Every time 18-year-old, self-professed shopaholic Sarah Frank went to the mall, she spent several hundred dollars -- namely on clothing and makeup. "I was buying all this stuff I didn't need from places like Sephora, H&M, Forever 21."
When she would return to her dormitory elated and carrying several shopping bags, friends took notice. "My roommate was like 'How are you always doing this? 'Why are you always doing this?' 'What's wrong with you?'"
When Frank's concerned roommate showed her an article she found online--"40 Ways to Know You're Addicted to Shopping" -- the Philadelphia, Pa., native knew she had a problem. And her parents, who were paying all her bills, realized it, too. After all, there were clues, like hidden purchases, and secret shopping trips, for example.Then came the tipping point: when Frank went on a bender, putting $400 on her credit card in a matter of hours. "That was the most I'd ever charged all at once."
Bye bye credit card; hello help.
Here's how Frank -- one of 17 million compulsive shoppers in the U.S. -- is managing her addiction, and how you can, too:
Seek professional help
Frank's parents hired Terrence Shulman, founder of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending. "They gave me 10 sessions with him, basically to figure out why I do this; to get to the root of the problem," says Frank, who has determined -- over the course of her weekly telephone discussions with Shulman -- that she has been using shopping as a stress buster. "I would buy stuff to relieve stress, feel bad that I was spending my parents' money, and then get even more stressed out."
Understand that it's an illness
"Lots of people use things to fill an emotional void -- alcoholics use alcohol, drug addicts use drugs, compulsive shoppers shop," says Shulman. "It's about comforting themselves, and filling some sort of void." If you're predisposed to an addiction, or suffer from emotional issues, as Frank says she does ("family issues, relationship issues"), you're especially vulnerable.
Frank, who says she often used shopping as a cure for boredom, now hits the gym, sings, tries her hand at new hobbies or chats with friends when she's got too much time on her hands. "I find ways to improve myself; not self-destruct," she says.
Know there are consequences
Frank realizes that she wasn't just hurting herself, but that she was hurting her hardworking parents - her father is a lawyer; her mother is a nurse - as well. "I didn't think about the consequences; I do now, and I know that what I was doing wasn't fair to them," especially in this new economic environment where everyone is cutting back, dollars matter more, and reckless spending is a big taboo.
Build a new relationship with credit
Frank's parents took away the credit card -- which she had for two years -- and set new rules for their daughter. "I am only allowed to use the card under certain circumstances, like for food or various school-related expenses," says Frank, who has to get the card from her parents. "I have to tell them what I'm using it for in advance, and I have to give them all the receipts." If Frank, who now only uses a certain amount of cash each month for her everyday expenses, proves herself responsible, she will one day get the card back. "They're very supportive of me, and they just want to see me be more responsible."
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