The Shopping Intervention

Otherwise known as: Michelle has an embarrassing shopping addiction and needs a bit of a (major) self-intervention.

It's true. I've always considered myself to be good with money. I've lived on minimum wage. People who had trouble with money boggled my mind. Why would anybody buy a car that they can't afford the payments on? Why would anybody buy a house that they can't afford the mortgage payments on? People who lost jobs, had medical expenses, etc. were all understandable, but I was rather self-righteous in my cheap rented room in a house that I shared with 5 other girls (10-11 other girls if you counted the other side of the duplex) at $240/month including most utilities. My car was ugly and the driver's inside door handle fell off at some point and later on the heater got stuck permanently on high, but I was proud of the fact that I'd paid $600 cash for it. I still am proud of that, actually, since it served me well for a good three years. But I used that fact to look down on people who took on egregious amounts of debt in order to drive a nice car that they couldn't actually afford.

In 2013, I married a talented man with a strong work ethic whose talents lie in a field that is very much in demand. After we paid off the medical bills from my surgeries and then-undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, I began to relax. I got a diagnosis and got healthy, so I took up some hobbies, one of which was preparing for the baby that we decided to have together. That meant buying lots of baby items. And other things.

And so, slowly, despite all the budgeting skills and lessons on the value of money that were instilled in me by my parents when I was younger, despite my ability to be cheap about everything, I appear to have developed a shopping addiction. The thrill I get when a new package arrives? Shopping addiction. The continual hunt each shopping trip for some new trip that would delight my husband? Thoughtful, but mostly shopping addiction. The myriad of fluffy blankets from Costco that I can't seem to stop buying? Shopping addiction. Finding a deal and then immediately *needing* to buy whatever it is? Shopping addiction.

I can wrap it in whatever justification is close at hand, whether I reason that it's "for the baby" or "a nice surprise for Jeff". The one that makes me shudder because it's the one that my parents warned the most strongly against in my youth: "I deserve it." I've never actually said that out loud before, just thought it in the periphery before hurriedly covering it with a more palatable excuse.

The truth is, it really doesn't matter what it is; I don't get nearly the level of satisfaction from obtaining the item that I do hunting for it (and the best deal for it, of course). That's when you know I'm making excuses. Strip it all away, and I have a shopping addiction.

When we moved into our new house in April, our mortgage doubled. We had been saving the amount extra we would pay each month with only a little extra effort, so we were ready for that, and I was able to continue in my spendy practices without much consequence. We just weren't saving as much. Then in July we decided to make the smart move to withhold about 1/3 of Jeff's take-home salary to invest in the company stock program. It was a very Smart Choice and we prided ourselves in making it. We tweaked the budget so that we would be able to do so without draining our savings.

Then, I promptly ignored our budget. I reasoned that the things I was buying were for our home, which needed these things, and for projects to keep me sane while the baby napped. We also had trips that we'd planned long before buying the house, and those were very important. These and other rationalizations were things I told myself as I transferred more of our savings into the checking account to cover the full payments on our credit cards.

We were still doing okay. We had a few months' salary in the bank, and we were living on less than we had been previously.

Then I watched our savings drain out as we had to spend significantly more on our landscaping than we'd intended, just to get the yard flat and add some sprinklers and hydroseed. We didn't have enough to buy a fence this year, partly because I hadn't restrained myself from buying a dozen items I wouldn't be able to name now.

Last week I realized we had very little money in our savings, and I started getting nervous. What if soon we wouldn't be able to cover our expenses? I knew we couldn't continue like this forever. I quietly resolved to buy fewer things.

Then, Saturday evening, our car broke down on the side of the road. Just stopped working. This, after we'd just bought it to replace Jeff's car that had died permanently two months ago.

The diagnosis wasn't good. We got the estimate from our mechanic. The amount was $100 more than what we had in our savings account. And that's when I had to tell my husband about our financial situation, and that we were not as well-situated as we had been a few months before when I'd proudly  showed him how much we had in our savings account even after buying the house.

It was not a fun conversation. He took it really well, and immediately went into solution mode without a single thought to reprimand me for how I'd been handling our finances. He's not that sort of a person. But I knew I'd let him, myself, and our family down.

That's when I resolved to do a self-intervention and put it all up here so you guys can hold me accountable. So thanks for that! I appreciate it.

The next step was to make the actual goals and rules so that I would have an objective measure of what I needed to do. You can read all about it here.


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