I’ve talked plenty of times before about being in debt, but today I want to dive into how I got there. To put it plainly, I had a shopping addiction, and it got out of control.
Before we start though, I want you to know that when it comes to feeling the financial burden of being in debt, or having a spending problem, know you aren’t alone. It’s super common to feel like there’s only one thing to fix it — don’t spend any money.
The good news is there are a lot of solutions that are outside of that. Plus, when you know the root of your behavior, you start to realize that it’s not exactly a lack of willpower, it’s a response to things that may have happened in your life.
But anyways, I’m going to talk all about where my shopping addiction came from, how I recovered from it, and what I’m doing now to make sure that I don’t relapse.
**DISCLAIMER: I’m not a therapist, I’m not a counselor. I don’t have any mental health training and I’m not trying to help you self-diagnose anything. I’m just sharing my personal story in the hopes that it can give someone else the nudge they need to get help.
Where did this all start? Well, I lived in a pretty rural town in high school. So when I got to college and had my own car, with total freedom, I found myself a regular at Plato’s Closet. Innocent enough, right?
I would walk out of every store with something. I bought a card. I’d buy pens, I’d buy clothing, I’d buy perfume. Sometimes because I actually wanted it, sometimes to people please (I didn’t want to “let down” the sales associate).
And I looked for deals, all the time. I was always on the hunt! I loved the dopamine rush, even if what I bought (mostly cheap stuff at Forever 21 or stores like it) was absolutely trash quality. While I didn’t know it, I definitely was still living with my undiagnosed ADHD — that didn’t help much (IFYKYK).
It never crossed my mind that I had a problem. Even after college, I thought I was just a normal post-grad gal who liked to go to the mall. But looking back, it was a major problem. And then, I went to law school, and was constantly stressed out. That’s when things really started to spiral, because I was using shopping as a way to cope.
But where was all that money coming from? Because it sure wasn’t a trust fund or cold hard-earned cash lying around. Yep…you guessed it. Credit cards.
I would just rack one up, transfer the balance, and get another one. That was really what started the cycle. And luckily I did get a job at some point during law school where I was able to pay down some of that and get a little bit of control of it.
But my purchases became larger and larger. So there were some things that I had to do in order to stop the cycle. I tried to redirect my attention, to focus on my grades (they were so bad I almost got kicked out of law school — I never studied) but I still kept shopping.
This lasted for about five or six years, then I graduated law school, when I tried to again, redirect my focus.
I got really into yoga and I started doing marma therapy and acupuncture again. Which was still spending beaucoups of money I didn’t need to spend. It was a shopping problem, just on other things now.
After law school, I got my dream job and I decided to work for myself. I had a very enlightening moment where I realized that if I didn’t stop spending money, there’d be some real problems.
But I didn’t stop. I was buying courses, I was investing in mentors. I didn’t even have a business yet. I was buying websites and graphic design for a website that didn’t even have 10 visitors a month. So again, same exact problem, just in different makeup.
I wanted to work for myself, I wanted that flexibility really bad. So I used up the last $3,000 on my credit card for a creative entrepreneur retreat. In hindsight, I really don’t regret that because that gave me a lot of connections that I’m still friends with to this day. But that was a huge risk. I think I was incredibly lucky that that’s what my last $3,000 of credit was spent on.
And then I literally had no money. I wasn’t evicted, but I had to leave my apartment because I couldn’t afford it anymore. Instead of finishing my lease, I just dipped. Which was terrible because that’s not how apartment living works. You can’t just give a 30-day notice whenever you want. You have to finish the lease.
So obviously, I didn’t get my deposit back, and that was devastating (it was a couple of thousand dollars gone). I really could not afford anything. I was even checking my bank account crossing my fingers I could buy groceries. I hated going because I knew that I’d have to try two or three cards in order to check out.
I was embarrassed and felt like I had hit a major low point.
That was the moment when I knew something had to change. I knew there was a way to partner my passion with practicality. When I got the idea for The Contract Shop®, the business I sold last year, I knew I had found it.
And well…the rest is history (kind of). I eventually built a successful business that helped me climb out of that deep debt hole. How? Because I started pouring my time and effort and energy into that business.
But even though I eventually built a successful business, the shopping addiction was still there. I don’t believe you ever actually get over it. I think you just learn how to live with it and cope with it to varying degrees. I would say to some extent, my real estate obsession is just a new iteration of the shopping addiction, albeit a little bit more regulated because I have a lot more boundaries in place around that.
I just redirected a lot of that stress, that anxiety, that energy into the business. I started focusing on making something of myself. When I tried to redirect my attention in law school to my studies, it didn’t work. But I think that’s largely because it wasn’t what I was meant to be doing.
Now that I was in my “zone” and doing something I felt incredibly passionate and excited about, I was able to consistently shift my focus from consuming to doing.
Then, I started to slowly pay off my debt. At first, it was like $5 a week. Then I upped to $20, then $40, and then $100 until things got paid off.
The other thing I had to do is build my savings muscle and read everything I could – sometimes I was up until 3:30 am reading! Books like I Will Teach You To Be Rich and It’s Not Your Money were my favs.
So I would say that for anybody that’s on this journey, the most important thing to do is to figure out your triggers. For me, it was the stress and other people’s expectations of me (in college, in law school, and at the first job that I had out of law school, the emotional pressure was too much).
And I think in hindsight a lot of that was because I did have undiagnosed ADHD. Getting diagnosed was a game changer because through cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, and coaching (plus some other things), I’ve been able to change a lot of that and improve the way I cope.
Another thing I’ve done to help me stay on track was to cut up my credit cards as soon as the line of credit opened. That way, I’d still have the credit but was less tempted to spend on the fly. I think that was really effective. I’m glad I did that and I would do that again if I needed to.!
And of course, focusing on savings a lot helped too.
If you’re down in the shopaholic hall, please know that I’ve been there. I completely understand what it’s like. You are not alone, and you have someone here who knows what you’re going through and has been able to make it to the other side.
I talk a lot about passive income, creating digital products, stuff like that. But I also talk a bit about my journey as an entrepreneur with ADHD, and how I got out of debt. If you want to hear more about that story, check out the video below, where I chronicle my journey of getting an ADHD diagnosis.