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Are You a Compulsive Shopper?

Some folks are way too susceptible to those exhortations that spending is your patriotic duty. It's all well and good if people who are not in debt and are on schedule to meet their savings goals decide to spend a bit extra to help the economy along, but your first duty is to your own financial security.

If you have credit card debt, it's never the right time to add to it. But how easy is it for you to cut back when you need to? Could you be a compulsive spender? Take our quiz and find out.

1. Do you frequently exceed your spending limit when you shop?

Not often, I usually set a limit and stick to it = 0 points
Yes = 5 points
What spending limit? = 10 points

2. Do you suspect you're under a post-hypnotic suggestion that causes you to read "on sale" as "must buy"?

No, I only buy items on sale if I really need them = 0 points
Well, maybe = 5 points
Yes, Master = 10 points

3. You've had a really bad day. How do you unwind?

An hour in a hot tub = 0 points
An hour in a cool mall = 5 points
Eat a Sacher torte = 10 points (Oops, wrong quiz)

4. Do you own more than five pairs of dress shoes?

No = Fine yourself $5 for lying
Yes, but three are over five years old = 0 points
Yes, but some were gifts = 5 points
Yes, but I need them to match all my different outfits = 25 points

5. Have your friends ever suggested that your buying habits might be out of control?

No, my friends think I'm too cheap = 0 points
No, but then they all spend too much = 5 points
They aren't my friends anymore = 10 points

Score: Surprise, the points don't really matter. (Whose quiz is it, anyway?) Our little test was just for fun, and to get you to think a bit about what compulsive spending means. We've all bought things on impulse; the question is, can you control those impulses? For millions of folks, compulsive spending is no joke. It's a clear and present danger to their financial future. You know better than we do what your weaknesses are. The only real question is: Do you think you may have a problem controlling your impulsive spending? Look deep inside and answer honestly. OK, now you know.

If the answer was "yes" or "maybe," help is just a few clicks away.

Fools who fight the urge to splurge hang out on our Living Below Your Means (LBYM) discussion board offering suggestions and moral support. A few weeks ago, we noticed a particularly useful thread filled with good advice for the weak of will. We've distilled the full discussion down to the salient points for you, and made a list of some of the most universally useful suggestions, but if you are a diehard compulsive spender, you might want to read (and memorize) the entire thread. Participating in the discussion is also an excellent way to keep yourself focused on getting a grip on your over-spending habits.

The "tips to stop spending" discussion contained three main themes:

  • Stall: If you feel the urge to buy something not on your list, go home and think about it for a week.

  • Substitute: Compulsive buying often develops when shopping becomes a recreational activity. Find a different way to spend your time.
  • Avoid: Stay away from stores that trigger compulsive purchases, and don't shop with friends who encourage your bad habits. Or simply don't shop.

Hmmm, that last one has a few potential problems -- for example, starving to death or showing up at work naked some day. Here are some suggestions from the discussion board on how to deal with temptation when shopping is inevitable.

1. whitemiata: Make a list. Buy only what is on the list. No exceptions. If you think you just have to have something, add it to next week's list. Then review that decision next week.

2. MarkHiatt: No more recreational shopping.

3. ncharge: Avoid malls -- shop where you can drive right to the store.

4. Allie1001: If you have a lot of something (clothes, for example), try putting some away for a while -- completely out of sight. When you think you need something new, raid your stash.

5. pnwwoman: Distinguish between wants and needs. (Be honest.)

6. queloco: Credit cards. Don't.

7. benjamintx: Remember -- you don't save money with sales, you spend it.

8. Shichri: Make every buying choice a choice between the item in front of you and a short-term goal.

9. okclifster: Enlist the help of a trusted friend to hold you to your budget.

10. pekinrobin: Find alternative ways to spend your time. Develop a hobby that can lead to income. Say you decide to start carving duck decoys. You'll make money twice: the $2 an hour you earn and the $20 an hour you didn't spend at the mall.

Finally, here are two ideas that work for me:

1. Value simplicity: Find the beauty in a blank wall, an uncluttered shelf, a sparsely furnished home.

2. Think lazy: Keep firmly in mind that almost everything you buy will need to be put away, dusted or washed, moved around, or dealt with in some way that involves work. When looked at it like that, most work-saving appliances don't, most home decorations detract, and... just how many shoe racks did you really want to install? Buy things that make your life easier, not more complicated. And remember that in most cases not buying anything is often the simplest solution.

Ann Coleman still has too much clutter on her shelves, but she's definitely gotten shoe shopping under control, possibly because she never liked shoe shopping. She might need to work on compulsive stock buying, though. You can see her extensive and messy collection of stocks in her personal profile. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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