“Like many women, I enjoy shopping. At one point I shopped all the time, at malls, flea markets, online stores, and thrift shops. As an activity it relaxed me, and I loved the thrill of coming across a new outfit or accessory.
I won’t lie; most of my salary once went towards shopping. If I saw something I liked I had to have it, and most of the time I didn’t care how much it cost. Unless it was ridiculously expensive I always found some way to afford it, whether it was borrowing money from my mum, getting an temporary increase on my credit card limit, or dipping into whatever little savings I had.
But after years of shopping like there was no tomorrow, my addiction finally caught up with me and I lost two of the most important things in my life – my marriage and my job.
Three strikes and you’re out
As someone who handled important paperwork for a big company I had a pretty boring job. But the work was easy and I was paid well so I didn’t complain. Nevertheless, even if I had a lot to do, I would still shop online during office hours.
I tried to keep my shopping a secret because my boss didn’t like us doing anything personal while we were at work, but one day she noticed me browsing a few stores on my computer. She sternly reminded me that I had work to do and pointed to my inbox, which was full of unanswered emails.
A couple of months later she caught me again. This time, though, I had multiple store pages open and was screen-capturing images of clothes that I wanted to buy. On my desk sat a pile of files marked Urgent. I had yet to go through them, something I was supposed to do that morning. My boss wasn’t pleased and told me that if she caught me shopping online again at work, she would have to replace me.
Still, I couldn’t help myself and continued to shop online. I always made sure my boss wasn’t around when I did it, but one afternoon she called me into her office. Apparently I had missed a few important emails from our clients and because I did not reply to them in time, I had messed up a deal my company had been working on. In addition, I had forgotten to process some paperwork that morning, and as a result, I’d cost my company money. My boss was furious. Because I’d already been given a couple of warnings, she said that she had no choice but to terminate my employment. I begged and pleaded with her to let me keep my job but she insisted that I was more trouble than it was worth. She also showed me a printout of all the shopping sites I had visited over the previous months and concluded that I was spending up to four hours a day on them.
A strain on my marriage
Andy*, my husband of four years, wasn’t happy that I’d been fired. As it was, we were already struggling financially and couldn’t afford to live on just his income. Plus, we had recently renovated our flat and were deep in debt.
For a few months I tried looking for another job with no luck. This created a lot of tension between Andy and me. He accused me of wasting my time shopping online instead of setting up interviews and threatened to cancel our Internet connection if I didn’t find a new job soon. We argued a lot about money and I sought solace in online shopping. I continued to buy clothes, shoes and jewellery even though I was no longer drawing a salary. When my funds ran out I resorted to using the money that was in the joint account I shared with my husband. When he found out, he hit the roof.
Technically, the money in the joint account was mine too, but Andy had every right to be mad at me. In two months I had withdrawn close to $15,000 just so I could afford to shop – that was money we had set aside to settle our debts and start a nest egg. My excuse for shopping was that I was depressed about being unemployed, but that didn’t cut it with Andy. He added that he had been upset with me for a while because my shopping had gotten out of control and urged me to get help. In the meantime, he told me he wanted a separation.
I was floored. I knew Andy was disappointed in me but I didn’t think he would want to separate. Hurt and confused, I moved back in with my mum and promised to repay Andy the money I’d taken from our joint account.
Struggling to make ends meet
It’s been almost a year since I lost my job and my husband, and I’m still living with my mother. After six months of us being separated, Andy told me that he wanted a divorce. He still loved me but said that I had changed and he didn’t recognise me anymore. He told me that we were incompatible and that he couldn’t see a promising future with me. I spiralled into a depression for a while but with Mum’s help I managed to get out of it.
I eventually found a new job but it was a short-term contract position. After my 18 months is up I may have to look for another job, depending on whether or not the company decides to keep me. I’m not earning as much as I used to, but at least I have money coming in.
I never got professional help for my shopping addiction. Instead I decided to quit the habit on my own, cold turkey. I cut up my credit cards, came up with a new savings plan, and promised myself that I wouldn’t shop for a long time, or at least until I had paid off all my debts – to Andy, Mum and the bank. I didn’t want to be in such a financially unstable position again.
I’m still trying to understand why I couldn’t get my shopping habit under control. Yes I loved – and still love – shopping but, looking back, I can’t believe I allowed it to run my life the way it did. I haven’t bought anything for a few months now, and it feels good, although I can’t let go of the fact that something is missing. Right now I try to find joy in the other things I’ve got going in my life, like my close friendships, my relationship with my mum, and my growing savings account.
*Names have been changed