t know if you can tell your own family or not, but secrets like this can eat away at you. If you are maybe already midway through your debt payoff like I am, and can see that it is working, then say something — you’d be surprised how many other people are going through something similar.
7) I live in the U.S.so I’m not sure how it works in Canada, but I agree that therapy would help you, and perhaps there is a counselor who charges a sliding fee scale, rather than the full amount?
Good luck to you! Once you plot all this out on paper or a spreadsheet, you will find the combination of savings/debt payoff that works for you. Plan a couple scenarios and then start working your plan. The first couple months might be the hardest. Be kind to yourself, and if you have any setbacks, just get yourself right back on your plan as soon as possible — maybe you can return any impulse buys if they still have tags on them? Remind yourself of the things you want to do with your savings, once you have it, and figure out when that will be. As each day goes by, you will be getting closer and closer to your goal. You can do it!
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
“But I’m also enjoying the clothing I have, and I tell myself that even though being in debt is the price I have paid for this, in some ways it is nice to have these nice things to “get me through” this debt payoff period.” -this line of yours hit me very hard. I know that the hardest part of going on a debt payoff / shopping ban will be giving up the satisfaction of snagging something newand stylish to wear. I have been afraid that this impulse will be too much to resist. However, the way you worded the above line is going to become a mantra for me. It is true that I have loved everything that I have bought up untill this point and I am now beginning to think that reminding myself of that love and satisfaction will be enough to get me through those tough mental days.
I agree with the commenters above who talked about making it harder to shop or buy online. Things that you can do when you don’t feel a strong compulsion that help prevent one those urges. This could look like closing your PayPal or logging out and not saving any credit card information anywhere. I have found accountability to be really key and have in the past asked a trusted friend to change my passwords and not tell me. Even just telling someone when you engage in those behaviors can be really helpful. Shame drives so much of it that there is freedom on telling someone and owning it and knowing that you are going to tell them you engaged in that behavior. I would start going to debtor’s anonymous ASAP! I also agree on finding a therapist. This is something that you cannot afford not to do. Long term seeing a therapist will save you money by addressing the root of the problem. Caring for your mental health is so important and it sounds like that is a challenge. Sometimes therapists will have interns who see people for low fees or pro Bono. When reading your story I was struck by your feeling of shame. Brene Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher who has been incredibly helpful in my own journey. She has Ted talk on YouTube that I think you would like. You may also be able to check out books from your library on mental health and shopping addiction. This is a hard road but I know that you can do it. Maybe one day you can fullfil your dream of going into psychology by using it for your own healing and then being able to guide and walk alongside others through this same process.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words and also thank you for your many suggestions.
I have started looking into the Debtors Anonymous group meetings today and it turns out that they have an office nearby my improv studio. So maybe thats a sign?? Lol. I have heard of Brene Brown though have yet to experience any of her work, you have motivated me to search out her Ted talks. I will also close my Paypal account or at least remove all my account information from it so it will be difficult to use again.
As far as a therapist goes I am looking into a few options. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m finally feeling apprehensive about spending money on something.
Thank you again for your wise words!
Check to see if you qualify for Trillium to have your drugs covered. It is income based on what your husband makes too so you may or may not be covered. Get on a wait list for a therapist covered by OHIP & attend a support program in the mean time. Look into cheaper options for dental care such as U of T or dental assistant or hygiene programs (Seneca has one). You would have to do at least a Masters in Psychology to get a job-same to teach. Another option is a Mental Health & Addictions program at a community college & then you would qualify as a Peer Support Worker due to your mental health & addictions diagnosis. Not always well paid though unless you can get a job attached to a hospital.
Thank you for your kind and informed suggestions.
Unfortunatley I am not eligble for Trillium based on my combined income with my husband and the college dental programs have a 2/3 year wait list for patients. So that option will have to wait for now.
Thank you as well for your insights into the programs I have mentioned. I admit that many of these may just be a pipe dream for now though I guess never say never?
Neko, thank you for sharing your story. You are at war with yourself. My advice is to engage in self-talk the way you would talk to your husband or best friend. There is so much shame here… I should… if only…why can’t I?… and if you pretend that you are talking to a best friend, most of that judgemental talk will go away. This technique/shift in perspective has changed my life and I hear so clearly that you want to change yours. All the best to you.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
Changing the thing between our ears is definitely tough but not impossible. I am trying every day to put myself on a Fixing mindset instead of a Guilt mindset.
Even baby steps are still steps forward, right?
Could not agree more that the first step is healing, and that hiring a therapist is worth every cent.
Many compulsive shoppers find the book To Buy or Not to Buy by Dr April Lynn Benson to be a helpful tool (in addition to, not as a substitute for, therapy). She’s a psychologist who specialized in compulsive shopping, and the book is comprehensive and thoughtful.
It’s very brave to confront issues like this one. Wishing Neko the best with the journey forward.
Thank you for your kind and supportive words.
I will look for that book both because it sounds informative and also because I am an avid reader.
Do you and your husband split the cost of your birth control medication?
I wish I could give a thousand thumbs up for this comment!
No we do not split this cost. I hadn’t ever thought to even ask him about it. Thank you for this suggestion!
One other thought — would he consider getting a vasectomy since you don’t want to have kids?
My husband didn’t want to “alter his body” until I explained to him how many years I’d been altering my body with birth control medication, and he finally agreed to get the snip this year.
Just a thought! You are not solely responsible for birth control.
Best of luck to you 🙂
this! have the vasectomy discussion with your husband! are the altered hormones and birth control contributing to your depression? I’m in US with private insurance and it is covered in full.
Hi Neko, fellow Canadian here who has also struggled with debt, shopping for a dopamine boost, and had to do a consumer proposal. I’ve also been clinically depressed more than once in my life, and I’m now in my 50s. Lastly, I’ve done 12 step meetings myself. For me, they were the wrong solution and made me suicidally depressed, as I felt there was a lot of covert shaming (the LAST thing I needed), and it didn’t alleviate the issue that drove my own addiction. By all means try Debtors Anonymous, as it’s free (sort of – ideally you’ll still chip in a buck or two when they pass the bucket) and will help you get started, but if it feels like the wrong fit, that’s okay, and never mind what the DA converts say.
On to happier suggestions – if you can’t afford therapy or medications or dentistry, that tells me you don’t have benefits, which in Canada is a terrible shame. Take the first steps to start tackling this, yes, but please, start looking for a job that offers benefits! Larger companies often have EFAP (Employee and Family Assistance Programs) that can offer free short-term counselling for issues like debt, and often longer-term counselling for issues like depression. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to some kind of help such as through CAMH, with no cost to you.
I respectfully suggest that you hold off on changing careers for the time being. Going back to school will put you deeper in debt. Also, and only you can answer this for yourself, I’m wondering if perhaps a career change right now seems more like another shiny thing to distract you from the difficult feelings you’re currently experiencing. Regardless, I suggest that you wait for now. Get your debt sorted out first, and then decide if you still want to do this.
And there’s nothing to stop you from doing volunteer work in the meantime, such as on suicide or rape crisis lines. These can provide valuable experience, which you may need to have before you can apply for certain programs, such as getting a Master’s degree in counselling. And they may have the added bonus of making you feel better about yourself, which is a common bonus of philanthropy and volunteer work. Any time spent volunteering for any good cause will probably boost your mental state, which in turn will make it easier to break your addiction.
Also, I strongly recommend exploring Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a way to cope with the desire to buy when your support systems aren’t available, and to uncover the roots of your addiction. Addiction, in my experience and from what I’ve read, isn’t something that appears out of nowhere for no reason. It’s typically a numbing behaviour. While you are getting your professional support systems in place, you could begin journalling to explore these feelings, or even just logging when you feel the urge to buy. Often there’s a trigger, though we may not be aware of it until we try more rigorous self-observation. For me, it was thinking about my ex-boyfriend, and that grief and loss. Keep in mind, too, that some of your shopping is very likely to numb the pain of being in debt from shopping!
Treat yourself with compassion, Neko. Talk to yourself with the loving words and acts you would give to a sick friend. And you are sick, in a way – and I say this with compassion, not judgement – your mental health is struggling. But I know that you can get through this, because you were strong and brave enough to take the step and reach out for help in a very public way. Good for you. You can do this! I wish you the very best of luck, and ultimate success.
That’s an interesting perspective and solid advice. Thanks for sharing.
First thing I would do, apart from the freezing of your credit card and all the other wonderful advice that has already been given, is to have a real heart to heart with your husband, so you get someone close to you, that can give you the support that you need, when you are tempted. Trust me I know how easy it is to just spend, spend, spend. However I have solved my problem by really weighing up the cost of the purchase against the opportunities lost that the purchase will mean. So if you are looking at a pair of shoes online and really fancy buying them, then look in your wardrobe, ask yourself: why do I need these ? Then next you need realize that your life won’t be any happier for buying them, on the contrary you will be longer away from the security of having a debt free life, savings and peace of mind. Try to embrace the free things in life, they are often experiences make you happier than the quick dopamine rush you get from shopping. I used to spend when I was bored, so make sure that you are occupied all the time and put the phone away whenever you can, it all comes down to not giving yourself the opportunity to spend. Good luck with it, I am sure you will conquer the spending urge cause you have taken the first step of acknowledging that you have a problem.
There are many good books on CBT for addiction which might be at your local library. Dopamine Nation is a good one on addiction. You get a Dopamine hit from shopping which keeps you coming back to it . You might consider asking about a different medication to address your depression and addiction.
Neko, you have taken an amazing and brave first step. Liz’s recommendation to focus on recovery right now is spot on. My only add is that the savings of $277 a month could go to hiring a therapist. Depending on the cost you could do biweekly sessions if weekly is too expensive.
Your motivation and drive are so high. I know you can do this and once you’ve paid off the debt your next career move may become more clear. I wish you all the best!
Neko, I think you sound like a wonderful person. Our addictions do not define who we are and it seems like you are being awfully hard on yourself. If you have a friend who you feel will support you if you reveal your problem, you may want to tell that person what you are going through. This is not a substitute for therapy but sometimes it can really help to have a friend understand the issue and who absolutely loves you anyway. This is not necessarily someone like your husband or parents; sometimes people who have a personal stake in your financial well being are not the best people to talk to. I have had several friends come to me in desperation when their finances were spinning out of control and it is much easier to provide both practical help and unconditional support when the person who is struggling is someone you love but whose financial future does not directly affect your own.
I was going through the comments to see if anyone had already commented on adding the cost of therapy to Liz’s proposed budget and see that Faith noticed that omission as well. I suspect that Neko will need the help of a professional to be able to stop shopping.
I preface my next comment with the statement that I know absolutely nothing about Canadian health care and insurance. Once Neko has the names of a couple of therapists (as Liz suggested, DA might be an excellent place to ask for a few names), she might want to see if her employer’s health insurance would cover therapy with any of the recommended therapists. If so, it might make sense for her to add health insurance to her budget sooner rather than later. I know people in the states who have found themselves with crushing debt due to gaps in their health insurance and being uninsured seems quite risky to me. Most insurance in the states will cover therapy with therapists who accept their insurance, at least for a certain period of time or a certain dollar amount. If the cost of insurance is not much more than what she would otherwise pay for the therapist, Neko may want to look at adding employer subsidized health insurance to her budget. This would slow down her debt repayment but I feel that therapy is a wonderful use of Neko’s money right now. If therapy would not be covered by health insurance, pay for the therapy anyway.
Finally, I suggest staying away the internet, social media, and other advertisement heavy platforms as much as possible. There is an entire industry based on convincing us that we “need” whatever is being sold. I find it easier to avoid temptation than to resist it. Also, if you need to have a physical credit card for actual emergencies (such as an emergency vet bill), freeze the card in a large block of ice in your freezer (yes, I mean this literally). In a true emergency, you can thaw the card but this takes quite a while so impulse purchases are quite difficult to make!
Good luck and congratulations on beginning your journey to financial freedom.
I know this is so mission as well and it really frustrated me because therapy is often very expensive.
I don’t know how things work in Canada but where I live it’s over $100 a session.
You could easily to spend that $500 a month on therapy if you were doing weekly sessions. Given that Liz has some experience working with the therapist I’m disappointed she did not add that into the budget
A suggestion I have, after reading your story and seeing that you wish for surprise trips with your husband or taking your family out to dinner is to make a list of local parks… Especially some you haven’t been to yet. Pick one on a weekend and go! You could take a picnic or just go for a walk with your husband and dog. We do this and it gives a nice feeling of going somewhere new and is something to look forward to and talk about, but it is free. We have found some nice parks and walking trails that I didn’t even know existed before. I like “collections” so crossing another off our list and adding photos to my phone photo album of the places we go makes me happy.
Fellow recovering (recovered?) shopping addict and Canadian here! I also had a fairly serious addiction to online shopping. Unfortunately, compulsive consumerism is normalized and even celebrated in our culture, which makes it more difficult for others to take it seriously. The “treat yourself” message is pretty pervasive. I’ve gone through cycles of being in the grips of my addiction and then long no-buy periods, but started up again during 2020 as a way to comfort myself. It was then I realized how much of a problem this was, which led to my seeking out a number of resources. I now consider myself as “cured” as a former addict could possibly be.
I was able to access free online therapy during the pandemic, but the entire program followed the concepts of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Since you’re also interested in psychology, I think you’d find delving into this really fascinating. It teaches you how to retrain your brain and a number of methods you can use to reset old patterns and deal with triggers in a different way. I recommend reading Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy by Dr. David Burns and doing the exercises, and also The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Both are available from the library. The recommendations to find a therapist are all well and good, but like you, I found it prohibitively expensive, and it also often takes time to find a therapist who “clicks” with you.
Distraction also really helps. Identifying when you shop, and what triggers it, and figuring out an effective way to distract yourself when the temptation rears its ugly head can start helping you regain some control. I searched shopping sites when I was bored, procrastinating from something I didn’t want to do, or in need of comfort. It became an ingrained habit that was hard to stop. Definitely delete social media apps from your phone. Unfortunately, our social media targets us with personalized ads, and the more you use it, the more data the algorithms have to target you with ads that are likely to work. I highly recommend watching the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” if you haven’t already. It was hugely eye-opening. IG in particular is really bad for shopping addicts.
One of the biggest things that helped me kick the habit was actually this site. One of Liz’s blog posts said, roughly paraphrased, that the reason why we buy stuff we don’t need is because we don’t believe our dreams will come true. This REALLY hit home for me. I dreamed of being a full-time writer and living by the ocean in a place where it’s warm year-round, and over time, I’d given up on believing either would ever happen for me. In response, I cheered myself up by buying a ton of stuff I didn’t need to make my life here more tolerable. I learned about the FIRE movement and read as many financial books as I could, such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad (all from the library). They were fascinating, and I was hit with the stark realization of how much I’d have in savings if I’d tackled this addiction sooner. Ironically, by spending as if my dreams weren’t possible, I was actively PREVENTING them from coming true.
So, I’d recommend some soul-searching. What do you really want, deep down, in your heart of hearts? What have you given up on? Why are you comforting yourself? Tackling this addiction will be painful at first. In my case, I ended up having to leave a relationship with someone I deeply loved but who wasn’t healthy for me, and I had to learn how to deal with pain, disappointment, loneliness and sadness without shopping. Once you break out of the pattern, Neko, you’ll be amazed by what you used to pay for things, and what you believed they were worth. I agree with another commenter who recommended selling some of the things you’ve acquired. It’s a huge eye-opener to see how little other people value what we paid so much for. And you will get a rush from selling and be able to earn extra cash on the side, which can go towards debt. There’s some big downsides to shopping addictions beyond the debt and shame. All that clutter! The insurmountable time and energy it takes to own so much stuff. I found The Minimalists’ documentaries and books really helpful as well. They both shopped to comfort themselves, and broke out of it–but their podcast is a constant advertisement, so I’d recommend sticking to the books and docs.
Finally, actively pursuing whatever dreams you’ve given up on will help keep you focused when times get tough. I got serious about my goals, and now am in the process of selling almost everything I own–including my house!–to move to Mexico and write full time. I’ve already got my residency visa and my plane ticket, and let me tell you–when you’re faced with getting rid of all the accumulated stuff from a shopping addiction, it makes you even more determined to never shop again. If you create a map of how to achieve your goals–all the steps you need to take to get there–it will really help. I began to substitute working on those steps for shopping.
Another huge motivator to stop shopping? Your pets. Vet care is hugely expensive, and you’ll want a healthy emergency fund in case something happens to one of your babies. My cat Chloe has required thousands of dollars worth of care this year, and if I hadn’t tackled my problem, I wouldn’t have had the savings needed to help her. I can’t even imagine that.
Writing down every cent you spend and what you spent it on, as well as what you bring in, has helped too. It helped me realize I really did have a problem. Lean into support from your family and friends, and find someone reliable who you can talk to whenever you’re feeling the urge to buy. Act like you’re already free of your addiction. What kind of life would you have, minus the spending? What would you do?
Good luck, Neko. I know you can do this. Admitting your addiction is the first step. I’m cheering for you!
Bravo Neko! As was previously stated telling your story is the monumental first step in achieving your goal of becoming debt free! You have opened the door and let the light in and only positive, loving advice and comments have come your way. This is a safe space for you to be in. As Liz has mentioned in her posts there is an inherent shame regarding our relationships with money. By telling your story and realizing that you are not alone – but you are better than okay for being honest and upfront.
I know the shame of being in debt and it was debilitating. I managed to accrue $32,000.00 in debt during a twenty five year period. I was making minimum payments on four high interest credit cards. I paid a lot of money in interest during those years that I will never get back. Somehow I found the Frugalwood’s website and Liz kept hammering home the point that getting out of credit card debt was the most important step toward financial freedom. This message sunk in and I made a plan to do just that. I paid down one credit card at a time starting with the one with the smallest balance. When I paid the first one off it became like a game and it was my first win. It took several years to reach my goal of being debt free. The actual date was November 2021. I have promised myself to live within my means and pay off the balance of my one credit card every month. I have kept that promise. Your first win could be making that first payment. I opened a 0% card. The banks make their money up front by charging a percentage of the balance. Once you pay the fee then your payments cut right into the principal. Luckily you are within a good time frame to reach your goal within a very short time. You can do this.
I was going through a severe depression when I started incurring debt all those years ago. I never spoke of it to anyone which only compounded the shame. Now I speak of money objectively and practically because it is just money. If I can’t afford something I don’t spend it.
You mentioned that your shopping addiction began fifteen years ago. Maybe you can revisit that time in your life and figure out why. Maybe something happened or changed that started you on this path. When I was going through my depression I began seeing a therapist which I thought I couldn’t afford. I was so desperate that I made an appointment anyway. The therapist gave me a rate that was substantially lower than her regular rate. I mention this because you are taking medication for depression. It was made clear to me early on that therapy and medication go hand in hand. One does not work without the other. Luckily for me it was episodic depression and I only had to take the medication for nine months. The other thing that I remember is that that at the time there were twenty three different medications for treating depression and the challenge was to find the right one for the patient. You may find through therapy that you might not be on the right medication or that eventually you won’t need it anymore.
Lastly, your dream of becoming a therapist/psychologist is attainable. It may take some time but if you really want it – and it sounds like you do – you can and will. I have a dear friend who began her journey to becoming a therapist at forty five. It took her five years. She has been practicing for almost twenty years. She is very successful and loves it. It is, in my opinion, one of those careers that artificial intelligence cannot replace very soon if ever. AI is coming for coding and accounting jobs. You are young and this is something to consider.
I am 67 and I have been around the block a few times. I love being debt free but more importantly I love the freedom of knowing that we’re all in this together. The landscape of humanity is a level playing field – no one is better than or less than . This is true freedom. This realization comes with age. You are young with the world at your feet. You have so much going for you – a home, a loving partner and family, and your furry charges. Be kind to yourself Neko and everything else will work itself out.
Wonderful advice! And great example.
Neko, by writing in and laying it all out, you HAVE taken the first step, so you’re already on the right road. I hope that you have told your husband at least about what is going on with you, because when one shines a light on these things, they really are not The Worst Thing Ever, and as Mrs Frugalwoods has outlined, this could all be a bad memory is less than 2 years.
Take that $277 and put it towards your various medical requirements. These are paramount. I don’t know what a therapy visit costs, but even if you can only afford 1 each month, do it. It is a literal investment in getting your life, your real life back. Once you have managed to stop the spending or greatly reduce it, it might be a good idea to try and see if you can get your total debt amount reduced, by working with credit card companies. Even a 10% deduction is worth something, right?
You deserve and CAN do this, and have already taken the huge step of giving the unvarnished real truth to the world, so you are a very brave person, that much is clear. Try DA, try different meetings if the first one isn’t an immediate fit. The priority here is you and your health, physical and mental, and part of that is tackling the looming fear of the debt.
Please write in when you feel ready, and let us know what and how you’re doing.
Let me echo others in applauding your frankness, transparency, and bravery. If you have the strength to make this admission, then you can overcome this.
As others have said, try to transfer your balance to a low/no interest introductory rate card and then set that credit limit to zero so that you are unable to charge. Setup an automatic payment of $500 minimum from your checking account. This can be done quickly. If you cannot get one of those introductory offers, talk to your bank to see if they offer a low interest debt consolidation loan–but be careful to make sure not to stretch out the repayment time beyond the two year forecast Liz laid out.
Of course the counseling/support group advice is crucial. Does the government offer any low cost/subsidized options for people in crisis?
Along with all of this, please talk with your husband. You should not have to bear this alone and although it may be rough to admit to him, going through this together may draw you closer. I also wonder if he has health insurance that you could go on for a reasonable cost. This could help with the cost of counseling as well as your other medical needs which could provide a much need boost as you work through the debt repayment.
Consider other small savings: Can you barter some office/admin work in exchange for some or all of the improv classes? Bring a snack/sandwich instead of buying one?
Look into finding a buy nothing group near you – this could be helpful for things you may legitimately need and can get for free. In exchange, if there are things you regret buying, you can post them for others. That can be an amazingly good feeling.
Lastly, and as others have said, please be kind to yourself through this journey. You are human. And you are strong. Beyond looking at what the triggers and underlying issues maybe associated with your addiction, please don’t dwell on what has happened. Move forward to a better future. We are rooting for you!
It’s almost impossible to get out of addiction without support. I wholeheartedly endorse Mrs FW’s suggestion of Debtors Anonymous, and I suggest you find a counsellor or therapist as well. When you feel fully in recovery, then you can think about a career change, but until then it will be putting a band-aid on an open wound. While you go through the processes for this, cut up or cancel those credit cards; change to a dumbphone so you have one less way to access online shopping; and have a serious heart to heart with your husband.
This might sound harsh, but the truth is you do have the resources to fund your medication, counselling and debt payoff. If you have money for cats, you have money for recovery. If you have money for improv, you have money for recovery. If you have money for a haircut, you have money for recovery. If you have money for shopping, you have money for recovery. It is not the money itself which is the problem, it is the addiction. Of course some of these things (cats, improv) genuinely enrich your life, they are necessities because we are not just machines. I’m not suggesting you cut them. My point is that until you address the addiction, your brain will always find ways of rationalizing continuation of this destructive behavior. You simply can’t trust your brain on this. You have to trust that the solutions will become clear once you’ve started walking the road of recovery.
Another thing I wanted to add is that your income is really very low. I see that you have financial support through your family, which as Mrs FW says means you have a safety net. But there’s a well documented phenomenon that people on really tight incomes, or who grew up in a low-resource household, are prone to impulsive spending. Maybe that helps to know – it’s not just you.
Good luck – as hard as this situation is, it isn’t impossible to get out of, and you can do it. But you can’t do it alone, and it will not feel easy. Courage, friend.
I know you said that you reached the top of your tier or pay in your current job. You’ve accumulated so many transferable skills throughout your career that I think it would be beneficial to look for a new job. The amount you are earning is so low for a high cost of living city like Toronto.
I was in the same shoes as you, earning less than $30,000 a year and I liked my job. But I started applying for jobs that would double my income because I had nothing to lose by trying. That resulted in me tripling my income in a few years. And that was with no additional education.
You could also score a new career with medical and dental benefits. Then you could see a dentist, get a therapist, go for massages.andnsee a chiropractor. It doesn’t hurt to apply for a few jobs a week.
If you decide to go with coding you should look to see if any bootcamps or programs offer bursaries for women. I took a data analytics course for fun at Juno college out of Toronto and the intro course was free. Not sure if they still offer it but it doesn’t hurt to try
What a brave thing you did here!
Does the Canadian health system cover IUDs? They are so much more reliable than birth control pills and last 5-10 years. Insertion is not fun, but not that bad and then you have less chance of pregnancy and a little more money each month.
Also, don’t fret about your credit score going down if you cancel a card. Yes, it does but only for 3-6 months. My mom chose not to have credit cards for years but secured a mortgage by having a downpayment and showing the bank she paid her utilities on time. Maybe that wouldn’t happen these days but while you’re healing maybe anything requiring credit should happen through your husband.
I noticed that she opted out of her employer’s medical/dental insurance. If she opted back in, her birth control pills (or IUD) would likely be covered by that plan. Ditto the therapy and all other services she mentioned would be covered by that insurance (up to whatever limit, like 70-80% and with annual limits too – but if it’s a decent plan, it’s probably worth it).
I agree she shouldn’t worry about her credit score, because she already lives in a house that her family owns, and isn’t looking to move out to their own place.
The only thing I’d add here will be, related to your career change plan of becoming a psychiatrist, you need to talk to a real career advisor about that. This plan entails going to medical school first, there’s no other way. And medical school admissions requires in 99% of cases a very high level of recent academic achievement in a relevant degree. There’s a theoretical non-zero possibility of being admitted to medical school in Canada as a non-traditional applicant, but be aware that this plan is likely one of a decade plus: a couple years getting your medicine pre-reqs done ( and crushing them!), getting admitted to med and finishing that (4 years), and a psychiatry residency (5 years).
Hope this helps. Best wishes,
Neko, I’m so, so proud of you and also, you have a really lovely life!
Are any if your purchases still new with tags? If you, you might be able to make returns. If any were Amazon purchases, reach out to customer service to ask for return tags (even outside the return window.)
I agree with Ms. FW’s suggestions. A few additional ideas:
1. Identify when you are shopping. Are you doing it online at work or on your couch at home in the evenings? If you can identify when you are doing it you may be able to put more roadblocks in place. Like asking your husband to take your phone from you when you get home so you can’t online shop on the couch in the evening. It might also help you identify why you are doing it (Ex. need a little break after doing a hard task at work, escapism, as a “reward”, to relax in the evening, etc). Then you can start trying to replace those behaviors with something else (Ex. take your dog for a walk, grab a book from the library and read it, etc. When I need a little “reward’ or a ‘break’ after a mentally difficult work task, I try to open a can of my favorite seltzer or chew a piece of gum.)
2. Would it help if you had less free time? Can you take on some free hobbies or PT work to keep yourself too busy to online shop? For example: doing yard work, walking your neighbor’s dogs, maybe getting a PT job where you work one night a week in the spa field to keep you busy and earn you some extra money?
3. Cancel your Paypal account. Or maybe ask your husband to set a new password for your account and not share it with you. That way you can only log into it with his help? (I’m just thinking of ways to add more obstacles to shopping). Or turn on multifactor authentication in a way that is really cumbersome for you to login to your account.
4. Join your local Buy Nothing Group. Then you can still enjoy the thrill of the hunt and enjoy the excitement of new-to-you items, without the negative financial effects. (Although if acquiring “things” is the addiction itself this may not be the right answer).
5. Create a “planned fun” goal that might help boost your mood and keep you away from shopping. Examples: Visit one new park every weekend until you have visited all the parks in your town, or go to one new (free) museum each week until you have visited all the museums in your city, try a different library every week until you have been to them all, make a goal to get outside every day of the year (like the challenge Ms. FW did), do a random act of free kindness every week for a year (or every day?), etc. You might find fun in planning these activities each week, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are complete.
Good luck, you CAN do this!
I think everyone is doing a really great job of giving advice on how to work on your debt. I wanted to add a suggestion for increasing your income. Do you have time in your schedule to do any freelance massage? I bet you could make a decent amount doing a couple of events a month with this skill, at things like lowkey bachelorette parties or corporate events. If not now, maybe something to consider in the future?
Second thought, sorry for them coming right after another! I think you should work to tell her family (or at least a couple of people who she trusts). It’s so much harder to go through this big stuff alone, even though being vulnerable is really scary. If your family knows, they’ll know things like not to plan things that will cause you financial stress, and they’ll be able to support you!
I didn’t really see if your husband is aware, but if he’s not he really needs to know. There are several places in the budget that question if an expense is split, and if he doesn’t know you need the help, he won’t know if he needs to pitch in more/not assume you can cover expenses on your own. If he doesn’t know I get that this is EXTRA scary. Maybe it can’t happen right away, but in the end, coming clean and getting support from your loved ones will help.
All of us strangers here on the internet are routing for you! You can do this.
You are so right when you say this is no way for a 40-something to live. NOT because you are 40 something but because this is miserable and no one should be living in self-imposed misery. You deserve a better existence and you will get there!! Here are some steps I suggest to help you.
1. First set up mint/personal capital so you can see all your credit card/checking/savings accounts and the total balance/net worth.
2. Remove credit cards/bank accounts from paypal/amazon any frequently shopped sites
3. Log out of amazon/paypal/any other accounts EVERY TIME. You are trying to make shopping slower/more annoying for yourself.
4. You are going to make a rule you are REQUIRED to open that mint/personal capital app and review your balances and networth prior to ANY purchase (in person or online) even necessities like groceries.
a. Currently in the red so this will help you decide NO to purchases
b. Write a blurb to yourself about how terrible being in debt makes you feel.
5. You are going to open the app every night while on the couch
a. As you see the debt go down and eventually the positive net worth go up, you are going to get a dopamine hit from this!!! This is going to be your replacement addiction. Get addicted to seeing this number go up!
6. Suggestions – if you can find it in you to reveal to friends/family in some sense that you need to change your spending patterns, do it. Have them help you avoid spending opportunities. Switch to free activities and eating at each other’s homes. Ask them not to mention new purchases, so you have less drive to “keep up.”
7. YOU CAN DO THIS
8. This is a learned behavior and you can learn a new way
WISHING YOU THE VERY BEST!
Neko – you are Brave to share your story – I have been there except it was over 40,000.00 and I can’t tell you how good DEBT FREE feels – remember its a process – you didn’t get in debt overnight – One thing that helped me was the FRUGAL WOODS and a book called “Not Buying It” – I made a game out of how little I could buy each month – I saved all my receipts for the month and went over each item I didn’t need – I still suffer from Impulse Buying but I know its my weakness so I keep it in check – I have learned to plan purchases and once I became Debt free the fear of going back into debt is scary – Good Luck we are pulling for you!
Sharing an option for lower cost therapy! This website features therapists who’ve agreed to offer clients a sliding scale rate of $40-70.
I absolutely agree with the advice all of the commenters have given you. I’m a mostly-retired social worker & also dealt with my own depression. When you are feeling healthier many of your self-doubts and “stuck” feelings will be easier to recognize as a part of the depression, & you can look towards moving forward. In the meantime, find a therapist experienced in addictive behavior. It can feel scary at first. And give yourself time to heal.
Just commenting on how wonderful it was for you to share some of your most private parts with this community. You can do this!
Thank you for sharing your moving story, Neko! Congratulations on having a frugal living situation and a short commute in Toronto! I’m also amazed by the low interest rate on your credit card (2.15%?!).
I see that you’ve actually *opted out of your health/dental insurance* to reduce your deductions. Opt back in asap! It sounds like you really need that insurance for medication, therapy, dentist, optometrist, etc, etc. Opting back into your employer’s health & dental insurance will be worth it! Just like Liz suggests paying for therapy is worth the expense, I also think the insurance deduction is worth the expense.
Public mobile is a great cell phone service that is cheap!
I have a family with a lot of psychologists in it, and as much as you love the topic, I discourage you from pursuing a degree in psychology for career reasons, because it’s a much longer road than just the BA/BSc. I don’t think you can actually work in that field with just a bachelor degree. At least a masters degree is also needed, and I believe there are a lot of professional expenses/licences involved too. It’s a long, expensive road. To be a psychiatrist, you need a medical degree.
I’m soo glad that Liz recommended attending debtors anonymous meetings – I noticed another commenter had a negative experience at one, but it’s worth it to “shop around” to several different meetings (there are different hosts each day), and they are free and you can just show up starting today and up to every day of the week! I encourage you because my partner has had great success with A.A., and I have found OA (overeaters anonymous), and al anon extremely helpful. You don’t have to believe in god/be religious for this spiritual program to work, and since everyone there has the same addiction you do, it can help you get rid of a lot of the shame you’ve been feeling. An addiction is an illness like any other, and you shouldn’t have to carry the shame anymore. Best wishes to you!
I would suggest that in addition to closing your credit card, also close your PayPal account so you can’t be tempted by that. Most employers will also give you the option of having your paycheck split into different accounts – it may help to have a portion of it automatically sent to credit card payments or to rent. A more extreme option would be to discuss with your husband the option of temporarily turning your account over to him until you are in a healthier place – you could agree beforehand where your money should be sent to cover your major monthly expenses and debt payoff, and on a cash allowance you will get to cover your daily expenses. Breaking bad habits is not as much about willpower as about making them difficult to do. If you have been having compulsive spending problems since before 2009, it make take more extreme measures to break the cycle and bring about change.
This is probably taboo to mention, but I think combining finances with your husband could be a good idea. It might sounds counterintuitive, but you would have a teammate going forward. You would not have to feel private shame or feel alone in your financial struggles. You would have support, accountability, and companionship as you navigate this stuff. You might not actually need to pay a therapist once you had all that–I’m not against therapy though! I just know first hand it’s very expensive! Someone previously mentioned finding a friend or family member for help, what about your legal husband, life partner, the person you can file taxes with! I might sound old-fashioned, but I’m a millennial and a feminist and I still think one option for success is to join “forces” with your spouse. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons you have not considered this before…but it could be a radical and amazing change for the better. Good luck, whatever paths you choose.
You are brave. I think shame lives in secret. Once you tell your loved ones, that shame will diminish, especially as you implement your plan to pay off the debt.
I agree with the advice shared.
One gentle comment and loving suggestion: this sounds like a spiritual issue. New belongings are an idol…we all worship something, don’t we? I suggest you invest some time in learning about Jesus’ teachings, if you have not done so already. Right now we are trying to fill a bag that has holes in it–I know I share your addiction trait. Having a relationship with him filled my bag in surprising ways. I hope you hear the lightness and love with which I write this…
Thank you for sharing your story.
You can absolutely tackle the debt and get control of your shopping.
2 things to add to already many wonderful recommendations in comments above. There is a book by April Benson “To Buy or Not To Buy”. I found this book from FB group on Shopping Addiction that I am part of.
It’s a wonderful group of many people who struggle with the same things and they offer many recommendations and support.
Thank you for reading my comment. I hope it is helpful.
A few things that have helped me curb my impulse spending.
1. Usually, just holding something in my hand in the store or browsing it online, but not actually buying it satisfies that urge I have to treat myself or distract myself from a stressful situation.
2. Discovering minimalism REALLY helped me. Once I cleared things out of my house and saw how much nicer it looked and how much easier it was to keep clean, really made me pause to think before I bought something new.
3. Plan rewards for when you’ve paid off x amount of debt. I did rewards that got bigger for more debt paid off. For the first $500, I treated myself to a fancy lattee ($5), but once I had $3,000 I went out for a nice dinner with my husband ($100). Even though that slowed my debt payoff some, I needed those indulgent moments to remind me of why I was paying off the debt in the first place. Like you, I wanted to be able to go and do something on a whim or cover coffee for a friend without worrying if I had the money to do it.
No suggestions, Neko, just sending prayers & healing thoughts. You are strong and you WILL beat this!
Hi Neko! I first want to commend you for coming on the blog and opening up – I’m sure it was a terrifying thing to do, but, as other commenters have noted, it’s the first step towards healing.
There’s so much good advice in the comments and I’ll try not to duplicate it. I wonder if, in addition to cancelling/freezing credit cards, blocking online shopping sites, deleting emails, etc., whether you could also get yourself a notebook where you could write down every time you want to buy something. Write it out in detail – what is it? How much does it cost? Why do you want it? Why do you think you need it? If you’re trying to break the impulse spending, anything that interrupts the automatic process and forces you to really examine the situation might make it easier to put the brakes on. (I also agree that replacement activities to help the feedback loop are important – especially exercise.) You could also make yourself write why buying that item is more important than getting out of debt.
I really liked what one commenter said about how watching the level of debt drop can become the new dopamine hit. I manage all the finances in our family and I get a HUGE dopamine hit watching our savings and investments increase. I absolutely believe this could become a positive substitute for the ‘rush’ you currently get from purchasing things.
I think in the long run you need another job, but I don’t think you necessarily need to retrain, especially since you don’t have a clear idea about what you want to do – I agree with the commenters who have said that the new job is likely another way to distract yourself from the pain and distress you feel about your current life. I do want to point out that your income is incredibly low to live well in a HCOL city like Toronto, so a career change long-term would help to create more financial stability. But that’s not what you need to do right now – your plate is already full.
Ok, my big question is about your husband. Does he know about your situation? Does he know about your previous bankruptcy (which I think was before you were married, if I’m reading the timeline correctly)? I know lots of couples keep finances separate, but this seems like something where you would really benefit from having him on board and supporting you. Surely it affects him as well when you don’t have the money to do fun things together? He pays a higher percentage of the rent (I think) – does he pay a higher percentage of other joint expenses like food and animal care? Does he not see the purchases that come through the door?
I understand that no one can help an addict until the addict wants to change, but you ARE motivated to change and you need him in your corner. Can he help you break the feedback loop by taking you out walking when you want to spend online? Can you give him control over your phone/computer in the evenings when you don’t want to spend? Can you join a financial program (like You Need A Budget) together?
Lastly, Neko, I know it feels insurmountable right now, but you’re really not carrying that much debt. You have a stable living situation with a low rent. If you can do whatever it takes to break the cycle you’re in, you WILL be able to get yourself out of this situation.
Good for you for taking such positive steps. I’d recommend joining a free run group and taking free online yoga classes – both of those activities can have great psychological benefits.
I’d look into free or heavily subsided counselling for individuals with low incomes, these exists in most cities.
Speaking of income, your income is appallingly low! I’d look into a provincial or federal government job – you have great skills and they’re desperate for employees. There would be room for growth, full benefits and a pension. They also subsidize some schooling!
I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that Neko should focus on healing now, and I congratulate Neko for having taken this brave step for asking for help. Good luck!
Just a comment about the possible future careers Neko mentioned. At least in the US, becoming a Psychiatrist is a lengthy and very expensive process. After earning a bachelor’s degree with high grades in heavy math and science courses like Calculus, Organic Chemistry, Physics, etc. people apply to medical schools. After completing a 4 year medical school program that culminates in earning and MD or DO, next there’s a 4-5 year medical residency period.
I’m thinking that maybe Neko was talking about becoming a Psychologist? The pathway to becoming a Psychologist is somewhat shorter. In the US. People with Master’s degrees can practice independently, while many earn a doctoral degree in psychology. In the US, some people earn 2 year degrees to becaome Certified Addiction Specialists, so it is possible to enter the field of helping people without a lot more college, but the rate of pay is pretty low.
Neko, I think you are so brave to share all of this with us! You took the very hard first step of asking for help. Bravo!
I only have two small suggestions. I wonder if adjusting the medication you take for depression would be helpful? If I understand correctly, you can see your primary care doctor for free. If you discuss your spending compulsion with them, they may feel that increasing your dosage would be beneficial, and they may also be able to refer you to a therapist.
As far as your future educational and career goals, I wonder if you could find a job at a university that offers free tuition as a benefit? I work for a university and that is one of our benefits, along with fantastic health insurance.
Best of luck to you!
I can empathize with the shopping compulsion, as I struggled with something similar from time to time. There are lots of great suggestions here, and I agree with seeking support soon as possible. The long term goal is certainly to stop over-shopping, but in the meantime, I’d like to suggest finding short-term replacements for shopping rather than trying to fully stop, which may feel like torturous self-deprivation. Might it work to turn your dopamine hits toward something cheap or free? Sometimes I go “shopping” at the library, where I can take home armloads of books and movies any time I want. Sometimes I buy just one or two things at a time at the grocery store so I can go more frequently (but still stick to a list). Or maybe get interested in “collecting” things in nature like mushrooms, flowers, or bird sightings. All these ideas also involve walking, and exercise is a lovely bonus. Anyway, I wish you well in your recovery.
Neko, thank you so much for sharing. I hope as others said you can be kind and gentle to yourself– you’re going through something hard and doing an amazing job recognizing and owning it as part of the process towards help, health, and healing. So many people come out of debt that is far deeper than yours so I hope you can find some hope as well as feel proud of yourself for addressing this relatively early and as Mrs FW said, while you can address it still pretty fast.
On practical notes I had many of the same suggestions as AJ and others above: BuyNothing for the satisfaction of the hunt and acquisition without the cost, selling rather than buying for a buzz, increasing income by using your existing massage/ aesthetician skills, remove access not just to your credit cards but also PayPal account, and enlist your partner who seems great for support/help. Getting an even lower interest rate would be great but also great you don’t have a ridiculously high one now.
3 other thoughts
1) have you looked into an IUD instead of birth control pills? I’m not sure how this would be covered in Canada but it may (or may not) be a bigger upfront cost, but cost savings in the medium- to long-run. While the insertion is a little uncomfortable, I also loved not having to think about taking it every day anymore, just set it and forget it. I also had a major mood improvement when I went off of hormonal birth control, but YMMV and you should of course discuss with your doc.
2) Your phone expense in the budget, Mrs FW said get an MVNO but I was wondering if that was a payment for the physical phone itself, not the line? If so, could you sell it and get a less expensive used model to get that expense off your plate? I have an old iPhone6 that only cost me like 2-3 months of what you’re paying now if that’s what the expense is indeed for.
3) Is there a way you can gamify paying off debt and eventually saving to get something like the thrill you’re getting now from shopping? It might take a little while to get enough momentum going for this to feel fun, but for me it was a game-changer to go from spending for fun to saving for fun. Like if you’re tempted to scroll online for shopping, instead looking at your accounts and seeing the debt go down / savings go up might eventually be exciting? Or creating a spreadsheet or list of some goals, and once you hit them giving yourself some small free reward could be fun.
Best of luck!
PS Neko, here are a couple resources on free / low cost therapy I found in the Toronto area:
TICP Referral Service
The TICP offers a Referral Service aimed at those persons seeking the therapeutic benefits of intensive psychoanalytic therapy but who are otherwise unable to afford the higher fees or longer waiting lists of established clinicians. Please note, these services are not covered by OHIP. After an initial assessment for suitability, therapy will be provided by Institute candidates who have attained a broad range of clinical and academic qualifications and who are in ongoing supervision with senior practising analysts. There is no fee to submit a referral application form.
See “Community Resources (free or sliding scale)” starting on p. 3
The interest rate on the credit card seems extremely low. I’m wondering if this is an introductory offer that will eventually goes up, because that changes the urgency of paying off the card.
Hi Neko, congratulations on taking this important and huge first step. We are all rooting for you!
I have two tiny suggestions: delete the paypal and credit card numbers from your browsers, and put the credit card in a place where it is hard to find. That way if you find yourself about to click “purchase,” it gives you a few more minutes of pause and difficulty in which you can remind yourself that this is not what you really, truly want.
Second, more sensitive idea: is there a chance you could ask your husband to explore a vasectomy? That would both save you $15/month on birth control and perhaps could help you emotionally, if there is a hormonal angle to your compulsive behavior.
I think the long run you will be able to find that paying down debt/racking up savings can give you an emotional rush that is even better than what you get from having new things. Go Neko!
Its very brave of you to share and ask for advice on your shopping addiction! I cant say Ive exactly had the same problem but here are some suggestions I hope you might find helpful
One way you could “shop” for free would be at your local library. You can even do this online from the comfort of your home for ebooks and audiobooks or even some libraries have a pickup option if you reserve holds for physical books.
Having something to look forward to regularly is really important and it sounds like it may be another part of the needs being met by the shopping addiction. Perhaps you could set up a regular weekly cooking date with friends. You said you like baking so you can set one day a week to get together with your friends and bake a special recipe and then since theres more people the results of the baking can be distributed . Perhaps you could combine this with the above and you could “shop” for good recipes perhaps from interesting cookbooks at the library? and maybe even take turns supplying ingredients. We did a weekly cooking class like this with a friend and it was always the highlight of my week. Our friend taught us all kinds of cooking tequniques and some recipes that made it into regular rotation and having a set time I knew we would get to hang out to look forward to was in itself wonderful. The baking day was a specific suggestion given you mentioned your love of baking but really the underlying suggestion is a to think about a fun (and very cheap or free) weekly social thing you can look forward to. Though rereading it looks like your baking is already a sunday weekly thing.
Also Mental health has been discussed. I know you said youve looked into some online therapy groups and stuff and I dont want to discount therapy options but heres an absolutely amazing free self help supplementary mental health resource someone shared with me (I havent personally had great experiances with therapy so this was something that was more helpful to me but it can absolutely be used alongside therapy and encourages that usage but the barrier to entry is much lower than finding a therapist): https://integralguide.com/%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F+Start+Here/%F0%9F%A6%AE+How+to+Use+the+Integral+Guide
The guide discusses many approaches but mainly emphasises Internal Family Systems therapy which basically you personify and get to know different parts of yourself (including your shopping addiction) and build a compassionate relationship with them, figuring out what needs they serve, what they are protecting you from and how you can figure out other less destructive ways to serve those same needs. (Im heavily simplifying but trying to give a basic jumping off point to explain if you want to look more into it)
Also you may want to look into decluttering methods since you likely have accumulated a lot of stuff through your shopping. Ive found that reading through the Konmari books and starting the method has helped me be more thoughtful about what I bring into my house, it must spark joy and I need to know where it would live and once I finish the process I will hopefully have a better idea of whats in my house already that I can use instead of buying something else to serve that need.
I hope you (or someone else reading) finds something useful in these suggestions. Best of luck we are all rooting for you!
Your vulnerability is to be admired Neko. Asking for help is a humungous first step. I wish you much luck on your journey.
I would choose going with Liz’s suggestion to pay off the credit card with the $500 a month you’re no longer shopping with, and use that other $277 from decreasing your expenses to pay for the therapist and vision/dental/insurance. That way you are getting the important therapy and insurance started ASAP, and since that means it takes a couple months longer to pay off your debt, that is a couple more months that you are maintaining the new habits of therapy and not spending.
All the 0% balance transfer credit card offers I’ve seen come with a flat 3% or 5% fee in order to process the transfer. That is guaranteeing that you pay that 3% or 5% in interest to the credit card issuer. Your rate is only 2.15%. You should not transfer to a 0% card if there is any fee whatsoever for the transfer. That is paying more for your debt than keeping it on your current card.
CUT UP THAT CREDIT CARD! and close your Paypal account! and delete the cookies/cache and browser histories on your phone and computer/tablets at home. That way you absolutely cannot mindlessly buy something online. And your computer doesn’t “help” you shop by remembering your credit card’s information!
Can you have your husband do the grocery shopping and pet food/treat shopping instead (if he is better at skipping impulse buys and has the time)? Then you can pay him your portion, or reimburse him if that is your cost sharing agreement.
Good luck to you =)
Oh, two more things I thought of after posting my comment!
One: you love to exercise, so can you bike to work? That would double duty your transportation: saving on bus fare and getting some movement!
Two: can you use your massage therapy skills/licensing as a side hustle? Just taking on a few clients might help boost your income.
again, good luck!
I was wondering the same thing: If the distance is walkable it sure should seem to be bikable.
If having the dog that you’re possibly taking to /picking up from the in-laws on a leash isn’t safe while biking there should be options like a pet carrier to add to your bike.
All I wanted to say is that you can do it! Cheering for you!
If you’ve kept the clothes, can you start selling them on Poshmark or Thredup and use whatever money you make toward your debt? I wonder if selling might give you the same high as buying? And that would give you some time to start working with an addiction group to get a handle on the reasons.
I was going to suggest the same thing!
First, it is clear that your debt causes you shame. For that reason (I hate shame) and no other I would consider putting all of your efforts into paying debt. A single goal can be easier to stick with, for me. When I was paying off debt I made myself a big poster board and hung it on my closet (it was a bar chart) showing my debt in a red bar. Then I filled in the new debt amount bar on the first of every month. It dropped so slowly at first, but it did drop! And the visual helped me. YMMV.
I agree with shutting down that credit card (or freezing it) and I think you also need to close your paypal account. You clearly have learned to game the system (I have to admit I chuckled a bit when you explained the exact parameters of how Paypal expenses post…I learned something! You must be very good at your job).
I agree with all the excellent suggestions about finding a way to get some help: Addictions are hard and if you could fix it all by yourself you it would be done already. Most of us need help with many intractable problems over the course of our lives. It’s good to seek out and pay for constructive help. Also, you mentioned that you chose not to have benefits to avoid the deductions from your pyacheck, but I think you should change that as soon as you can. Health (including dental) costs can add up quickly (at least where I live). And it may help you access more affordable professional help.
And I wondered if there is any possibility of picking up some spa work from time to time? I mean, I don’t know what kind of work you did but I do know where I live (Chicago) there are definitely seasonal demands on Spas (mother’s day, holidays, warm weather, new year’s, etc.). It’s hard to imagine taking on extra work, but if there is a way to earn a bit extra from time to time by subbing for someone on the weekends and if the money is sufficient, it might help pay that debt down a bit faster even with the additional cost for professional help. That may not be possible, of course.
Good luck to you, don’t be hard on yourself and find ways to be kind to yourself (like reading a good book from the library or doing something you enjoy)..
I agree with the suggestion to set aside any possible career changes until the addiction is more under control. Once your head is clear, you’ll have a lot more confidence and be able to make better decisions.
Hi Neko, you are getting some great advice here. One little addition: Is the depression med you are on also for OCD? Your general practitioner may not have given you the optimal prescription. IF you also have some OCD, there might be a better depression drug for you.
Also, could you pick up a bit of extra money by dog walking? Miles of walking can help relieve anxiety.
Best of luck.
Hello fellow Canadian! If you are looking for a Canadian MVNO, Public Mobile is really good and cheap. Good luck 🙂
Another heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS on your “frankness, transparency, and bravery” as commenter Jen had said. You’ve got great advice here around tackling the soul-hurt that has led to your shopping behaviours. You have referred to your shopping as an addiction, so I think about the language used by addictions specialists, and the differences in *abstinence* versus *harm reduction* as strategies for dealing with addictions.
You’ve got lots of advice and tools for abstinence related to your discretionary and impulse purchases (cut up your credit cards, for example) and I would also like to suggest you consider more of a harm reduction approach. This means that, like an addict, you give yourself regular doses of the substance you are addicted to, but in measured amounts.
A couple of ideas:
1. Install website blocking software on whatever devices you use to shop. There are different ones for different devices & browsers, and you can have sites blocked for a few minutes, or a few days. It might help to define “shopping time” as, say, Thursdays between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, and configure your blockers accordingly. Then, you have given yourself 30 minutes a week. In the meantime, you may think about and be more considerate about what you will be doing over those 30 minutes, thus lowering the impulsivity factor.
2. Define some parameters around your small doses of impulsivity, for example, you will only buy items that are gifts to others, or that will be donated to a charity shop.
3. Purchase gift-cards for those sites/stores you are currently “abusing” and only spend the $xx that is on those gift cards. Once you’ve spent that gift card, you need to buy another one.
4. Cash only, perhaps using the envelope system, and having an envelope labelled Fun/Impulse
Maybe none of these idea speak to you, but I know that for me, when I have an “all or nothing” mentality, it often backfires. I have gotten myself into trouble with “all or nothing” thinking and behaviours, and so I am very drawn to harm reduction as an approach, and to the idea of inhabiting “the radical middle.”
This last term is one I learned from The Frugal Friends podcast and website. If you are into podcasts, they have really great stories about people who tackled their debt, and lots of podcasts related to the emotional side of spending. “The radical middle” is how the Frugal Friends call the strategies and advice that speak most to them and their messy realities. Going full-on cold-turkey may be what works for you, and Mrs Frugalwoods has provided you with two calculations for how you can reduce your debt in 1 or 2 years! That’s amazing!!
But I will also gently suggest that perhaps a “cold-turkey” all or nothing approach may not work for you. The goal is to get out of debt, but if you gave yourself a modest “impulse allowance” and even reduced that amount over time, you may find that you will get out of debt, taking just a little bit longer, maybe 3 years instead of 1 or 2. This would still be a success, and might make it easier for you to take the next steps as they won’t seem as daunting, or guilt-inducing.
Also, I think about one of the common rules of Improv, which is that when you are in a scene with another character, you cannot say “no,” you cannot refuse the line that was offered to you – you have to keep the scene going, no matter how crummy the previous line was. This is a great strategy for for keeping a story line going. But I wonder if this rule of improv has permeated other ways that you are thinking. Improv is offering you a healthy emotional connection with others, so I agree that it should likely remain a part of your life. However, since it’s clear that this *is* an important part of your life, I can’t help but wondering if some of the “all or nothing” rules of improve (in this case, never say “no”) is not helping you in other parts of your life.
Now, I am certainly engaging in arm-chair psychologizing here, and maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless, and perhaps one more reason for you to consider a “radical middle” or “harm reduction” approach, rather than “all or nothing.”
Best wishes to you!
Hey Neko, I have to add a cheer – you are such an amazing and brave lady!
There’s so much helpful advice here so I’m going to try to avoid repeating it. Just a few things I’d like to add.
I have my own history of compulsive credit card spending, which I’m REALLY happy to have put behind me. I found the one of the most helpful things I did was practice a lot of self-love. Developing a truly kind and loving relationship with myself made the rest so much easier. Why? Because being in debt stopped me from living the life I truly wanted to lead, and it was only by truly loving myself that I felt that I DESERVED to live differently. It allowed me to feel the craving (e.g. for a new dress), but also recognise there was something else I wanted much more (to be debt free). So there is real value in practising kindness to yourself!
I also made sure I continued to treat myself frequently, just with things that were free or very cheap (such as a long bubble bath by candlelight). Allow yourself to think “I’m going to treat myself to…” the thing, as then you are deeply associating the treat with it being a treat!
And, finally, although I genuinely understand why people would suggest handing over your finances to your husband, PLEASE don’t do this. No matter how good a relationship is, it is a dangerous thing to give another person control over your money.
Please do give us an update when you are ready. We are all cheering for you!!!
Hi from a fellow Torontonian, Neko! A few thoughts:
1) It’s probably going to be cheaper to get on your employer benefits plan and claim your therapy through there than it is going to be paying for someone private out of pocket, so I’d look into buying it. That will also let you do things like get new glasses and go to the dentist!
2) It doesn’t sound like you have a family doctor–but if you do, or you have a drop-in doctor you see frequently, you should see about getting referred to an MD therapist, as they’re covered by OHIP. The waiting lists are long, but it would be good to have that in the works so that you can stop paying a private one eventually.
3) Have you looked into an ADHD diagnosis? I say this because how you write and express your thinking is very familiar to me from my own life, as someone who was diagnosed with combined ADHD at 39 (I’m 41 now). Your depression and shopping addiction both sound very much like classic ADHD traits, as do your many, many possible plans for a future career. (Did I almost decide to do a 2-year psychotherapy degree at Yorkville earlier this year, despite already having 4 degrees and a career? Yup, I super did!) Impulsive shopping is CLASSIC ADHD, because it’s a reliable and easily accessible source of dopamine–and because ADHD brains are obsessed with novelty. And there are a WILDLY large number of women our age who have undiagnosed ADHD, because doctors and schools in the 80s and 90s were only looking for the traits exhibited by little (white) boys.
All of this is to say that just dealing with your shopping addiction may be, if ADHD is a factor, treating the symptom and not the cause. Getting assessed and treated used to be hugely expensive, but I know a lot of folks who have had good experiences with Frida, which is an online adult ADHD clinic for Ontarians. And they have subsidies for folks who can’t afford the full assessment fee: https://www.talkwithfrida.com/
Wishing you all, all the support and care in the world as you work to figure this out. I can’t wait for an update and see how you’re doing later!
Just here to say I’m rooting for you! 🙂
It’s been mentioned but I thought I would say it again. Get assessed for ADHD. The impulsivity you described, compulsive exercise, as well as your struggles with depression are big red flags for me because that has been my experience with adhd. It spunds lile ypur brain is begging for dopamine! Mine isn’t as bad as you describe but I do struggle with stopping myself from online shopping, in game purchases, and fast food. Wellbutrin has helped for me but proper ADHD medication can help with that, I just have issues with my blood pressure so I haven’t been able to try it.
For counseling I would recommend Breelove! It’s accessible in Ontario, can be done virtually, and they have a free clinic every Wednesday and have options to make therapy much more affordable than it usually.is without benefits. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me, I would be happy to help.
My email is kp dot semple at gmail dot com
ADHD could be it–I was diagnosed at 51. Also, just admitting you have a problem is a help. Also, ignoring your health to save money can often cost you money in the long run. You are doing a great job and should keep it up!
What a caring and passionate Frugalwoods community! There is great and solid advice here Neko from Liz and everyone else! May I add something that might come across negatively, but it’s not – consider combining your finances with your husband. You are married which means you are one. You seem to have a great relationship with each other and combining checking and savings accounts creates a culture of honesty and openness. Both of you are approaching your finances as if you are roommates – “I’m paying him my share of the mortgage/rent. I’m giving him money for my portion of the electric bill…etc.” Now that you are married it’s not “my debt” it’s OUR debt. I realize that you feel like you are the one who racked up all this debt through impulse spending, but your husband should be helping you and being your biggest cheerleader (if he’s not already doing those things).
Many people who are married have separate finances and while that may work for them, it sounds to me like combining your finances with your husband will be another way of controlling the impulse spending.
You might want to give the quitzilla app a try, because you could literally do it right now. It helps to give a little positive re-enforcement for how long you have been able to stop. Obviously many of the above comments have so much great details at getting to the source and working through the complexity of human behavior. Good luck on your journey, know that you have taken one of the most difficult steps already, the 1st step.
The whole reason I logged on was to mention Debtors Anonymous. Since it has already been recommended let me give some tips for optimal progress.
– Go to several different meetings, meet a lot of people.
– Decide which 2 or 3 meetings you like the best and keep going to them a lot, especially at first.
Second: Get a sponsor
– start working on the 12 steps with a sponsor’s guidance; do not do this alone
– spend 10-15 minutes a day on step work, not less, not necessarily more. Avoid excess.
– It is either referred to as a Pressure Relief Meeting or Pressure Relief Group
— You ask 2 people, custom is one woman and one man, and set up a date
— If an emergency meeting maybe they will sit down with you right away or after 1 month of record keeping. Usually it is 3 months of keeping track of every penny you spend – and this is important – by the categories of Debtors Anonymous, not by whatever system/categories you have.
—–This is partly because the categories have been carefully thought out in terms of priorities and sub-labels. Also because then every PRG meeting is speaking a common language; remember, your PRG pair are purely volunteers, not professionals, and you can be most thoughtful by following the guidelines that save time and effort. (you will get used to it).
—You will be asked to take a moment to decide what you want the meeting to be about. Stick to the idea that you want a Spending Plan. (we don’t say budget) Why? Because in DA we don’t suffer in order to pay off the credit card debt. It is counter intuitive at first. It won’t work. A complete spending plan for someone who has a decent job and can meet committed expenses will take into account Fun, Personal Care, and yes, Clothing. Taking care of debt will also be covered.
It is not an overnight solution or fix. It is a journey that you will take where you gradually, mostly painlessly, change. At the same time working towards better spending habits while working with a person who has been where you are and knows what it takes to get out of that situation. It won’t be instant, the emphasis is on your growth which will impact your spending.
The website has several pamphlets you can download for free.
look under Essentials of Recovery
You didn’t say much about your husband’s side of the finances. Does he have debt? Is he a big spender? Would he be supportive in the process of helping you overcome your addiction? Ideally, the two of you could be a team, working together to get both of you on a solid financial path going forward. Whether you choose to combine finances at some point or not, you should still be working on the same plan. Can you have a monthly/ weekly / even daily if needed quick meeting with him to talk about what was spent? Can he give some ideas on things the two of you could do to fix the situation?
Cancel or freeze your PayPal as well. I agree with getting therapy! See if there is a sliding scale for therapy services to reduce the cost. I would suggest telling your spouse sooner than later.
Hi Neko – if it gives you hope, at 43 I was in *$63K* of debt (some for grad school but mostly consumer debt), with no assets or retirement savings. Today, 13 years later, I have $0 debt and almost $250K in retirement savings! What it took was a total commitment to getting out of the situation. That included looking for jobs that paid better than what I was making at the time, and I kept on doing that – my income now is at least triple what I was making then. And, I found that once I made that commitment, money came in from unexpected sources to help me along. It’s really true that if you’re totally committed, the Universe conspires to help you. I concur with the advice to be totally honest with your husband about this, if you aren’t already, and enroll his support in your accountability. There’s a good book – “The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living” by Anna Newell Jones – that might inspire you. Finally, if totally eliminating online browsing seems too extreme for you, what I do is, when I see clothes, etc., that I want online, I bookmark the page and put it in a separate folder, but don’t buy it. Every once in a while I review what I have stored and realize that half the things I don’t even want or are sold out, which is always a relief. You can do it!
And, one more thing. I’m not sure how it is in Canada, but in the US, if a couple is married, spouses are responsible for each other’s debts (at least, anything accrued after the marriage). So, if something were to happen to you that would prevent you from working, it’s likely your husband would be responsible for your debt, even if you keep your finances separate generally. That might be motivating in itself; it’s also a reason to be really open with him about your situation, because he deserves to know what he would be responsible for.
Hi Neko. A few thoughts come to mind that I didn’t see addressed in the advice so far (though I did skim quickly, so apologies if I’m repeating anything!). One thing is to arrange to be assessed for bi-polar disorder. An assessment by a GP at a walk-in clinic might not have been thorough enough to determine if you might have this (or another type of disorder such as ADHD that another person mentioned). Shopping sprees can be part of the manic phase of bi-polar. Treatment can be different from depression (which is the other phase of bi-polar). Please don’t be alarmed by the thought that this might be a possibility. I know people who’ve been diagnosed, treated and are now living happily with the condition.
Another tip is to sign up for the extended health benefits available through your employer. You say you can’t afford the deductions – I say you can’t afford not to take advantage of this benefit opportunity!
Also, have you checked if your employer offers an Employee Assistance Program? These are confidential and free – you don’t need to sign up in advance as with your benefit participation. They are usually limited to a small number of sessions but could be of help to get you on a healing path – even if it’s referrals. Counselling is usually one therapy offered in EAPs.
Finally, you don’t say if your husband is aware of your problem. It sounds as if he isn’t. I think you really need to talk to him and enlist his support in your healing journey. If you watch the Gail Vax Oxlaade programs you will note she has the couples she works with tell their family members. It’s part of enlisting a support network. I would start with your husband and work with him and a counsellor to decide when and how you should share this information with your parents, for example.
Best wishes to you for a successful resolution to your condition.
I’d like to gently second this comment. Ikept hearing the bell of hypo mania, as I read your story.
I’m so glad that urgent care doc heard your despair, as well as your acute injury.
I wish you the sparkling, resonant best. No winter lasts forever, no spring skips it’s turn.
Maybe this has been said in the comments already, but 2.15% on a cc is already very low. A balance transfer to a 0% interest promo card usually has a transfer fee of 2-3% and I haven’t seen a credit limit much over 5k USD. Then, if the balance is not paid in full by the time the promo period ends, very often the cc company will charge interest on the *initial* balance. Just something to look out for 🙂
Hi Neko, thank you so much for having the courage to share your compelling story with this community. I’m a long time Frugalwood lurker, who has never posted before but your story resonated with me as, 20 years ago, I too struggled with shopaholic tendencies and maxed out credit cards. You can defeat this insidious “affliction” with small steps at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information! As Mrs. F. said, self comes first.
As a Canadian (BC) I would urge you, as other posters have done, to immediately take advantage of your employment health package. I would also suggest that Debtors Anonymous, while not everyone’s cup of tea, is worth a try as the 12-step program provides accountability and supportive “sponsors”. Finally, I would talk to a GP (drop-in clinic or friend referral) about being referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in addictions of this type. They are also experts in balancing and prescribing medications. Psychiatrists are free of charge – covered under OHIP. It is important to go to the experts and (from personal experience) more harm than good can be done by inexperienced or unqualified therapists / counsellors.
Wishing you all the very best. Jeanne
Speaking as someone whose compulsion to spend put me in debt to the tune of $95,000, I am living proof that you can dig yourself out of this hole. I ended up securing a job that paid more, I started saying upfront to people that I could not afford to X, Y or Z, but if it involved food I suggested a potluck as a way to get together. I found people very receptive to the idea of doing something cheaper than going out for food and drinks; several times I had people tell me it was a relief not to go out with mates because they really could not afford it but were ashamed to say it. I also started asking myself how many hours I worked for every single thing (except for food and hygiene things). A new jacket does not look that enticing when I think about how many hours I worked to pay for it. Enlist the help of family, not to police you but to cheer you on. Each person who got out of debt found their own path for doing that, so keep reading stuff that might answer your needs. Your really can do this.
I only read some of these wonderful comments so in case someone didn’t already mention good low cost therapy option is http://www.openpathcollective.com. There is a small fee to join and you need to meet the income criteria which I think you do. But all therapist listed on there have a greed to take between $30 and $70 per session for individual therapy. This may be less than what you would have to pay with insurance/out-of-pocket normally so definitely worth looking into.
Hi Neko, thank you so much for sharing your story. Please be kinder to yourself. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have, and you don’t need to add to your struggles by beating yourself up. It made me so sad to read your negative self talk – you are a smart, hardworking woman who has built a beautiful life for herself. I hope you can see that soon! Sending you love on your healing journey ♥️ you are strong and brave and you can do it!
It’s difficult to read every comment, so I hope I don’t overlap too many of the other responses.
First off, Neko, you are smart and you are brave. You know you have a problem and you want to change it, which means you can and will. But I would caution against self-diagnosing yourself with an addiction, especially while you are currently struggling with mental health. Shopping may be a form of “self-medication”. It might be a true addiction, but that diagnosis should come from a professional. Because many people do truly suffer from addictions, it’s best not to use the term loosely. People shop compulsively for many reasons, but it is usually a symptom or a comorbidity (for example, my aunt was shopping compulsively to the tune of losing all of her assets, and was eventually diagnosed with a mental health disorder that was the root cause of the shopping).
Your mental health is precious. Do whatever you need to do to heal yourself. Get yourself onto the employer health plan if you can — the money is well spent if you can have mental health coverage. I say this having spent far too many years battling my mental heath during a time when people really didn’t talk about it.
Several things came to mind. I think accountability would be the best way to change your habits. Have you considered coming clean to your parents and asking for a loan to pay off the credit card, showing them that you’ve cancelled it and agreeing to check in for financial accountability meetings? My own adult child did this, and for a full year we checked in regularly going over the credit card statement, and now we still touch base even though better financial habits have been achieved. Getting help this way eliminates the crazy high credit card interest and takes away the temptation to start moving balances from card to card for 0% offers, which can create problems for people who shop compulsively. It also involves someone who cares about you (which seems would think to be true in your case since you write about your family so fondly).
There are so many ways to learn to spend less money (the Frugalwoods website and book, The Tightwad Gazette, etc.), but while they are helpful overall in learning to be frugal, I think they come after you figure out how to stop the spending. For me — I too was a chronic overspender when I was younger and battling depression — I needed to have something I wanted more than whatever I was buying. We were in credit card debt to the tune of $24K (inflation adjusted to $45K!). For me, I wanted to have a family, buy a house (we owned a condo), and not need to work outside the home. I wanted to not be in debt, living paycheck to paycheck paying minimum payments, always worried about the next thing that might happen — a car repair, needing to replace a major appliance, etc.
Knowing why you want to stop the spending — both the positive and negative reasons — is only part of the equation. You need something else to occupy the space that shopping currently fills. One thing you might consider is a “depth year”, where you commit to using the things you already have — wearing the clothes and shoes you have already purchased, reading the books you have already purchased, pursuing the hobbies you have already purchased supplies for, baking with the tools you have already purchased, etc. For me, the occasional depth year (or season) reminds me of the abundance of riches I already have, and the gratitude I find in that erases the feeling that I need more.
Some people find that they can replace shopping with extreme frugality, which is rewarding as well. There have beens times when I had to kick into extreme frugality, which these days we now call “sprinting” because we are working toward a short term goal. Otherwise Iwejust practice moderation in all things, including frugality. I think we’ve earned it.
We went from having a mortgage, second mortgage (which the lender talked us into immediately closing, so we would have monty to fix things up), that $24K in credit card debt (remember — equivalent to $45K now), and student loans to now having zero debt. I was able to be a stay at home mom. We have a paid for house in a VHCOL area, plus a sweet camper van, a brand new electric car, a late model car, and an older used car — all paid for (so many vehicles because our children are young adult university students). We’ve been able to pay for university so that our kids don’t have student loans. I could not have imagined it when I finally faced the amount of credit card debt we had and realized that while we both had contributed to it with eating out, travel, etc., I was the one doing most of the unnecessary shopping.
Best of luck!
Very good point about the term “addiction”. Thanks for sharing your personal experience as well.
Attend Debtoes Anonymous! I have joined and it’s helped me immensely. There’s groups on Facebook and info online to find one near you or on Zoom. Very informative and great to hear stories similar to your own.
As someone who deals with anxiety and depression… Don’t think of therapy / mental health care as an expense… it is an investment in your future. This is something that you can’t afford NOT to do. Delving into this is by no means fun, but think of it this way… You seem to be a social person (I envy you for that), this is a perfect chance to invest in therapy / group therapy and… volunteer! Is there a community health clinic that will let you volunteer in exchange for services? If so, how perfect to give back and take care of yourself as well. If there is no such trade, having to pay for services is INVESTING in you.
Being frugal is willing to pay a price for / invest in a quality item that will last. Please value yourself enough to make the investment.
The past few years have been a challenge. I *had* one hell of an emergency fund… through a laundry list of events too long to mention here (including 3 hospital visits, emergency vet bills and an auto accident), blew through that fund and am now facing about 5,500USD in mostly credit card debt. This is after I’ve paid off several thousand in additional medical debt. This is where the depression and anxiety kick in because I think back to all the times I played into consumerism over the last 25 years… If only I had that money, I wouldn’t be in debt now. I valued ‘stuff’ and the ability to say ‘it’s my money!’ more than I valued myself. Without addressing the mental health aspect, I’d not have the coping mechanisms to keep myself on track. Looking at the numbers still stinks, and ‘The Year of Plan B’ is going to be rough, but there s proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
Had I not invested in my mental health, I’d still value ‘stuff’ over myself. Now I mostly have the ability to walk away and have plans in place for instances like right now where all I keep doing is checking credit card / banking balances and wondering what else I could be doing even though I have a solid plan in place.
May I recommend Hannah Louise Poston’s YouTube channel? She was in a position similar to yours and embarked on a No Buy Year in 2018. Her videos chronicle that year, but also focus on conscious consumption and avoiding the cycle of overspending. (She is also a makeup creator, so skip that if you aren’t interested.)
She’s thoughtful, insightful, and has overcome and wrestled with the same demons you have. If you’ve never checked her out, I recommend!
Hi, I’m reading thru the comments added since yesterday afternoon and I just want to say that making more money is not the answer. The person that said ‘reason why we buy stuff we don’t need is because we don’t believe our dreams will come true.’ really gave me something to think about!
I also think the various addictions are to fill up an empty space inside, and it will never work because we have to figure out what that empty space really means.
Just out of curiosity, I tried to look back but couldn’t see on your expenses if groceries were split 50/50? Rent is, so shouldn’t all other household expenses be as well. If your finances are seperate, just wondering why you are paying for yours, your husband’s, and you mother in law’s phones? Also, I second what someone said about birth control. If this is a mutual decision he should either be splitting the cost with you or, as a previous poster noted, consider a vasectomy. Definitely covered by OHIP.
Also, I’m pretty sure your benefit plan wouldn’t be anymore than 200-300 per month at most. That alone would cover 2 therapy sessions, let alone chiro, physio, prescriptions, dental etc. Obviously check into it first because I know all plans are not created equal, but if you have medical needs most times benefits are definitely worth it.
Neko, there is a free, non-profit credit counselling service in Toronto (the Credit Counselling Society) that can help you too. Here is their website: https://nomoredebts.org/canada-credit-counselling/ontario/toronto. I wish you all the best moving forward.
Hi Neko, I have two suggestions, one for your career aspirations and one for introducing some novelty into your current wardrobe while working on your shopping addiction:
1. I used to work in college admissions and specialized in working with adult students that were returning to the classroom after several years and it is definitely not too late to pursue a career shift! Before you commit to a degree or boot camp, see if you have access to any introductory courses in the fields you are considering (psychology, teaching, coding). It looks like the Toronto Public Library has lots of options for online learning programs that you can access with a free library card (https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/elearning/). You may not earn credit toward a degree, but if the course is robust enough, you may be able to test out of certain courses once you decide which path you want to pursue (which will shorten the amount of time you spend and reduce your costs). There are also usually workforce development programs that are sponsored by your local government that may be able to help you with free career and education guidance to help you make a decision about what the best fit for you may be. (I would ask your local librarian, they will likely know what options are available in your local community.)
2. If you enjoy the new-ness of buying clothes online, you can try introducing some novelty into your current wardrobe. Divide up your current wardrobe (clothes and shoes!) by season: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Then divide the clothes and shoes in each season into 2-3 capsule wardrobes. Box up each capsule and label it Spring 1, Spring 2, Spring 3, etc. You can open up the boxes throughout the year to get the dopamine rush that comes from “new” clothes. You can even wrap each item in fun tissue paper and have your husband place it on the doorstep to get the delightful “unboxing” experience that comes with online shopping. It is a lot of organizational work upfront, but if you break it up over the course of several days/weeks, it’s definitely doable.
Of course, this isn’t a replacement for therapy (I am 110% on board with Mrs. Frugalwoods recommendation there), but these are just a couple small steps that you can take to get started on your journey back to being debt-free and living the life you deserve! Best wishes!
I haven’t read all the comments (there are a ton!!! yay!), so sorry if this is repetitive, but can you create space between stimulus and response? You indicate you enjoy problem-solving. What about making this a project for yourself? When you’re stimulated to buy-buy-buy, how can you create space? Go for a walk, call a friend, talk to your husband, anything that ensures you pause and don’t immediately act. I’m not sure if all addictions are the same, but it seems similar to someone w/food issues. I MUST HAVE THAT COOKIE. NOW! But if you go for a walk, it might not make that desire go away, but you’ve created space before acting and often just getting out of the situation will allow you to make the decision that aligns with your goals. Could this help you?
Good for you for being honnest and open about your shopping addiction. I support the idea of therapy, even if it’s a big expense… but also may I suggest, as an alternative, to look into “Rationnal recovery” and “Brain over binge “. This book (BoB) changed my life. You would need to change the terms alcool and binge eating for shopping, but addiction is addiction.
Second: you seems to have some impulse control issues. No judgment, I have them too. What really help both depression and impulse control for me is Wellbutrin 300 mg.(IF you are questioning your medication).
3rd : have you considered a part-time degree in social work? You don’t need a masters to be certified and this opens a lot of opportunities. And we desperately need them in Canada! I’m doing this right now, at 42. will.be done at 47. Psychology will require a PHD.
Cell phone: Have you looked into cheaper plans, switching provider? I’m with Public Mobile and my plan is 15$/month for unlimited text, 100 min calls and 250mb data. Since Wifi is available everywhere I don’t need more.
Last : I see that Liz is suggesting to reduce the groceries allocation but as a fellow canadian I think, considering our outrageous food prices compared to the USA, you are doing great!
Thank you for your bravery, Neko! You’re making great progress – you know you’ve got an issue and you’re taking steps to overcome it. My late husband was a compulsive shopper (and had undiagnosed ADHD, I reckon); I sold his stuff on Poshmark after he passed. It was so easy and great to generate $$$. It’s a great high to get stuff off out of the house, onto a new person and get some $ flowing in! And it really made me make peace with his addiction. You might find it hard at first but ultimately that could be very cathartic for you.
Something that has helped me w/ impulse buying is taking a photo of something and just looking at the photo. Surprisingly effective!
I used to live in Toronto and recall there were some clinics that gave free or cheap birth control. You could do a web search for this but I see Planned Parenthood offers low cost birth control. I agree w/ the ppl who’ve said IUD is cheaper and less work. I agree w/ the other ppl who said opt back in to health coverage – when I took the pill, it was $3 a month under my health plan!
Are you talking to Jerry about your shopping? I didn’t see that in there and you really do need to be on the same page about everything, including addiction and finances.
Hang in there, Neko, you are doing great! You are a strong person and some day you will look back on this time on your life and it will just be a memory.
What about a part time job to raise the $9000? With a predictable 9-5 day job, a part-time job in the evening or on weekends might be a worthwhile pursuit. Is there a restaurant or grocery near you that’s hiring? Massage being a previous job with low overhead, maybe try that on the weekends?
If we consider the debt a true hair on fire emergency, then we need to consider suspending Improv Class, haircuts, etc for a few months to really make a dent in the debt.
Firstly, I want to commend you for being open about your situation – there is so much shame attached to personal debt, which creates a vicious circle and is totally unhelpful. You have been given some really great practical advice here, I just want to comment on one thing. You mention re your spending that “there aren’t any triggers for my compulsive shopping” – I can promise you that there are, you just aren’t aware of them. A good therapist will help you unpack this and move forward. Best wishes for a debt-free future!
There is plenty of good advice above so I come only to offer encouragement. When my husband admitted an addiction he struggled with to me, I felt so much love for him. It was a major bonding experience for us as he worked through the addiction, and he learned how importance transparency is to break out of the shame cycle and recovery fully. I know your family and friend will love you just as much and be honored to help- I hope you let them! Sending love!
I have been reading Frugalwoods for several years but this is my first comment.
Firstly Niko I think you are incredibly brave to put everything out there and be so vulnerable and open. That’s an absolutely massive commitment and great first step to making changes to your finances and your life.
To Mrs Frugalwoods I just want to say thank you for making this space and for all the case studies and this one particularly resonated with me as it’s so close to where I am at myself.
And to all the amazing Frugalwood’s community – it’s so lovely to see such a nice and supportive space/community here. I am so appreciating the non-judgemental and open discussion with regards to both debt, difficulties with managing overspending habits and with all the advice regarding considering potential ADHD assessment. Your openness and willingness to just put it all out there Niko and all the supportive and helpful comments have really inspired me to get myself together and contact Mrs Frugalwoods regarding submitting my own case study.
Niko, I don’t have much to offer with regards to your financial situation. I have been reading this blog for years but I am afraid I am a pretty impulsive spender myself and am trying to get on top of that myself. With regards to suggestion of considering an ADHD assessment/diagnosis, I hope if this is something you think fits or may be helpful then you may look into it. I was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition in my late 30’s and it was so helpful to me having a diagnosis, as it explained a lot in my life. However, that’s my experience and everyone is different. I will echo others comments to just not be so hard on yourself and treat yourself with kindness. It’s a journey and I think you have made an incredibly brave first step.
I am wishing you the very best of luck on your journey and I can’t wait to see your update in the future.
Hi Neko, I am a late commentor but wanted to commend your bravery. I have a parent with a shopping addiction and only wish they could admit it like you have. That is the first step!
I am not a psychologist by any means so take this with a grain of salt. I started to do mindfulness meditation a while back and it really helped me to put space between my feelings and actions (like the feeling you aren’t enough and the action of buying a new shirt). If there is a free group near you or online it may be worth considering.
If you like podcasts, Ten Percent Happier is a great meditation podcast. I also like one called Journals of a Love Addict. Even if you don’t identify as a Love Addict she talks about our inner child and addictive processes in general. Since you are psychology minded you may want to check it out.
Others have brought this up but I wonder if you feel deep down you aren’t worthy of care like the dentist or a therapist? I ask because I notice my mother will say things like she can’t afford an expensive purse, but spend the same amount on little things, and I think she ultimately feels undeserving. But this may not apply to you.
I wish you all the best!
Perhaps a weird suggestion, but do you like reading? Requesting books online from my library (or movies or CDs or audiobooks) definitely helps scratch that shopping itch without spending money. It might be a temporary help as you work to address your issues.
Also, are you visually motivated? Perhaps you could make a paper chain or a wall sheet to X off each $100 less of debt. That might also help with any urges.
Lots of really great advice here, especially as someone who has worked through (mostly) her own online shopping addiction and experiences anxiety/depression. Just a couple thoughts — DA or therapy can help change your thought patterns which can set the foundation for other healing changes…as I moved through my own recovery journey, it was important for me to identify my triggers for shopping and/or spending, and learn other ways to cope with, or respond to these thoughts, feelings and activities. It was incredibly difficult at the beginning (with many relapses…) because I was creating new thought scripts/responses/new habits for myself. Walking outside was one of my healthy means to cope (I needed to use distraction ie. walking outside and focus on the sights, smells, etc., and I needed to put time and physical space between me and the online shopping world ) so I went on many, many, walks. You will find what works for you since we are all different but you said that you enjoy walking… I also had to, as others suggested, unsubscribe from all online store emails, and in the beginning, to not even look at online store websites to remove triggers (perhaps if there is some essential item that you can only buy online, maybe your husband can buy it so you don’t have to go on the website?). As well, since you aren’t shopping online any longer, you will probably lots of extra/unfilled time — so it’ll be important for you to have some enjoyable and happy activities to fill that time. — reading, working on crosswords, Sudukos, etc., going outside, whatever will get and keep your interest and attention. You can do this Neko, I’m cheering for you!
Nemo – I am thinking of you and sending positive vibes your way! I am proud of you for asking for help! You can do this! If the changes get to be too much, just remember you don’t have to do everything at once in that moment. Just focus on the next best decision you can make for yourself. Little wins add up and turn into big wins!
I’ve a comment in regard to debt and the desire for new things. i am very much of that nature myself, and ended up with a credit card debt of more than $10,000 for much the same reason – but back in the day before online shopping was as easy as it is now. Having that conversation with my husband was probably the worst discussion I’ve ever had to have. I felt so ashamed and awful – even thinking about it now makes my inners curdle. I ended up having a discussion with a loan officer at my local credit union, as I didn’t trust myself back then to get get a 0% credit card transfer as I’d still have a card – and I was worried about using it, and my attempt to cover it by a low interest personal loan was rejected by a couple of banks. I was able to talk to a loan offer and explain my circumstances. I ended up with a personal loan and a debit card attached to my savings account. It took a couple of years and I paid off the debt, and got better in doing without a credit account.
But – to this day I have a desire for new things, and I have learnt new ways to meet those desires that are healthier. I have a budget of $20 and I go to thrift stores and indulge in earrings – which are cheap, cheerful and I can donate back if I end up not wearing them. I stay away from shops and online stores apart from things I can’t reasonably mend or buy second hand (socks, knickers, bras) and enjoy the challenge of finding interesting things at a thrift store (again with a budget).
I’ve made cooking a way to indulge in newness – making different recipes and enjoying the newness in the recipes and ingredients and the joy of trying new foods. I also buy second hand fabric and wool from thrift stores and enjoy sewing when I have time. A friend of mine who has similar challenges buys old furniture which she does up and flips. She says it satisfies her desire for new, but she gets to make a little pocket change and rescue things that would otherwise be discarded. Plus she doesn’t have the guilt of a house full of things that she’s purchased as she has moved them on to better homes.
I have had to get a credit line a couple of times – for new furniture that we knew we’d never save for – and I’ve done a credit card transfer a couple of times since when we wanted to travel and having a credit card was our chosen way to pay for it. Once the 0% transfer has occurred, I’ve cut up the new card and popped it in a container full of water in the freezer. When I paid off the interest free period the frozen card went into the bin. I’m now much better at living within my means, and finding new ways to satisfy my desire for new things.
I wish you all the best in this personal challenge. There are some great ideas in the other comments – how amazing is it to have this kind of support and encouragement!
I’m a fellow Torontonian and volunteer weekly at the Daily Bread/New Toronto Street Food Bank. Neko, please don’t be afraid to reach out for support from an organization like a food bank. There are so many services that the team supports with, on top of food. Support with access to glasses, furniture, vet care, etc. It would be worthwhile to connect and see if any of the services would be a good fit for what you’re needing right now. I’m unsure if there are any no cost therapy options, but it’s worth looking into.
In terms of support accessing food, the way our system works is that for every member of your household, you have access to a certain set of weekly points (say 23 for 2 adults members). Weekly, you can come into the food bank and shop your groceries using your points. Many weeks we have excess produce and you’re welcome to take as many of something as your family needs without dipping into your points – last week was romaine lettuce, onions and potatoes. 1L of milk was 1 point last week, frozen meat or seafood was 3. Resources like food banks are there for you when you need support.
Wishing you and your family hope and healing on this journey.
I haven’t had time to read all the comments but this has been so helpful to me. I’m not in exactly the same situation but many of the suggestions are really helpful! Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story with us!
I’m late to comment, but just want to suggest another book to look at in your library: Britt Frank’s ‘The science of stuck’ has useful chapters on all sorts of things that might be relevant here (changing habits, understanding the parts that make up you and shape actions, etc). She posts on Instagram quite a bit too if you want to get a taste of her approach to things.
Good luck, Neko – I wish you all the best!
Hey, thanks for sharing your story! I didn’t read all the responses here so I apologize if I’m repeating other comments.
Great job admitting the problem and seeking resources to fix it. There’s plenty of great advice in the comments on addressing the shopping addiction and changing the behaviours. This is great and very important.
That being said, at the end of the day you have a fairly low income for your skill set and experience. While school is possible it won’t necessarily get you to the goals you want. It’s a wild job world right now in Canada. I’d start applying on higher paying jobs you’re interested in and see what happens. Since you love your current job there is no harm in throwing your net out there and seeing what comes from it. With your experience you could manage a salon or spa or fight a job with more of a corporate ladder.
At the same time, if you love your job then why don’t you look for a side hustle that incorporates your hobbies? You love exercise so why not dog walking on Rover? Pet sitting? There’s an app for that too. The last time I was in Toronto it seemed everyone had a dog! I’m sure there’s a market to become a dog trainer or teach puppy classes. If you have a desire to become a teacher this would be a great opportunity to test those desires. Dog socialization classes are super trendy in western Canada right now.
Outdoor fitness classes are also trendy, you could get certified online as a fitness instructor for very little money then partner with a local rec centre to lead outdoor fitness classes at your workout park. With your experience with loving exercises and recovering from injury you would have a good perspective for helping aging Canadians get active. Becoming an aquafit instructor is very cheap online and you get paid to teach 1hr classes at local pools. Pools across Canada are struggling to staff their spaces let alone their classes and you don’t have to be a lifeguard to be Aquafit certified!
Same a spin instructing or Zumba.
Eye brows or massaging on the side? They are both hot ticket items! You could work a few extra evenings or Saturdays and pump out that debt. At $125+ an hour for a massage you could work for 3.5 hours one evening a week and make enough to pay off your debt in 30 weeks!
I am a hair stylist and never really wanted to work in the industry. Yet, 15 years later I still do hair on the side because it’s so lucrative. I make our entire budget based on our guaranteed income. Anything I make from doing hair is 100% fun money. I spend it on whatever I want with no guilt or responsibility.
If you use a side hustle to pay off your debt. Once it’s paid off you keep putting that money in a separate account. That’s your money to do whatever you want with. Eat out, travel, shop. Guilt free spending.
Another side hustle option might be coaching improv. I did improv for years and there are always opportunities for teaching intro courses, coaching high schoolers for the Canadian Improv Games, businesses would hire us to come in an provide entertainment for events, lead team building exercises at conferences, teach public speaking and build rapport. You could build a side business around a skill you love! Curbing your spending is the first step then increasing your income to meet your goals is the next step. You have so many diverse skills and interests that are easy to monetize.
While you’ve done an amazing job making a life in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I’d tap into your skills to bring in some extra money and meet your goals. Just make sure you have an intentional plan or increased income will lead to lifestyle creep.
What mostly worries me is your housing situation. My current understanding is that you don’t yet own a portion of the house your helping to pay down. You need to have housing security in the next 10-15 years prior to retirement. I would focus on a career that you can continue working on into your 60s. Have you considered teaching ? There is a worldwide shortage and room for promotional roles and annual increases in your wage . I’m guessing your current job doesn’t have much growth opportunity? So raise your income and reduce your spending to pay down debts. I don’t think $9,000 is too bad and achievable to pay off in a year if you can be strict. You could have a savings account set up with $25 per week (or whatever is affordable) where you can buy whatever you want without feeling bad. It’s just a matter of knowing what you can afford and sticking to it. Having clear goals and taking control of your finances is super important and will help you stick to your budget. Having a simplified pantry and batch cooking will help save money. Avoiding eating out and convenience foods. I think your hobbies sound great and investing in your self is very important. Good luck !
No sage advice but just letting you know that you are brave and you can do this!
I just wanted to say that I can really empathize with the struggle of overcoming a shopping addiction. It’s not easy, but the suggestions in this post are truly helpful and practical. The idea of finding a therapist and attending Debtors Anonymous meetings can provide much-needed support. I also appreciate the tips on managing credit card debt and finding ways to save more. Thank you for sharing these valuable insights, and I’m sure many of us will find them helpful as we work towards a better financial future!
Dear Neko, Very small suggestions but they might help: go to a dental school for hygiene and treatment. Those 4th year students need people to practice on! For haircuts, again seek out a college. Take your lunch into work every day. If you feel like to have to shop – go to the library and take out a new book or go to a thrift shop with very little money. Have at least 2 No Spend Days when you leave your purse/wallet at home. Best of luck!
Good ideas, Aileen, especially the one about the No Spend Days. I’m having a lot of success with those.
A couple of years ago I realized I was charging something to my credit card nearly every day. When I categorized & analyzed my charges, I found I went from ~200 charges per year in 2014 to 400, 500, then 600+ by 2020. Swiping is so easy — $2 parking, $15 Netflix, $300 lamp…
So I started counting No Spend days. Last year my goal was 60 spend-free days. That was hard at first, especially with moving to a new house, but I ended up with 88 days for the year. This year my goal is 100, but now I’m asking myself — Why do I spend money the other 265 days of the year??? Why not 200 spend-free days? My latest strategy is “market days”. The Amish in Missouri only go to the market on Saturdays. I decided to try shopping only on Friday or Saturday, and again on Monday or Tuesday, with other days as needed (e.g. dinner with friends). I allow myself one or two small expenses with cash on spend-free days, e.g. a burger lunch, postage, or a recipe ingredient from the grocery store.
Surprisingly, conserving my attention is one of the biggest benefits of delaying spending until market days. Instead of trying to satisfy every little need when it comes up, I can be “lazy”, put the need on a list, then return my attention to whatever I was doing when the need popped into my head. Often, by the time a market day arrives, the “need” has disappeared, or it has been satisfied by something I had on hand.
Your spending has become a habit. You might find the work of Gretchen Rubin helpful in figuring out how to break that habit. Specifically, check out her book Better Than Before (get it at the library). She has a lot of strategies for habit change. One thought… Perhaps identify a different habit you want to form and every time you start to shop (or if there is a particular time of day when you are likely to), go do that thing instead.
It wasn’t clear to me when you said you were keeping your debt a secret if that meant from your husband. If so, I would encourage you to share with him (and possibly with 1 or 2 other close friends/family members). You might be surprised – instead of judging you, they can be a good support system for you.
Another thought, I am not familiar with the health care system in Canada, but your lack of insurance makes me anxious. IMO, it would be worth the added expense every month and the delay in debt repayment to get insurance. If you had a serious illness or accident, you could be in far worse debt without it.
Hi Neko, I don’t have advice to add but I just wanted to commend you for your bravery to face this and share your story. I believe you will find the momentum to continue to take steps forward on this path to freedom from addiction. I am wishing you well on the journey!