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addicted to spending?

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In many respects overspending and overeating are likened to addictions. Indeed, for all I know they could be actual physical or psychological addictions.

overcoming addictions

With most addictions, received wisdom states that the only way of overcoming an addiction permanently is to entirely give up the substance that you are addicted to. There are various reasons why I think that that’s unlikely to be true for everybody - although it may be true for some people.

If overspending is an addiction, and the only way to overcome an addiction permanently is to give it up entirely, then everyone in debt through overspending has a serious problem. You can’t actually give up spending.

Sure, you can give up excessive spending, but unless you drop out of the monetary economy totally and permanently, you’ll always have to spend some money. Similary, but even more so, you can’t actually stop eating.

If we can’t have it that you have to give up spending altogether, then we have to think of another way of overcoming an addiction. There are two things that come to mind straight away.

develop another addiction

It’s pretty common for people who give up one addiction to develop another. If you’ve ever been near an AA meeting just before it begins, you’ll notice that lots of people are smoking. I’m pretty certain that that’s not improving their health, but it’s certainly easier to function successfully with nicotine addiction than it is with alcohol addiction.

Fortunately for overspenders, the most common replacement addiction is to frugality and saving. It’s not unusual for the formerly debt ridden to profess that they get as much, if not more, satisfaction from saving money and seeing their net worth grow than they did from spending.

move on psychologically

The other main way to overcome an addiction to spending is to address the underlying reasons why you overspend. People often (but maybe not always) overspend or overeat to fill some kind of gap in their lives. They aren’t as successful as they’d like, or they aren’t happy, or they are depressed, or they lack close relationships.

If you can really identify why you overspend, and do something about that reason, it’s not unusual for your “need” to overspend to go away. And it’s so much easier to turn your financial situation round if you don’t need to spend lots of money.

which is more important?

From the point of view of being a healthy and fulfilled individual, it’s probably better to address why you overspend, than to develop an addiction to saving money. On the other hand, from the point of view of getting out of debt, you may be more quickly successful if you develop an addiction to saving money.

Overall, I reckon how you overcome overspending doesn’t matter as long as everything remains in balance and you are content. Getting out of debt is probably harder, than say giving up smoking. On the upside, if you do something hard successfully, it will be much more rewarding.

Do you agree with me, that spending is hard to give up? Is it more important to tackle the symptoms or the cause? Let me know in the comments below.

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27 comments for “addicted to spending?”

  1. Hi Plonkee - interesting. But, I think it would depend on the person. I would find it way easier to give up smoking, because I smoke. But, I hate shopping. So for me, giving up spending would not be difficult at all.

    Posted by Catherine Lawson | January 16, 2008, 3:45 pm
  2. Sorry - meant to say way harder to give up smoking.

    Posted by Catherine Lawson | January 16, 2008, 3:45 pm
  3. You’re right that exposure to the addiction adds some temptation to indulge, but there are many more factors involved.
    I’ve quit smoking and I got out of debt (at different times). Both were very difficult as I think any addiction will prove to be. Both took a lot of time, energy and commitment. Being successful at quitting smoking gave me the confidence in myself to tackle other tough tasks, so it’s hard for me to say one was harder.

    Posted by Mrs Pillars | January 16, 2008, 3:59 pm
  4. Great insight plonkee. I don’t think I have anything to add!

    Posted by Aaron Stroud | January 16, 2008, 5:07 pm
  5. The principle of “replacement” is one that can aid in breaking a bad habit. For instance the Bible says, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need”. Simplistic example, but the principle is sound.

    Replacing spending with saving is a good place to start. I know someone who replaced an addiction to cigarettes with exercise. When ever he felt the urge to smoke, he would do push-ups until the urge left. One way to deal with the spending impulse is by geographical replacements - where to you spend the most money? Instead of going to the mall on Saturday afternoon, go for a hike or volunteer, or tackle a home improvement project. Replace your trip to the mall with something positive.

    Good post. and now it looks as if I have added a post of my own. . . .can this be worth two comments? ;)

    Posted by rocketc | January 16, 2008, 6:10 pm
  6. Overeating and overspending can definitely be psychological addictions, particularly if there is emotion tied them (as is often the case). And they say that breaking a psychological addiction is harder than a breaking a physical addiction…

    Replacement is a good first step to breaking addiction, but the ultimate goal should be the latter. This is simply because you don’t want to fall back into the bad habit during those times when you’re lacking the replacement…

    I personally found that spending was hard to give up when I tackled it as a single entity. When I addressed the context of it, it became a lot easier.

    Posted by deepali | January 16, 2008, 8:16 pm
  7. I like the idea that you can address the underlying issues that cause overspending, but I think in our media saturated society , its going to be difficult to completely solve the issue. (TV, Internet, and all forms of marketing are everywhere — I even saw an ad for beer on the splash guard in the Men’s urinal - the bit of plastic IN the urinal on which you are supposed to do your worst). Meaning, even if you figure out how to be happy with where you’re at, its going to be excessively difficult to avoid wanting new things. Example: If you’re reading this blog you likely own a computer. Or would at least like to. Which means you have some interest in technology. Which means you may be interested in developments in technology - even if you’re not an early adopter, you probably are aware of such things as iPods or that new Mac Air Book (or the “iWant” as a friend called it)…

    Short of moving to a rapidly disappearing ice cave in Antarctica, I’m not sure that I can withstand the barrage of advertising that tells me I NEEEEED that new Apple TV thing.

    So I think the savings addiction makes more sense.

    For me, in addition to the standard savings, 401k, etc., I play mental games with “extra” savings — I stash away cash whenever I can in my wallet or in odd places, thinking of it as my secret, off-the-books money that I’m storing up for a surprise later, or my secret horde of cash, or some other cloak-and-dagger facade. Maybe its the kid in me, but it works to sort of have “fun” with saving the money.

    Posted by metroknow | January 17, 2008, 12:46 am
  8. I believe it is an addiction. And should be treated as such. that is why I chopped the sredit cards. I know if they are around I will justify the purchase and make it.

    Finances are one of the leading causes of divorce. It can destroy lives.

    Posted by RacerX | January 17, 2008, 2:15 am
  9. I feel I should comment on this post as one of your readers who, as in the title of my blog, was obviously a spendaholic. Here is a post from my blog last year:

    ”Now I’m not one to spend too much time thinking about my emotions or my state of mind. After all I am English and we don’t do that sort of thing. However I have noticed that since I’ve started the debt payoff I’ve been happy and I mean really happy. Before when I was spending I wasn’t really happy I was just pretending to be and using shopping as my support.

    Becoming debt free is creating a buzz in me that no amount of spending ever did. I no longer need to buy stuff as a quick fix to my unhappiness.

    I’m also quite sure that this is related to the fact that for the first time in my life I feel 100% secure in my current relationship. I know that my bf (now husband) loves me for who I am”

    I know that my spending was a substitute for something, my parents divorce when I was a child obviously affected me more than I thought it had and led me to be very insecure, which I tried to compensate for in buying things.

    I’m now addicted to not buying things:)

    Posted by nomorespending | January 17, 2008, 7:09 am
  10. I think I agree with deepali that there’s a risk that if you just replace the habit with something else it can go wrong. Whereas if you work out why you were doing it in the first place and address that, you’re more likely to not be tempted back.

    It’s more than just trying to avoid ads or credit cards, it’s about getting to the position where you are being sensible about money/food and making decisions without major emotional hangups.

    Posted by plonkee | January 17, 2008, 1:15 pm
  11. I like that: develop another addiction.

    Posted by Writer's Coin | January 18, 2008, 12:53 am
  12. Hey Plonkee,

    So right you are. I think it’s much harder to address the cause, it’s probably something you’ve been avoiding dealing with for sometime.

    For me personally, I put off dealing with the cause and the symptoms will always reappear.

    Looking into yourself, flaws and all, making peace with whatever it is that causes you to make these poor decisions and(hopefully), the symptoms tend to find roots somewhere else.

    Posted by CiaranFromChance | January 18, 2008, 4:38 am
  13. You’re right about the swing between addictions! I went from spending addict to saving addict about the same time I graduated - I think the reality of real life forced me to step back and get real.

    I shared three ways to avoid splurging at the foot of my buy a bigger envelope campaign that some may find useful.

    Posted by Nick | Put Things Off | January 18, 2008, 9:35 am
  14. Spending too much sometimes can make your life mesirable. Like me i spend to much on online gaming .. then my wife left. bad thing is i can never have them anymore. just because of my too much spending . now i am alone and nothing to spend

    Posted by HINAYUPAKS | September 16, 2009, 9:33 pm
  15. Yes, I’ve tried this new electronic cigarette online, which is the cigarettesmokeless.com, and I’ve also called this toll free hotline 1604-272-8858. Whew! The best electronic cigarette online! Perfect!

    Posted by Danz | November 19, 2009, 12:46 am

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