A friend or family member is overshopping and this behavior is having serious negative consequences. Maybe you know what a deep financial hole this person has gotten into. Maybe you see the negative effect this behavior is having on important relationships or on the person’s work life or mental health. What can a friend or family member do? How can you help without alienating the other person? How can you help without becoming the shopping police? How can you inspire hope, provide resources and encourage the overshopper to seek professional help, if necessary?
A friend and family member can play various roles in an overshopper’s life. One such role is the role of Shopping Support Buddy. A Shopping Support Buddy is a person who agrees to become an overshopper’s advocate, and works with her* to help stop overshopping. The exact form and nature of your relationship will be determined by the two of you; no two of these relationships are alike. You, as Shopping Support Buddy need to be someone the overshopper knows and respects, trustworthy and non-judgmental, someone with whom the overshopper can be herself. Typically, Shopping Support Buddies are friends or relatives, sometimes a Shopping Support Buddy is a coach, counselor, therapist, religious leader, or spiritual advisor.
As a Buddy, how can you support the overshopper? You can tell the person about resources that she might consult; a comprehensive resource list is in the Resource Center of our website, www.shopaholicnomore.com. You can be on the other end of the phone when the going gets rough. If your Buddy is reading, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and perhaps doing the written exercises from the book in the Shopping Journals, you can listen to your friend when she shares some of the work she’s done in the Shopping Journal, and bring a second pair of eyes to the search for patterns. You can be a confidante, revisiting with her what she’s discovered about why she overshops and how it all began, or what she’s observed about her personal shopping triggers and aftershocks, or what she considers the costs and benefits of either stopping or continuing. You can be an understanding and encouraging voice, celebrating her triumphs with her and bucking her up when she slips a little. You can give a gentle push and remind her to get back to the work of the book, if she’s stopped.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your role as a Shopping Support Buddy. Not being alone in this struggle makes a big difference to the overshopper. Knowing there’s somebody else who understands what she’s going through, who’s on her side and cheering for her, can keep her motivated. In addition, sharing her problem with you will help her truly feel her feelings and communicate about them, rather than expressing them in self-defeating behaviors like overshopping. It will also help the overshopper move beyond any denial she has, reduce her feeling of shame, and lead to greater self acceptance.
Guidelines for Shopping Support Buddies Somebody who respects and trusts might be able to use your help in learning to control her overshopping behavior by serving as a Shopping Support Buddy. Ideally, the overshopper will share difficulties, doubts, and successes with you, and you’ll remind her to use the skills she’s in the process of acquiring. Your role as a Shopping Support Buddy isn’t to treat or cure; it’s simply to be there with understanding and empathy when the opportunity arises. You’re a listener and a cheerleader and a positive, creative coach. If, after a setback or two, your buddy loses confidence in her ability to change, you can be of tremendous help by remaining hopeful. If, on the other hand, she accomplishes a program goal, celebrate with her. If she calls you in the grip of an overshopping urge, calmly remind her of the skills and techniques she’s acquiring to control it. Change can’t be forced or rushed, not even by the most well-intentioned Shopping Support Buddy; it will happen only when the overshopper is ready. So be prepared for your buddy’s ambivalence. There’s a part of her that very much wants to stop; and there’s often just as big a part that wants to continue. Overshopping, despite its many costs, has powerful short-term rewards, and it’s entirely normal that someone have mixed feelings about stopping. Your job is to stay empathic. If your buddy weakens, don’t express disapproval but rather solidarity, empathy, and comprehension: “I can see how hard it is for you to give this up. Let’s you and I figure out together what you can do instead of shopping today.”
Tips for Shopping Support Buddies
1. You and your buddy are a team. Two people on the same page is a recipe for success, whereas two people working in different directions is not very palatable and seldom productive.
2. Help your buddy to stay focused on the stopping overshopping task. If she begins to avoid the work or to make excuses, remind her of the ultimate objective.
3. If your buddy gets upset with you, stay calm. And if she’s unmotivated to do the work on a given day, make it possible for her to save face and temporarily opt out of your help.
4. Always provide emotional support. Don’t scold or argue with your buddy. Acting like a taskmaster or a drill sergeant makes people nervous or angry and interferes with their ability to learn new approaches; they feel even more isolated and misunderstood, and retreat into bad habits.
5. Help your buddy make decisions, but don’t try to make them for her. It’s probably better for you to ask good questions, questions that will help your buddy zero in on the right answer for her.
6. Be a steady cheerleader. Support even the slightest progress. Stay in touch with your buddy in whatever way that the two of you have discussed and agreed on.
7. Accompany your buddy on an actual shopping trip, one where she’s planned her purchase(s) in advance, based on what she’s learned. Remind her of her commitment and her tools for stopping overshopping.
8. Don’t go beyond your own comfort level. In order to be a useful Shopping Support Buddy, you need to know and set limits on how much you can do at any given time. If you think your buddy needs the help of a trained professional, it’s important that you let her know that and tell her why you think it.
9. Acknowledge yourself for your generosity and willingness to tackle what can be a difficult role. And allow yourself to lovingly decide not to become a Shopping Support Buddy if, after reading these guidelines, you don’t feel fully prepared to take on this role. If that happens, perhaps there is someone else you know and can contact that might be a better candidate.
May you have patience, compassion for yourself and your overshopper, and success!
*A reminder: for the sake of simplicity, both overshoppers and Shopping Support Buddies are referred to here with the feminine pronoun, even though overshoppers are almost as likely to be male.
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.