Lynn, an active, involved stay-at-home mother of four, is a client of mine who initially came to see me five years ago because of a long history of overshopping and overspending, mounting debt, and the stress on her marriage that this had caused. During the six months we worked together, she made a great deal of headway. By the time we stopped working together, all her debt had been paid off, she had come clean to her husband and she was feeling confident that her shopping and spending problems were well under control.
I received a call from her this fall, five years later. She’d been able to maintain the gains she made during our work for over four years. A recent death in her family and the fact that two of her children were now in college seem to have triggered a relapse and Lynn wanted to do some more work so that she could get back on track.
Within the first month of resuming our work, Lynn decided that she needed to divorce her Nordstrom credit card: having it made it too easy and too tempting to continue to overshop.
One of the many exercises in the Stopping Overshopping Program is the dialogue exercise. The instructions are:
Write a dialogue between yourself and something that you are overshopping for or something you use in order to overshop. Imagine that your money, jewelry, credit card, or other desired object is a person with whom you have a relationship. When the conversation between you and it is over, write four commentaries on the dialogue, from your mother, your father, any significant other, and some form of higher power or inner wisdom.
About two months ago, we published Lynn’s dialogue with her Nordstrom credit card under the title“The Breakup” – Dialogue with my Nordstrom card.
Part 1 is the dialogue she had with the card, several days after she actually canceled it. Closing her Nordstrom account had felt good for a bit, but soon thereafter she was in touch with her hunger to open it all over again. You might want to take a look at it before you read on.
Here in Part II, you’ll read her commentaries on her dialogue; what she imagined her mother, her father, her husband, and her own inner wisdom or higher power would say in response to her dialogue.
Let’s listen in:
My Mom: “ I am so happy you finally got rid of that card! You love to shop and I suppose that is my fault, but you really were getting out of hand. You remember when Daddy made me cut up the credit card after we went shopping in Flushing when you were in HS! You’d didn’t need all that stuff anyway. You are so beautiful and you would look good in a paper bag. And your husband is so good to pay off that card for you! He is good, my son in law! Now you be good to him too and stop spending so much. You know what I could have done with that money if I were still alive? I would have redone my kitchen! I know you miss me and you miss shopping with me. I suppose shopping still makes you feel close to me. We will always be close Lynn and I will always be with you. But take my advice..stop the over spending. Save your money!”
(Note: When I wrote this I realized that my mother had a way of telling me I was great, but then managing to also passively criticize me. She also enabled me and if she were alive 2 minutes after saying the above to me, she would have talked about us going to the Mall (or something shopping related) the following week!)
My Dad: “I am so proud of you, Lynn. I knew you would do the right thing. You always did the right thing growing up. You always made me so proud. You were so beautiful and so smart…the perfect child. There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. I know that you can beat this shopping struggle because you are much more than a shopper. Think of all your accomplishments..straight A Student..never did any drugs…graduated 2nd in your class in college with a major in Computer Science and a minor in mathematics..my smart girl! You supported your mother after I died. And I am so sorry that I died so young, but it was my time and you (of course) rose to the occasion..strong during my funeral…went right to a full time job to pay the mortgage on the house. Do you know your starting salary was more than I ever made? You excelled in your field and although it took a bit of time to find him, you married a great man. A father couldn’t ask for more! So take my advice…stop the compulsive spending..aren’t you smarter than that?”
(Note: My Dad died when I was only 21 and what I recall most about my relationship with my father is how much he loved and adored me. I truly was perfect in his eyes…could I still be trying to be so perfect as an adult to please him still?)
My Husband: “I probably don’t really understand how hard trying to fix this compulsive overspending is for you, but I do know and recognize how hard you are trying. And disabling your cards from your favorite stores was necessary and I’m sure that was hard. When you overspend and you buy so much of the same things, it makes me feel disgusted…so wasteful. Do you really need so many shoes and handbags? Yet I don’t understand why you let those credit cards get so high, after all, our money is your money too. I could tell things were getting out of hand because there were so many packages arriving again..all the time. SO I am really glad you decided to go back into therapy. I am so blessed to have you..you are so beautiful and I feel when people see us together they must think you are my trophy wife! I like that you workout and take care of how you look. And you know I never say anything about the time you spend getting your hair done or nails done…I know that’s important to you. But please don’t do this again, because when you rack up this debt and don’t tell me it is like you are lying to me and I hate lying. I know you can do this and when I see you working so hard on this, I just want to go out and get you everything you want. But of course then I wonder if that would just be feeding your addictive shopping disease so I don’t actually do it. But I am here for you and am so proud of you for continuing to work on this!”
(Note: I really do have a wonderful husband, but I wrote this the way I did to show how I can get mixed feeling from him…from feeling sad that I disappoint him..to being concerned that I’m aging and will someday no longer be so “young” and “beautiful” to him. Will he still love me even if I no longer look like his “trophy wife”)
My Higher Self: I understand how difficult closing out that credit card account is. But I am so glad you did it and can finally understand why letting go of the credit card is necessary. You know that there are going to be rough days ahead of you and I want you to remember that you are in control. Focus on the goals you have set for yourself. Remember how good you feel today without any debt, without hiding any purchases and without feeling dishonest. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and so this is going to take time too. Keep making small, positive steps. You are a smart woman and I know you are going to succeed in becoming a controlled, mindful shopper!
Closing the card and writing the dialogue were extremely important steps. She has let go of daily shopping emails, not just from stores, but memberships in websites that were instructing her in what, when, and how to wear the clothes she had, related to her body type and lifestyle. When she looked at it clearly, relying on other people whom she’d never met to tell her what was right for her was just reinforcing her self-doubts. With the help of a personal organizer, she streamlined her wardrobe, and redesigned her closet so that she can now see what she has. Writing, which has always been a passion of hers, is something she’s taken up more formally by enrolling in two writing classes. Lynn is well on her way back to mindful shopping and it’s a pleasure to be part of this next leg of her journey.
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.