More than 18 million Americans are compulsive buyers, an addiction that can devastate families and bank accounts. The struggle to control a shopping addiction.

Guests

  • Bill J. member of Debtors Anonymous for 25 years.
  • Saundra Davis president of the Financial Therapy Association.
  • Dr. April Lane Benson psychologist specializing in compulsive buying disorders and author of "I Shop, Therefore I Am" and "To Buy Or Not To Buy: Why We Overshop And How To Stop."

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “To Buy Or Not To Buy,” by April Lane Benson, © 2008 by April Lane Benson, PhD. Reprinted by arrangement with Trumpeter, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. For years, Americans have been urged to spend and bailout the economy. But more than 18 million Americans have spent their way into a crisis. Compulsive buying can destroy families and wreak havoc on bank accounts. Shopaholics often lie about their spending and then face guilt and shame about the habit. Internet buying enables them to spend in secret only to become targets of more aggressive online advertising.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about shopping addiction is Dr. April Lane Benson, a psychologist and author and Bill J., a long-time member of Debtors Anonymous. And joining us via ISDN from KPFA in California is Saundra Davis, president of the Financial Therapy Association.

  • 11:07:49

    MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join in the conversation, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 11:08:07

    DR. APRIL LANE BENSONGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:08

    MR. BILL J.Good morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:08

    MS. SAUNDRA DAVISGood morning, very early morning.

  • 11:08:12

    REHMVery early morning out there in Berkeley, Calif. Dr. Benson, if I could start with you, I gather that shopping addiction has not yet been given a diagnostic classification, but describe for us what it is.

  • 11:08:34

    BENSONWell, it's a tendency to shop and buy so much or even think about shopping and buying so much that it is leading to severe negative consequences. It can be impairing your life financially, which is the most common. It can also be wreaking havoc with your relationships.

  • 11:08:59

    BENSONYou can be having work problems because of so much distraction or constant internet browsing all day long. It's a spiritual problem, you know. Is this all there is? When we make the almighty dollar our god.

  • 11:09:17

    REHMSaundra Davis, are shopaholics simply low-wage earners? Are they simply spending more than they earn? Who are they?

  • 11:09:33

    DAVISSo while I primarily work with people who are lower and moderate income, my colleagues in the Financial Therapy Association, and I'm certain this is true with Dr. Benson, see all levels of income and wealth so as we know wealth and income aren't necessarily always the same thing.

  • 11:09:49

    DAVISBut we find people who are very low-wage earners, what we call the working poor in the asset-building world and then when I'm working with my colleagues, I often hear about clients who are having challenges staying within a $50,000 a month budget so I don't believe it's based on what you have or how much you make.

  • 11:10:11

    DAVISI do think that Dr. Benson's description of it being an emotional and even spiritual issue is much bigger. We often hear, you know, it's not just about the money and this is one area that I really believe that that's true. The dollars and the cents have very little to do with the emotions that go into compulsive spending.

  • 11:10:29

    REHMWhat's the worst case you've ever heard, Saundra?

  • 11:10:34

    DAVISWell, there's one client that I was working with that actually, when I met her, she had $25 in her wallet and an overdrawn checking account. And she just -- she spent every dime she made and then dimes that she had not yet made and found herself in severe financial distress so much so that she was unable to find peace at work, at home.

  • 11:11:01

    DAVISShe had just really wreaked havoc on her entire life and what it turned out to be -- in my role as -- primarily, is a financial coach so there are boundaries as to how far I can go with a client. So what this client actually had ended up doing is she just created multiple credit card -- extensive debt beyond what she was able to manage even on a relatively reasonable salary.

  • 11:11:31

    DAVISAnd she was stressed all the time. She was just having a horrible experience of life and it was all within her control and she just didn't realize what she was creating. But she was stressed completely all the time at work, at home and had just destroyed her quality of life so much so that she wasn't able to move forward.

  • 11:11:52

    REHMBill J. you're a member of Debtors Anonymous. I appreciate your being here. Tell us why you ultimately joined that group.

  • 11:12:04

    BILL J.Well, what Saundra just described really is exactly the sort of life that I was leading. I was earning quite a bit of money, but had huge credit card debt, had a house that I could barely afford. My work relationships were jeopardized by the fact that everything I thought about was about how to get more money, how to get more money to pay the bills, how to keep up.

  • 11:12:37

    BILL J.Where to get the next big score of some kind, whether it be a bonus or something of that nature that would help me catch up because there was never a sense that I could pay it off. When I walked in the doors of DA in 1988, I owed over $100,000 on 15 different credit cards and, you know, back payments on mortgages and things of that nature.

  • 11:13:07

    BILL J.And the fact of the matter is that I was both emotionally bankrupt and I was spiritually bankrupt and I was on what I think both April and Saundra described as kind of a gerbil wheel where, you know, I was always running in place trying to get there. And, of course, that never stopped me from going out and buying what I wanted, not what I needed, what I wanted and even though I didn't have the money to pay the bills, I was still out buying more and more.

  • 11:13:43

    REHMAnd, of course, 15 years ago, you perhaps did not have the internet shopping...

  • 11:13:53

    BILL J.Right.

  • 11:13:53

    REHM...that exists now that makes it that much easier...

  • 11:13:59

    BILL J.Correct.

  • 11:13:59

    REHM...to put oneself in that situation. So you were physically going into stores using your credit cards?

  • 11:14:09

    BILL J.Um-hum, correct, using credit cards and...

  • 11:14:14

    REHMWhat kinds of things were you buying for yourself?

  • 11:14:16

    BILL J.You know, your assistant asked me that question when we were discussing this. You know the truth of the matter is it didn't really matter what I was buying. There were books. There were records, you know, it was equipment sometimes like, you know, CDs or stereos. But it didn't really matter and it didn't prevent me -- I mean, sometimes I would -- I guess when I went through some of these collections of stuff, I found that I had three of something, you know, because I just -- I bought it because I wanted to buy it, not because I had any real desire to -- I mean, I wanted to play that piece of music for example, but I needed more and more and more.

  • 11:15:02

    BILL J.I mean, I didn't have any governor on my own self, on the sense of, you know, here's how much money I've got and here's what I can afford to do.

  • 11:15:13

    REHMSo it was more the satisfaction of spending than it was of owning?

  • 11:15:22

    BILL J.I think that's probably right. I jokingly said that every time I got a credit card offer in the mail, I felt like a got a raise at work. It was kind of the equivalent. I was more interested in the credit card than I was in actually performance at work and at the time, I was single, having recently been divorced and so I was living alone and...

  • 11:15:49

    REHMNothing to stop you.

  • 11:15:49

    BILL J.Nothing to stop me.

  • 11:15:51

    REHMApril, does that sound typical to you?

  • 11:15:54

    BENSONIt sounds very typical and when Bill said that he had three of things, what I hear often is that somebody buys the same thing because they've forgotten that they already have it because sometimes their homes are so overfilled with stuff, they can't find the things that they've bought.

  • 11:16:14

    BENSONI think also what Bill says about more and more, we know that this is like other addictions, something that one habituates to and we've got to buy more and more in order to get the same kind of fix. And that's certainly something that Bill has spoken about.

  • 11:16:36

    REHMSo are you suggesting that this kind of shopping addiction is very much like alcohol addiction, like food addiction, like any other addiction?

  • 11:16:55

    BENSONYes, I think that the major difference is that compulsive buying is called the smiled-upon addiction because consumption fuels our economy. The only other addiction that I think is condoned by society might be workaholism. However, the same brain chemicals that are stimulated in alcohol and drug addiction we think are stimulated in compulsive buying episodes and some of the same underlying causes create a compulsive shopping behavior.

  • 11:17:33

    BENSONFor example, the distance between who we are and who we'd like to be or how we'd like to be seen is greater in compulsive buyers than normal buyers, which suggests that it's an attempt to make up that deficit, that difference in, we call it the self-identity gap. Who we want to be is somebody that we buy towards.

  • 11:18:01

    BENSONWe may feel not very good about ourselves and not very self-accepting, but we want to feel differently and we want the world to think of us differently. So if we dress to look that part, if we buy cars to look that part, then we think that we'll become that part.

  • 11:18:25

    REHMDr. April Lane Benson, she's a psychologist specializing in the treatment of compulsive buying. She's the author of "I Shop, Therefore I Am" and "To Buy Or Not To Buy: Why We Overshop And How To Stop." Short break here, more when we come back.

  • 11:20:06

    REHMAnd here's our first email from S. Smith who says, "For me it is a form of addiction. I come from a somewhat wealthy family on one side, lower income on the other. Virtually each family member on both sides has an addiction of one kind or another. I finally got my sugar addiction in control and within six months my compulsive spending started up again. I have done through over $1 million during my marriage, spent on nothing. In fact most often I don't even take the packages from the car or open the delivered packages. It's just the high, the feeling that this purchase will change my life for the better at the time of purchase." Sound familiar, Bill?

  • 11:21:16

    BILL J.Yes, and that's exactly why somebody who knew better than I suggested I come to Debtors Anonymous and find a spiritual solution because the gap that April talked about between who I wanted to be and who I thought I somehow could get to be could never be filled with a purchase. But that was what I was thinking would work.

  • 11:21:46

    BILL J.And so I came to Debtors Anonymous and have had a few simple steps that helped me to get some clarity about what, in fact -- how much money I owed and so forth. But then the 12 steps, the same 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and so forth were the guide towards a spiritual solution, both emotional and spiritual that made a difference for me.

  • 11:22:19

    REHMSaundra Davis, our emailer said that he/she went from taking care of one addiction to another addiction saying he/she got hold of the sugar addiction and then the spending addiction reared its head. How often does that happen?

  • 11:22:46

    DAVISI believe that this is exactly what Dr. Benson was talking about earlier that it really is just like every other addiction. And so when we try to separate shopping or I just shop a little bit or it's not that bad or it's the smiled upon addiction we really don't give appropriate consideration to what it's like for the person experiencing it. For the person that's going through it it's actually just like any other addiction. It might show up differently in their lives.

  • 11:23:17

    DAVISYou asked earlier about how -- what might be the worst case. Another thing that came to mind as I was listening to Bill was, I was working with one client who was shopping for a television when they were not paying their electricity bill and had the electricity turned off. So even the thing they were buying they were not going to be able to use. And so it's much deeper than the want or the need. It is often something that is really someone trying to fill something that's greater.

  • 11:23:49

    DAVISAnother thing that I've noticed -- and Dr. Benson deals with folks who may often have the diagnosis -- I don't often -- I don't do that. I'm not a therapist. I'm a financial coach and with the work that I do often what people are able to do is begin to grapple with the why. What are you buying? When you shop what are you buying? And really begin to ground in thinking about what is really going on when they're shopping. For some people it is the ego attachment to being able to buy. It's not even the what.

  • 11:24:23

    DAVISIt's just being able to walk into a store -- I see this a lot with lower income folks who then start to attain some level of financial stability. Now they can go out and do things that they weren't able to do before in many cases. And so there's a lot of different things that go into this and I don't believe that there's any one right answer. But certainly what the emailer conveyed is something that we see at all income levels. It has, again, nothing to do with that. And I think it's very similar to what Bill was describing as far as that emotional gap, wanting to be able to have the things that you want to feel the way that you want to feel.

  • 11:25:01

    REHMYes. Here is another email of a different tone. Lou says, "Isn't this just ineptitude with handling money?" He goes on to say, "I'm amazed at the ignorance in this country regarding handling personal finances." April.

  • 11:25:25

    BENSONWe know that we need better financial education. That's a given.

  • 11:25:30

    REHMAnd that ought to start very, very young.

  • 11:25:32

    BENSONVery young. Very, very young. However, this is not very much about ineptitude. This is trying to meet an emotional need in a way that it can't be. For example, the idea you can never get enough of what you don't really need. So if you keep buying and buying and buying to try to fill your need for love and affection or you need to belong or you need for self esteem you're going to continually be thwarted.

  • 11:26:07

    BENSONSo a lot of this is understanding what are the authentic underlying needs. What are you really shopping for? Is it that eighth pair of black boots? I doubt it. It may have something to do with how you want other people to think about you.

  • 11:26:25

    REHMIs there more than one kind of shopaholic?

  • 11:26:31

    BENSONThere are many kinds of shopaholics. There are codependent spenders who buy and buy for other people excessively in the idea. The idea is that they will feel some sense of control sometimes over the other person and they'll buy their love and affection. There are image spenders, people who'll buy that Maserati or whatever it is in order to put forth some image of wealth and power. There are what some people call bulimic spenders who are people who buy and then either obsessively return or empty themselves out of money in the way somebody who has bulimia empties themselves out of food.

  • 11:27:24

    REHMWhat about bargain hunters?

  • 11:27:25

    BENSONVery big. Very big. That is often rooted in the desire to get something for nothing. Even though we don't get it for nothing it's often -- and some people say that it's really the desire to best one's parents. And of course that's -- you know, that -- I don't know how many people that's really the truth about. But I think that there are many different -- there are collectors. And Bill and I were talking about that before. Men tend to be called collectors which gives the activity a somewhat highbrow refined cast.

  • 11:28:07

    BENSONSo when we think about the fact that studies show that women -- many more women are compulsive buyers than men, some of it has to do with men not being recognized. Although we do have a study from 2006, the best prevalent study we have out of Stanford University, that suggests that it's almost equally distributed between the two genders.

  • 11:28:30

    REHMI see. Bill, which of those categories do you think you fell into?

  • 11:28:39

    BILL J.We talked about this actually, April and I, beforehand. My handle has the word collector in it in one of the email addresses. And so I think I'm obviously -- I fall into that category or fell into that category. And by establishing some simple clarity around what April just described, which is what it is I was buying for and also what I had. So that I wasn't then going out and buying the second and third one when I didn't actually need it or hadn't even listened to the first one.

  • 11:29:22

    BILL J.Then it became a lot easier to simply buy only what I had enough cash in my bank account for. Because there were simple -- like a budget, but in DA, we call it a spending plan, that I had categories in which I had allocated money and represented my choices. And those things led me to be able to -- if I wanted to buy books or CDs or whatever, I knew exactly how much money I had in that month in that category. And I could buy that much.

  • 11:30:02

    BILL J.Now none of that'll work beyond the next morning if there isn't a spiritual solution to this problem. If there isn't some way to change the gap from the financial use of it to switch from sugar to alcohol, to money or anything like that, but something that substitutes for that. Some way to get a hold of the character change necessary, like an alcoholic does by working the 12 steps.

  • 11:30:42

    REHMAnd Saundra, what about the economy? Right now, pretty tough for a lot of people. Does that increase the number of people who have this problem, or do they recognize, well since things are so tough for me and for everybody else out there I really better had cut back on my spending?

  • 11:31:16

    DAVISSo Diane, I see a couple of different things. And I would like, if you wouldn't mind, to let me come back to the financial education piece after we talk about this.

  • 11:31:23

    REHMSure.

  • 11:31:24

    DAVISWhat I see is, we've heard the term pent up demand. We've heard the delayed spending. So since coming out of this crisis what I'm experiencing is that I see people who have scrimped and saved to try to survive that or have gone through a foreclosure or gone through some type of financial -- really distress that was -- decimated their financial lives. And as they're rebuilding they actually feel that they deserve now to go and feel better.

  • 11:32:00

    DAVISAnd so -- and then the other side of that is that many of the people that I work with have forgotten their financial dreams, right. So they've lived in poverty for so long or struggled for so long or have been in a situation where there's intergenerational poverty where the idea is, you know, I'm never going to reach my home ownership goal. I'm never going to reach the goal of sending my kids to college. So I can feel better now. I can do this one thing now.

  • 11:32:25

    DAVISAnd we often use the term delayed gratification in the financial education field and I believe it's just so much bigger than that. We have to -- we have to understand without judgment that in the same way that we deal with folks who are suffering from other addictions, judging does not help. When people come into my classrooms, when people come into my workshops we immediately begin with a no-shame zone. Looking back only serves as information for going forward. And so we really do focus on how do you reconcile who you want to be with how you're behaving.

  • 11:32:59

    DAVISSo when you're spending your dollars, is it number one, getting you what you want for your overall financial life. And there's certainly frequently a gap between what we know and what we do.

  • 11:33:10

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have lots of callers. Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. And let's go first to Chapel Hill, N.C. Good morning, Josh, you're on the air.

  • 11:33:35

    JOSHGood morning. Thanks for having me.

  • 11:33:36

    REHMSure.

  • 11:33:36

    JOSHIn the two years where my shopping addiction was really at its peak I was spending 20,000 a month. And for me it was all fashion. It was all clothes. And there were two key moments for me. One is when you hit the buy now button, that was an instant gratification. And then the other one was when the package would arrive. And there were these two moments that were so key in my life for such a long time.

  • 11:34:03

    JOSHAnd outside of those two moments it was just a profound sense of emptiness, which I think accompanies a lot of addiction, just like alcoholism or drug addiction, which I suffered with before the shopping addiction. And to me they all seemed very similar in that sense. Instant gratification surrounded by a profound sense of emptiness. My psychologist once told me -- or he kind of said, you know, you seem like a buzzaholic, a buzzaholic. You know, this -- these short bursts of instant gratification, whether it's a drink or whether it's drugs or whether it's the buy now button. And I think that's become so pervasive in our culture these days that...

  • 11:34:39

    REHMAnd Josh, tell me how you managed to break that addiction?

  • 11:34:47

    JOSHSo my financial advisor at one point sat me down and he said, you know, if you continue like this you'll be broke in three years. And I have a family. I have a wife and two children and that was the moment that I just realized -- it just wasn't real to me before. I would just call my financial advisor, have him deposit more money into my account. I was like, oh it's just $20,000. It's just $20,000. And it just -- it didn't have a real feeling to me until he said that.

  • 11:35:12

    JOSHAnd, you know, I continued to shop and to buy nice things but I'm much, much more conscious obviously than I was before about the amount that I can realistically spend. And it's certainly still, I think, beyond what's reasonable, but it's not to the point where it's really interfering with my life like it was before. I think I...

  • 11:35:34

    REHMAnd what about your spouse?

  • 11:35:40

    JOSHWell, that's the interesting thing because while my shopping was first focused on myself, it then became focused on my wife. So I would get, you know, we'd have Prada handbags and Christian Louboutin shoes showing up at the door every day. And at first, she was really excited, you know. She -- what woman doesn't like to receive these nice things? And then before long, she realized, you know, this is just -- we just can't do this. So I would end up sending over half of the packages back, you know.

  • 11:36:07

    JOSHAnd I think what some of the people have talked about, the spiritual side of it is so important because I consider myself a Buddhist and I have been for a long time. And while I was going through this, it just -- I felt like I was living so far away from who I wanted to be and who I really was. But when you get locked into these addictions, it's so hard to break out of that cycle of instant gratification.

  • 11:36:31

    REHMJosh, one last question. Are you and your wife still together?

  • 11:36:36

    JOSHYes, we are. We have a wonderful relationship and two lovely children so...

  • 11:36:40

    REHMI'm glad you do. Boy, he sounded typical.

  • 11:36:46

    DAVISI think that's really true. I think it's wonderful that something like your financial advisor telling you that in three years you're going to be broke can break the cycle. It's not often the case that something like that will.

  • 11:37:05

    REHMWhat broke the cycle for you, Bill?

  • 11:37:08

    BILL J.Well, what broke the cycle was that I -- somebody said, why don't you try a DA meeting? And I went to one and I just heard something like what we've been talking about today that was so clear about who I was that it was that moment where I hit bottom.

  • 11:37:32

    REHMBill J. He's been a member of Debtors Anonymous for 25 years. Short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 11:40:06

    REHMAnd I have two emails here I'd like to read to you on the issue of compulsive shopping. The first from Jim in Florida who says, "I think some of the blame should fall on the vendors. My girlfriend went to an outlet store planning to spend $60. She was told by the cashier she'd get a free gift if she spent at least $100. She ended up being $40 more of stuff she didn't even need to get something that I have a hard time defining as free."

  • 11:40:50

    REHMAnd then Sandra writes, "My 87-year-old mother sits at home and watches the home shopping shows on TV. She knows she has a problem. She also says it makes her happy. Ten years ago when it became a real problem with her buying jewelry, I took her to customer credit counseling for a reality check. It worked for awhile, but I noticed she's back on there again. I'm sure what to do. I feel these shopping shows somehow prey on people like her." April.

  • 11:41:37

    BENSONWe have solid research evidence to show that. 75 percent of the reasons that people give for why they love QVC are compulsive buying related. This is a very, very tough nut to crack. Websites like EBay are a part of the problem and a part of the solution. But just like with alcohol abuse, we have drink responsibly campaigns. And for compulsive gamblers, there are safeguards. In casinos, outside of the casinos, we have nothing for compulsive buying behavior.

  • 11:42:17

    BENSONI would really like to see, for example, a site like EBay have something on their homepage, concerned about your buying behavior, click here. I think that it's very, very complicated and I do think public policy needs to change in the direction of much more education and more constraints.

  • 11:42:41

    REHMAll right. And a caller here in D.C. Lauren, you're on the air.

  • 11:42:49

    LAURENHi there. Thanks so much for taking my call.

  • 11:42:51

    REHMSure.

  • 11:42:52

    LAURENThis show has been really interesting and kind of devastatingly insightful at times. My mother is a compulsive shopper. And part of the behavior for her is that she gives a lot of gifts to me and to my brother. And it clearly feels to me that she's asking for me to accept the gifts and thereby accept her. And it's troubling behavior and I was just wondering, to ask Dr. Brown, what I could do to show my mother that I love her, but also encourage healthier behavior.

  • 11:43:23

    REHMWhat do you think, Saundra?

  • 11:43:27

    DAVISSo I created a new tradition in my family that I don't actually give gifts. We give experiences. So about five years ago when I first finished my master's in financial planning, I really learned that my family had a lot of these issues that I've come to know quite a bit about now. I knew nothing about them then. And so I created a new tradition. I don't give gifts at all for birthdays, Christmas, anything. But what I do is we give experiences. And so we spend more time together. We do things that really build relationships. And I've now taught my grandchildren the same thing. It was rough the first couple of years.

  • 11:44:03

    DAVISAnd I'll be perfectly honest, Thanksgiving was a bit touchy the first year so that I decided that I was no longer going to give gifts. But now people understand. Number one, there's nothing that I need, so I don't want them to spend their money on things. What I do ask and one of the things I've been inviting people to do is consider creating a family emergency fund. And so rather than spend money on gifts each year, put money into an emergency fund that if a family member finds themselves in financial distress throughout the year, there's a fund available to help so no one is loaning money to each other...

  • 11:44:36

    REHMThat's a lovely idea.

  • 11:44:36

    DAVIS...when they're in some type of a crisis.

  • 11:44:38

    REHMApril, what do you say to Lauren?

  • 11:44:41

    BENSONWhat I say to Lauren is along the lines of what Saundra said. I think moving things out of the realm of the material and giving experiences. Your mother, for example, telling her that you want to spend time with her, you don't want -- you want to cook with her, you want to go on a hike with her. We have so much evidence that shows that when we use our discretionary money -- even if, you know, a hike doesn't cost anything, but if we take somebody to the theater, it does. When we use our discretionary money to provide experiences, we are so much more satisfied, both the giver and the recipient.

  • 11:45:28

    REHMLauren, how does that sound to you?

  • 11:45:32

    LAURENIt sounds like a great idea and something that I've actually tried to encourage a little bit; telling my mother, you know, I don't need anything, I'd rather spend time with you, that would be the real gift. But she gives outside of the context of holidays. Anytime I see her there's multiple little trinkets and things. And I know she's trying to show her love, but I know that it has been a lot of shopping time and money for her and I just -- I wish that she would spend her time in more helpful ways.

  • 11:46:01

    REHMWell, perhaps she'll hear you more clearly the next time you say that. Thanks for calling. Let's go to Panama City, Fla. Good morning, Nina.

  • 11:46:16

    NINAHi, Diane, I love your show.

  • 11:46:19

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:46:19

    NINAIt's wonderful. And I feel like Bill is exact copy of my husband. And we've been the last ten years. And he is a -- I don't know how to stop him, but the new year resolution is, you know, for him not to buy anything, not even grocery. So I'm hoping he will do it, but I just need to know how I can help him and how I can support him. I realize this is a problem.

  • 11:46:48

    REHMBill.

  • 11:46:49

    BILL J.Well, I'm not a member of Al-Anon, but the truth is that you don't have any control over a compulsive shopper or somebody who's got a money addiction. They have the control over what they do. And I will say that my first wife told me that kind of thing several times and there were lots of new year's resolutions and lots of resolutions. And the only thing that ever helped was when I personally hit bottom and was able to start working a spiritual and emotional solution.

  • 11:47:28

    REHMBut Nina may not be able to afford to have him hit bottom, so what can Nina do, April?

  • 11:47:38

    BENSONWell, I think she can tell her husband how concerned she is, what she's seen, how much she loves him.

  • 11:47:46

    BILL J.Exactly.

  • 11:47:47

    BENSONYou know, on my website, on my blog, there are -- for friends and family there's a lot of information about how to approach somebody with this problem in a respectful, mindful way.

  • 11:48:00

    REHMAnd, Saundra, what would you say to Nina?

  • 11:48:04

    DAVISI would also really understand the impact that it's having in the household. And maybe that conversation that the financial advisor had with the gentleman that called earlier would be helpful. Do you all know what your financial picture is? Do you have financial statements that let you know where you really are right now? And do you have financial goals that are shared? So I do believe that the information we received, the feedback we received earlier about financial education or ineptitude does have a role. And maybe it's a combination of those things.

  • 11:48:37

    REHMIndeed.

  • 11:48:38

    DAVISBut I would begin with making sure that you really understand the impact of what the behavior is.

  • 11:48:42

    REHMI hope that helps, Nina. Thanks for calling. To San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Marie.

  • 11:48:51

    MARIEGood morning.

  • 11:48:53

    REHMGo right ahead, please.

  • 11:48:55

    MARIEI guess I really didn't -- I kept thinking that my problem was a financial management problem until I listened to the show today. But I secretly spent on secret credit cards up to like $20,000, mainly on cosmetics and hair. And anytime we had an event to go to I felt so terrified that I wouldn't measure up, that I had to spend lots of money on clothes and outfits. And I finally came clean with my husband one night because the stress was just -- and we worked out a plan and I paid it off. And then I find that for awhile everything was okay.

  • 11:49:32

    REHMAnd then?

  • 11:49:34

    MARIE(unintelligible)

  • 11:49:37

    REHMApril.

  • 11:49:39

    BENSONSo it's not unusual for you to be able to pay off and for you for awhile to be able to risk the -- resist the impulse to overbuy. But if you don't find a way to address the underlying, psychological reasons that you do it, and you are aware of some of them, you didn't feel adequate to go to these events without buying something new, there are ways to really begin to approach that and to start to develop the capacity to feel good about yourself just the way you are.

  • 11:50:16

    REHMDo Debtors Anonymous chapters exist all over the country, Bill?

  • 11:50:23

    BILL J.Yes, they do. On our website debtorsanonymous.org there's a list of meetings that tell you where everybody is.

  • 11:50:31

    REHMGood.

  • 11:50:32

    BILL J.And on the right-hand -- lower left-hand column there are the online meetings and the phone meetings.

  • 11:50:38

    REHMGreat.

  • 11:50:38

    BILL J.And usually the phone meetings are to a free number. So there's ways to connect every day all of the world. As I was sharing with April earlier, I'm going to do a pressure relief group, which is financial advisory within Debtors Anonymous for a person in Israel. And I'll be doing that on Friday.

  • 11:51:04

    REHMInteresting. All right. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Michael.

  • 11:51:12

    MICHAELHey, good morning, Diane. I love your show. And...

  • 11:51:14

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:51:15

    MICHAEL...I really appreciate you addressing this. I'm actually a physician here in St. Louis and I'm about 39. I've struggled with addiction my whole life frankly. And I am, you know, currently in recovery from chemical addiction, but, you know, spending has been almost more detrimental to, you know, my marriage and my family than any substance use, I mean, because that really hadn't been a part of my life for about eight or nine years.

  • 11:51:49

    MICHAELBut, you know, it's good that you're addressing it in terms of men as well because it's, you know, we tend to think of having collections or whatnot. It's very easy to rationalize for me. And, you know, I think in terms of what has helped me mostly and just like confronting any addict is, from my wife's perspective at least, is, you know, the opportunity she's taken on her own to, like one of your guests had said, to address me in terms of how, you know, my behavior has affected her and how the behavior affects our family.

  • 11:52:34

    MICHAELI mean, her anger is usually about, you know, fear, financial insecurity and fear about the kids. And we have three young kids. And also, you know, one thing that's helped us is having some degree of transparency in our spending. You know, she has access to all of our bank accounts. She sees what goes in and what goes out. And -- but it's still something I struggle with on a daily basis, you know.

  • 11:53:01

    REHMThat's interesting.

  • 11:53:03

    BENSONI think it's something that the more you develop the muscles that you need, the more you strengthen yourself against those impulses to gratify yourself immediately, the easier it's going to get. And that really takes a lot of work. One of the things we know is that generosity is the best antidote we have to compulsive buying. So when you think about spending, you might start to think about spending to do things outside of your family to make the world a better place. And that does have a tendency to make us feel much less need to spend on ourselves.

  • 11:53:53

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Accept that you don't want to be suggesting that you spend on others anymore than you are overspending on yourself. And it sounds as though you, Michael, went from substance abuse into abuse of money. We haven't talked about the hereditary factor. Is there one, April?

  • 11:54:29

    BENSONI'm going to answer that. One thing I just want to say first is that spending is not just about money.

  • 11:54:34

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:54:35

    BENSONWhen I said to Michael about spending on other people, I'm thinking about time and energy.

  • 11:54:40

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:54:41

    BENSONSo in terms of heredity, there's not that much we know yet, but there are two things that I can say. One is that a study that was done at the University of Washington and Claremont McKenna that looked at the Swedish twin registry, which is the largest twin registry we've got, suggests that as much as 35 percent of spending and saving behavior is genetic. Now, that doesn't mean that if you are someone who has a propensity to be a spender, that you can't do anything to have financial control. So it is not an excuse to spend rampantly.

  • 11:55:19

    REHMDoes that resonate with you, Bill?

  • 11:55:22

    BILL J.It does. You know, there's a million excuses in the -- for all of our behavior, but when it comes right down to it, we have to be personally accountable for the spending behavior and the solution. And the solution is a personal one, emotional, spiritual and the physical act of finding clarity in your money behavior.

  • 11:55:46

    REHMBut I was just wondering whether in your own family of origin there were those kinds of traits at work that you could've picked up clues about.

  • 11:55:59

    BILL J.It's interesting that you ask that. In my parents, I don't think I saw it. But actually it has definitely hit my brother.

  • 11:56:07

    REHMReally?

  • 11:56:08

    BILL J.Yeah, big time.

  • 11:56:10

    REHMSo you and he have shared that...

  • 11:56:13

    BILL J.Um-hum.

  • 11:56:14

    REHM...experience?

  • 11:56:15

    BILL J.We have.

  • 11:56:15

    REHMAnd you counseled him?

  • 11:56:19

    BILL J.I have. And we have different approaches.

  • 11:56:22

    REHMMaybe he's not ready to hear as you have heard.

  • 11:56:29

    BILL J.I would say he is not ready. That's true.

  • 11:56:32

    REHMDid you have to hit bottom before you did something?

  • 11:56:39

    BILL J.I had to have a moment where I could stop for long enough to do something different. And whether you call that hitting bottom or financial advisor as the caller had or a therapist or whatever, whatever it takes, that's what it takes.

  • 11:56:58

    REHMBill J., he's been a member of Debtors Anonymous for 25 years. Saundra Davis, president of the Financial Therapy Association. Dr. April Lane Benson, a psychologist and author of "I Shop, Therefore I Am." Thank you all so much.

  • 11:57:23

    BENSONThanks so much for bringing this to the public's attention and for having us.

  • 11:57:26

    BILL J.And thank you. And thanks for asking about DA so that we can get some publicity.

  • 11:57:31

    REHMIndeed. And...

  • 11:57:32

    DAVISYes, thank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:32

    REHM...thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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