5 Ways to Curb Compulsive Spending This Christmas

by Vincent King · 9 comments

Woman receipt shopping bags

It’s that time of year again… time to throw away your money!

Okay, I mean, it’s time to get ready for Christmas!

For many Americans, spending can get out of control during the holidays.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, compulsive spending affects one in 20 Americans, leaving many men and women feeling worse after the holiday than they did before the malls put “Jingle Bell Rock” into constant rotation.

Compulsive spending is an addiction, no different from any other.

You feel bad. You spend.
You feel happy. You spend.
You feel stressed. You spend.

As with drugs or cigarettes, an addict leans on the crutch of shopping to strip their pain, or to help them forget their troubles. It’s hard enough for compulsive spenders to turn their backs on shopping, but when the holidays roll around, it’s almost as though they’ve been given a license to trade their time and money for temporary warm fuzzies.

Even if you’re not an addict, it’s easy for most families to overspend during the holiday season — if for no other reason than the simple joy of giving.

In December 2011, The Economist reported that the United States was the second highest-spending country in the world during the holiday season, second only to Luxembourg. Business Insider reported that families spend an average of $1,000 a year on Christmas for food, gifts, decorations, and cards.

That’s just $1,000. Not that bad, right?

What if you’re already swimming in debt because you’re a compulsive spender? Or, what if the brand new grand is piled on top of a preexisting (and probably high) balance? Maybe your spending habits didn’t let you stash enough cash throughout the year to prepare for the gift giving season, so Christmas equals more credit card debt.

Then that $1,000 becomes a lot more.

On an 18% APR credit card where you pay only the minimum balance, that $1,000 becomes almost $2,000 over the course of the 18 years it takes to pay it off.

Merry Christmas to no one.

Hopefully, you’re not paying only the minimum balance on any card; this is a worst case scenario, of course. But this scenario does exist for many. If you have preexisting debt and are adding this on top of it, putting your gifts and holiday gear on plastic will definitely hurt.

Curbing your compulsion to spend this holiday season will allow you to breathe easy in January and enjoy your New Year’s parties without worry.

5 Steps to Beating Compulsive Shopping This Christmas

1. Get Support

Getting support from a trusted friend or family member is essential to beating the shopping compulsion. This trusted group should be able to talk you down during those times when you feel weak and want to surrender. They should be able to gently prod you into sticking to your goal of buying only what you need.

2. Go Public

Holding yourself publicly accountable can offer some of the strongest incentives to maintaining reasonable spending habits. People hate to be embarrassed, and there are many cases where people take their struggles online, setting themselves up with a challenge that would shame them if they were to fail. If you don’t have a blog, you can use social networks, such as Facebook, to announce your goal and report your progress. Potential failures can help you stay focused on your budget.

3. Plan and Stash

Design a plan and stick to it by taking only the cash you need to buy the gifts you want. Are decorations necessary? No, they’re not. Christmas is about connecting with friends and family. If your house is missing five extra strings of lights on the roof, come up with something different that will enable you to stick to your gift-giving budget. Forgo everything else until you have the money to pay for it.

4. Stay Offline

Remember that Business Insider report that said the average family will spend $1,000 this Christmas? It also says online shoppers spend 22% more than those in stores. So, stick to the brick and mortars when shopping for gifts.

5. Stay Goal-Oriented

Frequently remind yourself to keep your spending reasonable this year. When you wake up, remind yourself. When you walk out the door to shop, remind yourself. When you see things you want to buy (but know you don’t need, for you or anyone else on your list), remind yourself. Let the knowledge that you NEED something be your only trigger to buy.

Do you have any other tips to keep from overspending this holiday season?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance@MoneyLife&More November 26, 2012 at 6:25 am

I only buy things I absolutely need for myself and I stick to a strict budget for gifts. If you can do those two things you will be set.

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Emily November 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

great tips! I’d also add, making a budget and then putting that on a pre-paid card.

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roza November 29, 2012 at 10:40 am

we dont buy gifts for the adults. My sister keep on expecting me to ship in for everyone. But i only buy for my daughter for my nephew and my mom. I do buy a gift for my hubby. But we had 30 000 euros in debt and now we have 9 000 euros. We didn’t sacrificed so hard to give it away to familly who have more money than us. Plus lets be honest they have everytthing why buy them another dvd. For me christmas is about being with your familly. So i prefer invited my familly for a nice meal at christmas

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Kate November 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm

We have an ostensible rule not to buy for adults, but most of the adults in my family have children — there are 10 great-grandchildren now, and counting (what population crash?) — and they know their spinster sister spends a nice piece of change for the books she gives their crew and under the fixed rules would get zip, zero, nada in return. So I do get gifts from some of the larger families. I set a rule many years ago that the kids get books from me, and only books. Electronic trash wears out, breaks and becomes boring in no time. Books are forever.

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Louise November 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I think this article along with the one you have written about nice handmade simple presents you can give to your loved owns should be read by many people out there. People really should go back to the real christmas spirit!

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Sharon J December 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Compulsive shoppers are not only gifters. They hemorrhage money at every occasion. Even Bankruptcy doesn’t stop them. The only way to stop being a compulsive shopper is to STAY OUT OF THE MALLS.

In my opinion, Christmas has turned into a greed festival. It’s turned into a competition of who spends the most. WHY is that so important.

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Shane December 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I like to get a short list from people whom I am buying for Christmas, that way I can stay on track and not over spend, and everyone gets something they like and want.

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Emma January 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm

This is such an interesting article! I definitely have some compulsive shopping issues myself but I never realized how big of an issue it is. I really appreciate your tips for avoiding this type of behavior.

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Ruth Cooke December 26, 2013 at 8:55 am

I shop from a list. I regift where possible and appropriate. I’m not afraid to buy quality used goods (my score this year was a loom for my daughter — $722 new, $90 used). I also managed to get many great books in like-new condition at our library’s gigantic used book sale, and stashed them away. I crafted, though a quality crafted article takes a great deal of time, and may not be as cheap as non-crafters tend to think.

And I pared down my Christmas list. I give only to immediate family and ONE very close friend who is like a sister to me. And each of those gets ONE gift, or perhaps two if I really found something cheap/free. (I gave my daughter some cotton thread for her loom that I had on hand and that had been given to me.)

The most important gift giving principal for me is to know each person to whom I am giving, and give them something that I know they will appreciate. A used book they’ll read and cherish (you should have seen my friend open her gift, total cost $2, smiles, priceless!) rather than something expensive that’s simply wrong for the person involved.

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