Overshoppers around the globe know fairly well the emotional and financial consequences of their compulsion—the guilt and secrecy, the credit card debt, the family discord. But they’re seldom aware of the slippery slope to more serious trouble that their habit may lead to. Four recent news items, from England, Scotland, and Hong Kong, underline the danger.
In Cumbernauld, Scotland, Lyn Ann McCann, 39, stole a checkbook from Stepping Stones Nursery and went on a six-month, £7,000 spending spree. When the account was overdrawn, the charity-run nursery was forced to close, and two other workers lost their jobs. McCann got off with restitution (and the public humiliation of the proceedings), but was left with a police record for criminal theft.
In Manchester, England, Lynne Greenwood, the 57-year-old head of a charity, stole nearly £53,000 from its fund to finance her addiction to clothes and shoes. Many of the items were never worn. The mother of four received a suspended sentence, after the judge in the case acknowledged her otherwise exemplary record. But Greenwood was required by the court to sell the family home to make restitution.
Less lucky was Alice Chow, a Hong Kong clerk responsible for paying clients. Chow, who earned HK $13,000 a year in her job, embezzled a staggering HK $6,000,000 from her company and used it for a 19-month shopping spree. Investigating police were stunned to find in her home “an Aladdin’s cave” of luxury watches, handbags, shoes, designer T-shirts, coats, and dresses. Chow was sentenced to three years and ten months in jail.
Saddest of all is the case of spinster Joan Cunnane, 77, a compulsive buyer and hoarder, who had, among innumerable other items—vast stocks of umbrellas, candles, ornaments, trinkets, clothes, video tapes, and electrical items, many of them unopened—more than 300 scarves. Cunnane died in her home after a mountain of stuffed suitcases fell on her, burying her alive. The home was so packed with goods that only a two-foot-wide path through rooms was left; so packed that after she was reported missing, police with sniffer dogs were sent to her home—but failed to find her. Only after an expert search team and environmental health officers were called in to help was her body discovered under the suitcases.
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.