Debt and the city: when retail leads us to therapy
Sunday 15 June 2008
The credit binge might seem a long time ago, but in the past few years millions of Britons have got used to splashing out on the latest must-have shoes, clothes, gadgets and other luxuries. They would simply slap their shopping on the plastic – to pay off at some point in the future.
But now the future has arrived and the signs of debt stress are now everywhere to be seen. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) says 45 per cent of the cases it deals with are linked to credit cards, while 23 per cent of all enquiries to Citizens Advice in 2006-07 related to both credit and store card debt.
Yet still many thousands of consumers will sink into the red because of a compulsion to shop.
Retail therapy may be glamorised in the new Sex and the City movie, but it can leave people emotionally and financially threadbare. "A preoccupation with buying can become surprisingly time-consuming, both in terms of fantasising about goods and actually shopping," says Helga Dittmar, a psychology lecturer at Sussex University and author of the book Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-Being. "It can lead to neglect of work commitments and family and friends. Compulsive buyers end up experiencing self-blame, guilt, anxiety and depression."
Traditionally, women have been branded the big spenders, but recent US research revealed that almost as many men are shopaholics. Women tend to trawl the shops for clothes, shoes and accessories, while men are more likely to become compulsive collectors. And even in these credit crunch times, binge-buying is becoming more common.
So how do you spot the signs of addiction in yourself or those around you? If you use shopping as a quick fix when you're down, spend more than you can afford, hide purchases or never use them and feel guilty about your buying habits, you may have a shopping disorder. "You become possessed by the need for things, but even while shopping, you know it won't transform your life – the magic won't work," says psychotherapist Adrienne Baker.
But is binge shopping really that bad? Debt charities seem to think so: they refer some clients to addiction treatment centres. "There's no point dealing with debts if you don't learn to overcome personal behaviour," says Beccy Wilks of National Debtline. However, a spokeswoman for mental healthcare provider The Priory Group dismisses compulsive spending as "a hobby that some people over-indulge in".
It's much more than that, says Ms Baker: "What we're really talking about is people not feeling very good about themselves. Psychotherapy can help overcome this, though make sure it's someone registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
On the financial side, imposing self-discipline is the key. "Clear the balance on cards before going on spending," says Frances Walker of the CCCS. "A certain level of debt can spiral very fast when you only make the minimum repayment."
Store cards are a particularly bad idea. Shops tempt customers with incentives such as 10 per cent off when they take one out. But this form of plastic has a higher interest rate than all but a handful of credit cards.
Charities say that if debts excluding the mortgage total more than 20 per cent of take-home pay, you're over-extended. Drawing up a budget for monthly income and outgoings will help – as will paying by cash for your shopping.
"I had a store card for every shop in town. When I went shopping on a Saturday, the only cash I spent was on my bus fare."
Yet still Sarah Kennedy, a 34-year-old administrator from Cardiff, was shelling out £200 to £300 a time.
She loaded up with shoes and clothes. "If I bought a top, I'd buy one in every colour." But her purchases came with guilt attached. "I'd come home and put the bags in the bottom of the wardrobe to hide them. And then I'd forget about them."
Sarah managed to hide her compulsion from her family and friends, but as a result of making only the minimum payments on cards and personal loans, her debts climbed to £33,000.
It was being refused another loan that made Sarah realise she had to act. A friend suggested the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, which persuaded her to cut up her cards and work out a payment plan. The CCCS even wrote to her creditors.
Six years later, she has paid off every penny and only shops with cash. "I'm the happiest I've ever been."
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
After the election: What will Britain's financial future look like on 8 May?
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park