How to Overcome An Obsession with Consumerism

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on April 8, 2008
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My financial problems have been up and down ever since a college-age, part-time job working retail at Wet Seal.

While prowling the racks, straightening hangers and refolding skimpy tops, I concentrated less on selling product than on what I could try on once it was time for my lunch break. Things only escalated from there, with the acquisition of my first credit card, a move to Boston that ensured me a mere five-minute walk from Newbury Street, and a retail gig at a handmade crafts store, where I came to appreciate the inherent worth in things that were more expensive because they were art (I’ve been suffering from minor product-snobbery ever since).

I had to be bailed out of insurmountable credit card debt twice and, most recently, I was forced to switch my balance to a 0%-interest credit card. I am extremely ashamed of all of this, especially as my debt no longer affects just me, but it affects my husband as well.

Your Money Or Your Life rocked my world way back in October but, despite my excitement over its content, I was left conflicted: Most of the time, shopping makes me feel sick to my stomach, and overcome with guilt. Other times, though, I can rationalize my purchases. The $300 chair is a good investment, considering my new, freelance, work-from-home life. The decor makes our condo a by-god home, erasing temporarily the fact of its impermanence. The $250 toward 20 hoop classes and a practice hoop, along with an additional $75 for a travelhoop + bag, are all good things, as hooping is my one, regular, non-work extracurricular, and my only form of exercise.

Who could possibly find fault with that?

Perhaps I’m looking for help in all the wrong places. Your Money Or Your Life was an all-or-nothing sort of book, and my most recent read — The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Richesis no different. In fact, author Jeff Yeager admits to finding most of his inspiration in the former book, and the entire volume reads as a stand-up version of the very same lessons. Is there a more moderate financial self-help book I should be reading? Is my overenthusiastic idealism leading me to try things than I’m not prepared to succeed at?

Still, Yeager’s book does include some helpful tips.

Instead of keeping an itemized list of every payment and purchase, try conducting a regular “What Was I Thinking?” audit. This can easily be accomplished by printing out your monthly credit card statement, and highlighting the purchases that you’ve come to regret. A printout rife with highlights can really drive home the recklessness of your spending habits, leading you to be more careful with your spending.

Challenge yourself. Try to buy produce that is only in season. Or only purchase items that are on yourself. Or establish an under-$1-a-pound rule at the supermarket. The creativity you employ in succeeding at these self-imposed challenges may inspire you.

I think it’s about time I did a “What Was I Thinking?” audit myself. I’ve been especially challenged lately by my work with the new products blog I’m writing for, as I’m rarely satisfied with mere window shopping. Perhaps that $50 vase wasn’t entirely necessary.

I’m curious (if you’ve gotten this far): What areas of spending do you find most difficult to resist?

buzzdash poll.


6 Responses to 'How to Overcome An Obsession with Consumerism'

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  1. I am also obsessed with consumerism and snobbery. However, I am in massive debt, about to lose the man I love, my home, everything — I have spent YEARS digging myself in and out of grave situations over money, yet I never learn my lesson. I am going to do dave ramsey’s financial peace university, because I am desperate. I do not want to lose my family over money. Not now, not ever. I have hit the wall and it’s not pretty. Check out Dave’s website, quit shopping before you lose your family and your husband.

  2. rook said,

    One thing that always works for me is tracking my net worth; now, wait, hear me out. The idea is that if once a month you track your net worth (not counting your primary residence), you will start to think twice before buying consumables. The question is, “will this purchase make me richer or poorer”. Of course an expert rationalizer can get past this, so the point of the ‘tracking” exercise is to put it down in writing. There are web sites where people track their net worth online, and it can be shocking. You will put in your age and salary, and you will see others who earn the same as you, same age as you and have a million dollars in the bank.

  3. […] saw stephanerd’s blog post about her trouble dealing with her overspending and it brings to light an issue in how consumers – at least US consumers – view spending […]

  4. BDO said,

    Nice Pic. Consider posting on: .

  5. I’m generally responsible with money, but art and craft supplies (including books) are definitely my weakness.

  6. beentherebefore said,

    Some time ago I had been through an extended prior compulsive spending period. Luckily it was mostly smallish ticket items, but it did all add up to several maxed out credit cards.
    One then has to carry the burden of a guilt complex about on your shoulders, and one day I just decided to do something about it.
    I MADE MY OWN PLAN OF ACTION, a goal to work to. No more credit card spending until it was all paid off, no matter how long it took. I became obsessive about it.
    I surprised myself by reaching my goal in only 18 months, and it was fun and satisfying.

    Think yourself lucky, todays lifestyles are full of every type of temptation and pitfall, you could have been an alcoholic, a gambling addict, a drug addict a vagrant sleeping on a park bench, or a criminal locked up in jail.
    So tell yourself things could be a lot worse, and there is still hope for you, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
    It is bit like giving up smoking or any other vice or compulsion, only you can decide to fix it.
    AA has a plan of action, so you must have a plan or goal.
    Most of us love to respond to a challenge or a goal.

    I use various tactics now!
    I have amassed some money, in the bank and a cash stash.
    Always keep track of your stash, like Scrooge, it helps.
    I pay cash for everything (no credit cards).
    Temptation to spend then makes you feel guilty and makes you resistant to digging into and reducing your cash stash.

    If you do feel the urge to splurge/spend, adopt some strategies to keep it under control.
    Why not defer any large ticket purchases for say six months.
    This gives you an anticipation and something to look forward too. It also slows your spending rate, and gives time to save up so you can pay cash.
    Or, defer the purchase until you have saved say 120% of the money, so that the extra 20% goes into you cash stash (not to be used). As you cash stash grows it will give you pride and more motivation.
    If you have do splurge occasionally, why not restrict youself to some small ticket items. this satisfies the urge to spend and limits the financial damage, even if you buy absolute junk.


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