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Extreme Retail Therapy: Walking Away from the Compulsive Buy

  • Mary Hunt The Cheapskate Monthly
  • 2006 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Extreme Retail Therapy: Walking Away from the Compulsive Buy

If you’re anything like me, which is to say compulsive and good at denial, then you had to be happy with the news coming out of the health sciences a couple of months ago.

It is not our fault. We can’t help ourselves from binge shopping and overspending because our brain chemicals are out of balance.

Dr. James Mitchell, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences says these brain chemicals get fouled up when we anticipate buying something.

Our hearts pound and our brains surge. And what is it that relieves this unbearable pressure? Why shopping, of course.

Buying stuff, shopping, spending money—all of these activities are the equivalent of releasing a pressure valve to allow our brains to function optimally. It only stands to reason then, that the more we engage in these activities the healthier we will be.

Perhaps you read recently about Betty Jean Barachie of Kunkletown, Penn. This woman had a brain surge to end all. During her eight-year shopping binge she bought many, many things including 3,000 books, 58 coats, 16 chain saws and a $25,000 John Deere tractor.

Surprisingly, Betty Jean did not use credit cards to relieve all that built-up brain pressure. Nope, she paid cash for everything with the $1.5 million she embezzled from the credit union where she was the branch manager.

A psychologist called as a witness at her trial testified that Betty Jean is a compulsive shopper and suffers from a buying disorder that consumes her life.

You think?

Okay, so I’m messin’ with ya. I concur that compulsive shopping is real. Even for Betty Jean, who by the way is also a real person and really did embezzle a boatload of money and spent every last penny causing the credit union to go bankrupt.

It’s a personality trait that never goes away, but over which the afflicted can choose to take control. And the minute you think you got it licked and you let your guard down, beware. That’s when it is most likely to rear its ugly head. And that’s exactly what happened to me.

I’m not proud of myself for loading up a shopping cart and then, in a kind of retail panic attack, leaving it in the aisle and fleeing from the store. Well maybe I am a little.

It was about the most compulsive shopping move I’ve made in a very long time. And it’s all because I was in the area. I don’t normally travel in the direction of the largest fabric store in the universe. But I did and there I was just blocks from the entrance. So I stopped in to just ... uh, ... look around.

Potential. That’s what I saw. Aisle after aisle of potential gifts, quilts, tablescapes, sweaters, blankets, fun. There were a few bargains that quite frankly one should never pass up. And that is the only reason I found a shopping cart. I mean come on, brocade for $4.99 a yard? And flannel-backed satin in the exact perfect shade of green for $6.59?

I made my way to the cutting table when I noticed something new: A take-a-number machine. Hate those things. But I’m stuck now so I plucked 73 from its little mouth and pulled back to notice, "Now Serving 61."

I knew I could no more stand there and wait through 12 servings for my turn than do back flips while performing a double cast-on (a little knitting lingo). So I decided to see if I’d missed any other bargains. I had. By the time they got to 68 I was in a cold sweat.

What am I doing?! I have 12 bolts of fabric, 18 zippers and enough thread to choke a goat in my cart. And for what? I don’t need more because I have more than enough already at home.

It was as if the entire readership of this newsletter was staring at me. And that is when I did the unthinkable. I bolted for the door. Somehow I found the car and sped home with my heart racing the way one’s heart races after experiencing a close call.

I do regret leaving that cart for some clerk to re-shelve its contents. However given the condition of the store I would suggest I’m not the first case of fabric overload. And considering the mountain behind the cutting table, re-shelving bolts of fabric is the full-time job for several employees. I prefer to think that my little escapade provided job security for someone.

One of my best behavior modifiers is to always remember that even when it feels as if I have no choice but to respond compulsively, I do have a choice. I can turn around and walk away.

Betty Jean will have 27 months in prison to think about her choices. Not nearly long enough if you ask me. As for restitution, I hope she’s required to make restitution for all she stole including insurance payouts to make the depositors whole.

At the very least she needs to return the tractor.


   "Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates.    Click here to subscribe.