Hi, I'm Karyn and I have a shopping habit - please give generously

What do you do when you run up credit card debt in excess of $20,000? Freak out! Then think of a way out of the hole
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time, in the tempting city of New York, there was a young woman called Karyn. She was a nearlythirtysomething single from Illinois whose chatty, chirpy, sharpness had provided her with a Sex In The City life in New York, where she earned $100,000 a year working in television. She had an apartment on East 57th, a cat with a sensitive stomach, and a guilty little secret.

Once upon a time, in the tempting city of New York, there was a young woman called Karyn. She was a nearlythirtysomething single from Illinois whose chatty, chirpy, sharpness had provided her with a Sex In The City life in New York, where she earned $100,000 a year working in television. She had an apartment on East 57th, a cat with a sensitive stomach, and a guilty little secret.

For Karyn had a serious fancy-label shopping habit. There were the Gucci bags at $500, the Prada shoes at $300, and the incessant trips to Bergdorf Goodman for La Prairie skincare products at $150 a pot. If she had a date, then it was off to Bloomingdales. "I'd get two outfits," she says, "and I'd intend to take one back. But when I got them home they were both so cute I just had to keep them." And then there was the $400 for a monthly hairstyling, the personal trainer at $800 a month, and those store staff that she just couldn't disappoint. "Some of those sale persons were just so nice I just couldn't walk out without something, especially if I knew they were on commission."

It was all on plastic, and she could just about afford it until, in the weird world after 11 September, New York TV companies decided they did not need quite so many people. There goes the job. So she moves to Brooklyn and a cheaper place, but she still owes $20,000 to the card companies, and cannot juggle the payments any more. The final straw is bouncing a cheque at the grocery store. "And I think, oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm doing this." But she was. So she did what any sensible New Yorker would do when they found themselves in that much debt. She went to bed and lay there in the dark freaking out.

It was then that she was visited by a Magic Idea. And it told her to start a website called savekaryn.com and ask people to send her money. So, on 23 June, she did. "Hi, My name is Karyn," she wrote on her new home page. "I'm really nice, and I'm asking for your help! Over the last few years I've run up quite a credit card bill... $20,221.40 to be exact! So if you have an extra buck or two, please send it my way!" And she put a little diary on the site, started selling her fancy bags, dresses and tops on eBay (first up, those Prada boots from Neiman Marcus), and added a link to a firm that would collect cash for her. If any came in, that is.

And it did. First week, and a whole $6! "Cool!," she wrote. Next week, "nice people sent me $124.55!". Third week, and she is still staying out of the stores and turning down invites because she does not want to be the cheapie who scrounges drinks and food. She has a job again now, but it only pays half as much as before, and down every street there are shops, and temptation. But she does not give in, not even when torn between the own-brand macaroni and cheese and the Kraft. Our heroine walks straight past the Kraft, and, once safely indoors, saves $30 with a DIY pedicure.

Next week, it's a night out with Nice Guy But Not My Type because she is hungry and she knows he will take her to a place that serves food. ("NGBNMT is aware that he is not my type. I'm not leading him on.") And now we are up to 21 July, and another $613.85 comes in, and she has become a Web Phenomenon. There is money coming in from abroad, she is doing radio, and the whole thing is building.

Sunday 27 July, and now there are 40,493 hits on the site, almost 1,000 emails (they split 50-50 support and hate), $156 from eBay sales, and $617.51 from more "nice people". And she is really getting into this economising thing now. Dinner is free samples down at the deli, the air-conditioning stays off whatever the temperature, and it's time to put that green silk Cynthia Rowley dress up for sale, especially as her computer has packed up. But – "and how nice is this?" – her neighbours bought her a new one, and said pay us later. And then, on 5 August, she finally said it: "My name is Karyn and I like to shop." Except she added an exclamation mark, which makes it rather different.

Now it's mid-August and "it's another doozey of a week". The hits are now running at 146,000, and in the past 14 days $2,744 came in. A week later and it just gets better and better: 204,097 hits. $682 from eBay sales and $2,630 sent in. The $20,000 hole is now only half as big, and other credit card junkies are writing for advice to their "budget goddess". And they're sending stuff as well: tickets for a Yankees game, cheese, monopoly money, tapes, Starbucks coupons, diet cat food, anti-stress lavender bath soak; and strange requests. Will you show us your boobies? How'bout dinner? No chance.

Week 11 and she is running out of big ticket items to sell. But another $3,637 has tumbled in, and the debt is down to $5,068. And now there are people doing sites imitating her, and she has becoming a star, a real internet celebrity. And not just that. "I've got an agent now and I've done a book proposal for a kinda real-life Bridget Jones Diary, you know like Confessions of a Shopaholic, and there's these film companies talking about movie rights!"

And soon she will be able to walk the walk, too, because the people who make Chinese Laundry shoes are offering her two free pairs. "Wow! I am so excited!" Three months ago she was in trouble for buying this stuff and now they're giving it to her for free. So like a good celeb she gives them a plug. And she has another message for everyone, too: "If my website works, and I get my debt paid off, I will so give back to the community."

It's so easy that anyone, even a dog, can have a go...

Karyn's website has become a huge internet hit, provoking comment and imitations:

Dontsavekaryn.com

Spoof of Karyn site, with picture of leech on front page. Set up by Bob and Ben. "Unlike Karyn, if you give us money, we are going to waste it all on stupid stuff!" Online journal, and FAQ which includes the exchange: "Will you pose nude or go on a date with me for money?" Answer: "We would do that for free."

Money received so far: $16

helpmeleavemyhusband.com

A thirtysomething version of Karyn's site by Penny, a mother with two daughters, and married, for the last nine years "to a man with whom I have nothing in common". Ahead of the divorce, she wants to retrain and needs cash to put herself through nursing school.

Money received so far: $326.31

islandseven.com/savesheeba

Karyn spoof, trying to raise $1m for a dog called Sheeba. "My name is Sheeba and I'm a really nice bitch and I'm asking for your help. Yes, I used to have it all, but my dumbass 'master' lost it investing in some two-bit 'company'."

Money received so far: $28

geocities.com/need_a_bmw

Russ DeMers wants someone to send him $33,170.00 so he can buy his dream car. No dollar-a-donor stuff here: Russ wants the price of a BMW 3-Series xi in one shot. Has received many invitations to step outside, plus a proposal from a female addict in rehab.

Money received so far: $0.

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