Shopping bulimia: Is binge and purge buying the newest disorder?

(Fotolia.com)

(Fotolia.com)

JOANNE RICHARD, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:32 PM ET

Addicted to the thrill without the bill? You splurge and then purge your purchases by returning them?

You could be a shopping bulimic.

“Serial returners buy to get high and returning their purchases allows them to buy even more of their ‘drug’ of choice,” says Dr. April Benson, psychologist and author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.

It’s a growing phenomenon, according to experts, and at this time of year it’s likely to worsen as overshoppers are pummelled with holiday hype, Christmas sales and the relentless message that happiness is just a purchase away.

“Shopping bulimia is on the rise at stores, through TV shopping and through Internet shopping as people are buying more things and snapping up deals,” says therapist Dr. Terrence Shulman, of shopaholicsanonymous.org.

According to experts, bulimic shoppers – similar to binge eaters to use food to boost their mood and then throw it up – buy to feel better about themselves and then return items to assuage the guilt.

“All compulsive shoppers are trying to fill an emotional void, reacting to trauma, trying to distract from painful emotions or situations, and/or trying to get control,” Shulman says.

“The bulimic shopper, especially, doesn’t know really what he or she wants and gets caught in the compulsive ritual of using shopping and returning to give a sense of control and fulfillment, but tragically makes life more out of control,” says Shulman.

According to Benson, of shopaholicnomore.com, luxury items are increasingly the focus of shopaholics, including shopping bulimics, as they’re consumed by the desire to live lives like the rich and famous.

Adding ease and speed to feed their insatiable need is online buying, at their fingertips 24/7. While Canadian sales only make up 5.8% of total $24.25 billion worldwide sales, according to eMarketer, an increasing number of major retailers are investing in online selling.

For example, Walmart.ca has recently re-entered the lucrative e-commerce space, with free shipping on any purchase and the option of returns directly to the store. Stores like American Eagle, Gap, and The Bay also make returns easy by allowing online shoppers to return purchases directly to the store – no post office hassles and shipping costs.

“Most stores offer liberal return policies to attract customers - knowing that most people don’t return things after they buy them. But some shoppers, like bulimic shoppers, are causing a trend where stores are getting more strict about return policies and about return fraud - people buying things and using them, like clothes, knowing in advance they are going to return them,” says Shulman.

“Some shoppers’ IDs have been tagged in the stores’ computers to prohibit them from returning more things,” adds Shulman, author of Bought Out and $pent: Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending and founder of The Shulman Centre for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding in Michigan.

Meanwhile, bank accounts are magically reinstated, but bulimic shopping is still costly: “The bulimic shopper can be in denial and minimize their problem because they think they’re always returning things so that the cost and debt don’t add up, but like with actual bulimia, the effects catch up.”

It takes a ton of time, energy and money that could be better devoted to real, healthy and meaningful endeavours.

Red flags you’re a shopping bulimic:

• An increasing pattern of buying and returning things

• Lying (or hiding) to loved ones about your shopping patterns

• You know the return policies of many stores

• You’ve been tagged in stores’ computers because of your high return volume

• An increasing loss of time for other life activities and obligations

• Increase in clutter in the home due to excessive purchases

• Increase in debt due to shopping and/or problems paying the normal bills or credit card bills

Addicted to binging and purging? How to get help:

• Seek help with specialized therapy

• Seek help with Debtors Anonymous support groups

• Get evaluated for possible medication

• Read books on overshopping problems and solutions

• Ask for help from friends and family

• Avoid stores, TV shopping channels and Internet shopping sites

• Fill up your life with new interests

- Courtesy of shopaholicsanonymous.org


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