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."
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Kim Kardashian on Bruce Jenner's 'story': 'We support him no matter what, and I think when the time is right, he'll talk'
- 3 Russian girl takes her own life after parents find pornography on her computer
- 4 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
iJobs Money & Business
£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...
£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...
Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...
Day In a Page
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 deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
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
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village