Shopping Addiction and Trains: Brakeman Choo-Chooses a New Route

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on the Diane Rehm show about shopping addiction, along with a 25 year veteran of Debtors Anonymous and the President of the Financial Therapy Association. I figured we’d be
reaching a typical audience of female compulsive buyers that were overspending on clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, and personal services and men who were overspending on electronics, sports equipment, clothing, cars and anything else they “collected.” Little did I know that one of Diane’s listeners was a model train enthusiast and collector who was motivated to start a very lively thread on an online forum for model train collectors about shopping addiction and trains.
Black, a Brakeman (his nickname on the forum) explained that the show was well timed, since he’d just been given a lecture on overshopping by his wife and realized he needed to let some of his impulses to buy go by. 


He reminded his fellow train collectors that while overshopping affects both men and women, men can more stealthily slide under the overshopping radar, by employing the tactic of using smiled-upon labels such as “hobbies” or “collections”. Though they may be camouflaged as healthy behaviors, these pastimes can have equally serious consequences on personal finances and, as the forum creator warned his fellow collectors, on relationships.

While many on the forum admitted to some level of shopping compulsion, the idea seemed to be a running joke bandied about by others.  For instance, one collector claimed, “Collecting model trains has ruined my life……..  (but) at least I made a lot of great friends along the way.”   Though collecting may grease the wheels of companionship, it may also burn bridges between loved ones when spending begins to fly off the rails.

Another man had to have a talk with The Guy in the Mirror in order to confront his collecting addiction. Not only were his storage areas maxed out, fully half of the stuff in the boxes has never seen the light of day. “Self,” he said “What in the wide, wide world of trains are you doing?” “Can’t say I had any rock solid good answers for the …uh…abundance.” He described his figurative “reflection” as “cold, tough, and unwilling to put up with any malarkey”:

Many of the responses were humorous, as if a light-hearted approach was necessary in order to delve deeper. Clearly, there was a lot of acknowledgment and relief that compulsive shopping was finally emerging from a dark tunnel. One collector said the only thing more challenging than giving up cigarettes was giving up trains.

Sometimes humor is a mask for the pain overspending creates and employed in the service of denial; other times, it’s the best vehicle for conveying acceptance of an unpleasant reality, More than a few of the comments seemed to walk that fine line. How fascinating and delightful to have been a partial catalyst for this unexpected and useful discussion.

By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, 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. Read More