Compulsive Buying Disorder- what it is, how to diagnose it, and how to overcome it

Author and psychotherapist, Olivia Mellan, provides a test for determining if someone is a compulsive shopper and offers several ideas for successfully dealing with it.

According to an article in the February 2007 issue of “World Psychiatry-The Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA)” entitled, “A Review of Compulsive Buying Disorder” (http://ncbi.nlm.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733), Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD) is characterized by excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment. The article suggests that about 6 percent of the US general population suffers from the disorder and that 80 percent of CBC sufferers are women.

One such woman is Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist specializing in money disorders, who herself is a recovering compulsive shopper who ran up more than $10,000 in credit card debt buying clothes. “The urge to shop overtook me like a tidal wave”, she said. “I felt like I was being bowled over by waves”.

Mellen is the author of the book, Overcoming Overspending: Winning Plans for Spendersand Their Partners. In her book Mellen provides the following quiz she developed which has helped her clients determine if their love of shopping has crossed the line into compulsion.

  1. Are you a compulsive shopper? (Answer “often”, “sometimes”, “rarely” or “never”)
  2. Do you buy things you want, whether or not you can afford them at the moment?
  3. Do you have trouble saving money? If you have a little extra available to save or invest, do you tend to think of something you’d rather spend it on?
  4. Do you buy things to cheer yourself up or to reward yourself?
  5. Does more than a third of your income, not including rent or mortgage payments, go to pay bills?
  6. Do you juggle bill paying because you always seem to be living on the edge financially?
  7. Do you tend to keep buying more or your favorite things even you don’t have a specific need for them?

If you have to deny yourself or put off buying something you really want, do you feel intensely deprived, angry, or upset?

Mellen suggests that if someone answers “often” or “sometimes” to four or more questions, they are probably a compulsive spender, especially if they answered “often” or “sometimes” to the last question. She has come to believe that the last question is the most powerful indicator of a serious problem.

Mellen goes on to suggest several ideas for dealing with Compulsive Buying Disorder or as it’s more commonly known, “Compulsive Spending”:

  1. Admit you have a problem and expose it to the light by reaching out to others (friends, family, and a money mentor/friend who isn’t a spender or a therapist who is comfortable dealing with money problems). Consider also joining Debtors Anonymous http://www.debtorsanonymous.org/ a free, 12-step program for spenders with a spending addiction since compulsive spending is far more complex than financial disorganization or irresponsibility. Compulsive spending is an addiction that consumes a person’s life.
  2. Avoid “slippery places”-stores where you overspend, web-sites, catalogs where you indulge your compulsive shopping behaviors. If you have to shop for something, bring a friend along who’s not a spender. Tell him or her in advance about your difficulty and set a spending limit that he or she will help you keep.
  3. “Jam the trigger” or the spending impulse buy substituting a healthier behavior. Go on a personal search for what works best for you: exercising, calling a friend, practicing a creative hobby, volunteering, taking a walk-whatever works for you.
  4. Reward yourself for controlling your spending but don’t make it an expensive reward that will undermine your progress.
  5. Finally, put your financial goals in writing. Do it 2 to 3 times (short, medium and long-term goals) so that you know why you are choosing to spend less money and what you value saving for.

To contact an expert in your area, visit people.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).