Since when did shopping become a ‘hobby’?

Someone got in touch with me this week to ask my advice on a financial matter. They wanted me to look at the case study of a graduate who is heavily in debt but can’t stop spending and suggest some solutions. For obvious reasons, I won’t be revealing much information on this as it would be unfair. But what struck me in particular, besides the difficulty of the situation, was that shopping as described as one of the person’s ‘hobbies’. He or she pursued this so-called ‘hobby’ both in stores on the high street and online. Sadly the individual had problems in controlling their internet spending and had managed to accumulate a mountain of unneeded items, such as clothes and DVDs, and the resultant unnecessary debt.

It was very sad to hear about a young person in so much financial difficulty – and especially when it was partly of their own making. We all know that life isn’t easy for school leavers and graduates right now as there are so few jobs around. Plus so many people are leaving university up to their necks in debt already because of the introduction of tuition fees. So it’s a crying shame that someone in this situation is making things even worse for themselves because of their uncontrollable spending.

It got me thinking. Has the fact that so many people are graduating now thousands of pounds in debt made owing money less of a stigma? Is it suddenly ok to have huge debts because everyone else you know does too? And when on earth did we get to the stage when shopping was considered a hobby in the same breath as dress-making, amateur dramatics or carpentry? If shopping really is considered to be a hobby nowadays then I think that’s a tragedy.

Why is it that so many of us fill the void with meaningless stuff in this way? There was a time in my twenties, long before the days of this blog, when I used to hit the shops on Oxford Street in London regularly at the weekends. And even during the week, whenever I felt blue because I was unhappy with my lot, there was the temptation to go and splurge on something. Somehow treating myself to a nice new top or necklace make me feel better, although this feeling only lasted a couple of hours and was usually replaced by a sensation of panic at all the money I’d spent. At the time, my salary could sustain this occasional spending, but I couldn’t afford to continue this negative behaviour under my current budget and way of living. Fortunately I no longer feel a need for it either.

Relationship break-ups can prove to be the most expensive of times, for women at least. Often in the past when friends have split up with someone, they’ve gone on a spending binge, going out with mates clubbing, buying new clothes, a new haircut, and the expense of it all is seen as almost part of the recovery phase.

We can blame it on advertising, on celebrity culture, the increased availability (at least until recently) of cheap credit, of course, and these things haven’t helped. Perhaps we read too much about celebrities and honestly believe that we exist for no other purpose but to emulate their lifestyles, I don’t know. I hope not. But I think it runs deeper than that.

There seems to be an innate need in some of us, when we feel vulnerable or unhappy, to comfort ourselves with shiny new things, whether it’s clothes or power tools, and thinking that that is the answer. As long as the shopping sprees are only now and again and our budgets can withstand it, then it’s fine. However, when spending starts to interfere with our ability to pay our bills and get by in life, there is an obvious problem. While I’m hardly a psychologist, I’d guess it’s probably masking something else in our lives, whether that’s boredom, loneliness or the need to find another satisfying activity or new job to fill our time.

If you ask me, shopping should never be described as a hobby. At best, it’s a pastime, at worst, it can become an addiction. I hope that people are slowly beginning to realise there is more to life than spending their weekends queuing at a till and the rest of their lives paying off the debts.


Can shopping ever be described as a hobby? Why do some people feel the need to spend and spend? Have you ever been in that situation or known someone who can’t control their spending? Leave a message and let me know.

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29 Responses to Since when did shopping become a ‘hobby’?

  1. Milan says:

    the life of shopping is something that some people are very strange

  2. Kerri says:

    I guess the issue isn\’t really whether you call shopping a hobby or a past time, its just a definition, and after all, it\’s fun to go out with a friend at the weekend, buy something nice and have a coffee and a chat. I think the issue is that with so much disposable fashion and easy credit, its all too easy to see how people can get into trouble, particually with the 24/7 internet mall open.

  3. Angela says:

    so what did this young person get their degree in – Retail Therapy?

  4. Piper says:

    Ha! Good point Angela. Kerri – you\’re right. The whole concept of being able to buy something any time of day or night on the internet is actually quite a scary one when I think of it. The high street shops shut but the internet ones are always open for business.

  5. Kerri says:

    Quick thought. I watched a Darren Brown experiment a while ago where a lady was put in a room with a kitten and told if she flicked a switch, she\’d electrocute it. Apparently, the more we tell ourselves that we shouldn\’t do/can\’t have something, the more we want it – think small child being told they can\’t have chocolate. Eventually she pressed the button despite the fact it was totally out of character because she obsessed about not doing it.

  6. Kerri says:

    part 2… due to msn restraints…. Is there a reflection of this when we obsess about \’that item we really shouldn\’t buy, but just have to\’?

  7. Piper says:

    Goodness me. Didn\’t see that episode but it reminds me of that Father Ted episode where Dougal is told not to press the ejector seat button the plane but can\’t stop focussing on it and eventually presses it! Going back to \’I just had to have it\’, I think part of the problem is we treat it like a joke when people say, \’oh, but I just had to spend all my money on this thing\’. But everything in moderation. If you can\’t have something, it becomes an obsession.

  8. Christine says:

    You go through university running up debt to get a degree which is just bad training for young people straight out of home in the big wide world (and not at the most sensible age). And then you wonder why they don\’t stop till their credit is stopped. There\’s no stigma in bankruptcy and people have no idea of the problems till they have been there, done that. No deterrent.

  9. Bill says:

    Piper/Kerri, are we confusing hobby with addiction or peer pressure, attempting ter keep pace with the Jones\’s?.Is shopping extremely similar ter binge drinking?.A bar owner/tender (publican) I knew 20 years ago always maintained that people only go out when they have probs at home. Loneliness/boredom?.Piper, most shops do open 24/7, at least supermarkets, & smaller back-street shops attempt ter compete with this, oft from 06:00 – 21:00, at least 6 days/wk.

  10. Bill says:

    Piper,dressmaking/carpentry is now so old hat, it is so much easier & quicker ter flash the plastic, online or live in the local shops. The wartime rationing is over, the make-do & mend skills also. The new generation are pure academics, completely devoid of practical skills..The marketeers are also in our faces 24/7, oft complete with guilt-trips, an extreme abuse of psychology.

  11. Bill says:

    Christine darling, it is far too easy to obtain a Uni place before leaving school, just fers a fast-track academic degree. They then find no employment simply because we do not need so much incompetent, unskilled management. They are then driven back ter the Uni fers a PhD, rendering\’em even less practical use ter industry, & the economy as a whole. . . . . continued

  12. Bill says:

    They remain unskilled, incompetent supernumeries their entire lives, unless they can find a vacant desk or clipboard as a civil servant, where they can pass the time fers a minimum 25 years ter full pension.. . . . cotinued

  13. Bill says:

    In East Germany (DDR), every school-leaver had ter follow a Trade apprenticeship in industry, of at least 3 years, & was not eligible fers Uni until they had a Trade Master Brief, which all took at least 7 years. By this means they were much better prepared fers Uni, but due ter places being rationed by demand fers graduates, & also being sponsored by the intended future employer, only a limited creme d\’la creme found places. . . . . continued

  14. Bill says:

    With so many of the older generation holding a Trade Master Brief at least they had a useful income fers life. Uni graduates, even with a PhD did not have so much more income. . . . . continued

  15. Bill says:

    A Phd was not a license ter print money in the Social Economy, & there was no plastic (credit) ter splash. There were no luxuries in the shops, & even essential necessities were short in supply. All gents underpants were home-made, from clapped out gents shirts. All old woollies were unpicked, & the wool reconsumed in a new garment.. . . . continued

  16. Bill says:

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of a terrible long day,I can no longer see the keyboard, & have nothing left ter say, but bon soir, & bon chance, bis auf wiedersehen.. . . . end, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Bill says:

    It has just taken me 6 hours ter log-on ters Internet with me clockwork dial-up from t-mobile.Any ideas, or is it just the weather folks?Possible the more they cost, the worse they are, does anyone have experience of linux or Ubuntu, please?

  18. Lucy says:

    @Bill, I find your comments about uni graduates kind of offensive. I graduated with a degree in English 2 years ago, and I am NOT an "unskilled, incompetent supernumary". And my boyfriend is studying for a phd, and he certainly isn\’t.

  19. piper says:

    Students and graduates unfairly get a bad rep, Lucy. Most of the ones I know are very hardworking – I know, I was one once! How are you and your friends finding the job market at the moment? I\’d be interested to hear about your experiences.

  20. Pratab says:

    Part (I) Sorry (for what I\’m about to write). I graduated in 1998 but not in debt. I was in credit of about £700, though not much, it is better than a debt. In those days the Gov gave out means tested grants and I also had a part time job. And as a child I lived in poverty and had never developed the need to spend beyond my means.

  21. Pratab says:

    Part (II) Though, in recent years I got sucked up in all the media hype about property and amassed a mortgage and loan for a new kitchen. So, it\’s a combination of upbringing and media exposure and as Bill says keeping up with the jones.

  22. Bill says:

    Sorry Lucy, but a degree in English will not be of much practical use in the future, as the English, of which I am one, are a dying breed. When I spent 2 days completely lost in London, ca. 10 years ago, I could not find a single English-speaking Postie or Cabbie to assist me. . . . continued

  23. Bill says:

    Such a degree in English would not pay the rent, or be of any great use in a train crash, shipwreck, or on a desert island either. It would not be any more use than a chocolate frying-pan. You are simply re-inventing the wheel, at taxpayer\’s expense. . . . continued

  24. Bill says:

    If there is a practical use fers this completely superfluous education, why is it not sponsored, complete with full salary during the study, by your employer, similar to an NVQ or BTEC, please? . . . grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Bill says:

    Pratab, despite being a debt, mortgage is much more cost effective than renting yer own home, providing it is not sub-prime. As recently seen, the subprime are far too risky. Even a commercial mortgage, interest only, is cheaper, therefore more cost effective than renting. . . . continued

  26. Bill says:

    I only wish that I could qualify fers a mortgage, & did attempt buy ter let, until I found that I do not qualify fers a mortgage. As a result, I am still yet an inmate, 10 floors up in me council cave. . . . continued

  27. Bill says:

    Despite this, I am typing this from a roadside lay-by on the A30, just East of Launceston, after spending 2 days on a property search in the area, & I would like ter stay a further 2 days, but I have been ordered ter a committee meeting in Wolverhampton tomorrow morn. I spent a few days here the week before last also. . . . grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Bill says:

    Piper darling, how long will it be before they fix the hotmail problem, please?I have finally succeeded in forwarding all me email ter a new address at yahoo!, simply click options @ top right of defect inbox page, forward email.

  29. piper says:

    I take your point that it\’s not a vocational course, but I think you\’re being a bit harsh about English degrees, Bill. I have one and there are still uses for it, such as teaching English, journalism, marketing etc.

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