A spending addiction can start almost unnoticed but by the time it has escalated to compulsive overspending the financial and social consequences can be devastating. Along with the actual “act” of overspending there is also a substantial amount of time spent considering the purchase and getting in a position to be able to make the purchase – this is called preoccupation. Preoccupation isolates the person and removes them from work, social and family life.

Compulsive spending can take several forms, from High Street shopping through to more substantial purchases such as cars; online and television shopping sites; online auction sites; obsessive collecting of objects such as knives, clocks or watches; compulsive hosting such as buying drinks and paying for meals. There are many forms of spending addiction and they can be very subtle. Often the people benefiting will not challenge the behaviour – why would they?

Compulsive spending is normally linked with being an emotional comforter, making the person feel more important or on an equal to others and demonstrating the need for affirmation. The person may be bored, anxious, stressed or sad.

Over time the person becomes more and more secretive, their finances become out of hand and they run up debts or spend more money than they should. Loans and credit card debts are common and this inevitably has a serious effect on the family. Spenders can start to hide their purchases. The effect on the compulsive over-spender can in some instances lead to depression and family break ups.

Recovery from spending is based around the addictive behaviour being challenged. When we begin therapy for a compulsive shopper, a budget needs to be agreed, expenditure needs to be visible – perhaps bank statements being shared with partners. Purchases need to be based on needs and not wants. The client needs to be encouraged to share their feelings and to re-integrate with their social and family network.