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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