Announcement: Are you a Compulsive Buyer?

You’re Not Alone–
This Blog Can Help 

To Buy or Not To Buy? – it’s a question we ask and answer almost every day, and sometimes multiple times a day. For many people, it doesn’t cause a lot of inner turmoil, but if you are a compulsive buyer, it’s a high stakes question, and an affirmative answer can be devastating. Long trivialized as the “smiled-upon” addiction, thankfully, compulsive buying is coming farther and farther out of the closet, and the release of movies like Confessions of a Shopaholic is bringing the problem into the limelight.

We have reason to believe it’s becoming more prevalent. A study reported in the October 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry suggested that about 5.8% of the U.S. population-more than fifteen million Americans-are compulsive buyers. A more recent study, published in the December, 2008 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the number may be closer to 8.9%, more than 25 million Americans. And now with the economic crisis, compulsive shoppers are feeling squeezed. Some are unable to resist prices which have been slashed to the bone in the hope of luring reluctant consumers. Others, fearing for their long term job stability, are using the recession as the boost they needed to become more mindful about their spending. And between these two poles, there are a multitude of other responses that overshoppers are having to the current economic downturn, ranging from denial to absolute panic.

When we think “addiction,” what first comes to mind is most likely alcohol or drugs or eating disorders. Even though we know that shopping, when done to excess, can spin dangerously out of control, shopping is still seen by many as superficial, light fare. Strongly reinforced by society, shopping has become the classic mixed-message behavior. On the one hand, it’s promoted endlessly (and to the ends of the earth) by those who profit from it. On the other hand, it’s regularly the stuff of jokes. Shoppers are portrayed as self-involved, materialistic, and empty. As a result, compulsive shopping may be an even greater source of guilt and shame than alcoholism or drug abuse, which are seen as bona fide disorders, requiring treatment.

So why the mixed-messages? Given the fact that consumption fuels our economy, in order to promote the ceaseless stoking of economic engines, every one of us is targeted as a consumer. We are pushed, prodded, programmed to purchase. In 2006, 9.2 billion credit card offers went out to America’s three hundred million people-more than thirty offers to every man, woman, and child! Shopping itself has become a leisure and lifestyle activity; malls are the new town centers. We’re immersed, cradle to grave, in “buy messages” that, with greater and greater psychological sophistication, misleadingly associate products we don’t need with feelings we deeply desire.

Just check out the bumper stickers. “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Shopping,” trumpets an SUV in front of me. For those who enjoyed high school Latin, there’s “Veni, Vidi, Visa!” A largely female version is “New Shoes Chase the Blues,” while men weigh in with “He Who Has the Most Toys When He Dies, Wins.”

What I’ve learned from a decade and a half of knowing, studying, working with, and writing about overshoppers-and from having been one myself-is that to change your behavior, you’ve got to change the way you feel about yourself and the way you go about meeting your authentic needs. It’s about understanding who you are, what you want, and what you really need.

In general, having more things means enjoying life less. Acquiring and maintaining objects can so fill up our lives and environment that there’s little time or space to use what’s been acquired. What we consume ends up consuming us.

In this blog, I’ll share what it means to be a compulsive buyer, how we can prevent overshopping, and what tools, techniques and strategies are useful for eliminating it. I’ll also keep you updated on current research findings, relevant books, and other timely information for overshoppers and the people who love them.

Warm regards,
April Benson

Tying Together Two More Continents: But This Time As A Psychologist

I’m leaving today for Australia, where I’ll be giving three daylong workshops for Australian psychologists, in the theory and treatment of compulsive buying disorder. Since 2003, when I first launched my website, there has been a good deal of interest in compulsive buying in Australia and I was delighted and grateful to be invited by the Australian Psychological Society Institute to do workshops in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

When I left Australia last January, having been there with my husband for vacation and to meet relatives whom I’d never met and only learned of a few years before, I decided that I’d like to go back to Australia to work. Two of these recently discovered relatives happen to be psychologists, Ron Taft, age 96, who was a professor and researcher and studied the adjustment, accommodation, and assimilation of immigrants coming to Australia, and his son, Marcus, a researcher and professor of psychology who studies reading comprehension.

Ron got a master’s degree from Columbia in 1940, where he met the American side of our family. He returned to Australia in 1941. Six years later, he matriculated as a Ph.D. student at Berkeley, where two of his teachers were Erik Erickson and Abraham Maslow, and Timonthy Leary was one of his classmates.

Ron and Marcus are the only mental health professionals of any kind in my family and I was very drawn to go back to Australia and try to make up for lost time. I’m also eager to reconnect with two wonderful colleagues, Michelle Laving and Jill Chivers, both of whom I met for the first time last year and who will each be attending one of the workshops. Michelle Laving is bringing the Stopping Overshopping text messaging program to Australia and it will launch there next week.

What I’m most eager to learn is:

What’s fueling the considerable interest in Australia in compulsive buying?

What kind of treatment and treatment adjuncts are currently available?

What help can we offer at Stopping Overshopping, LLC?

No doubt I”ll bring back new ideas and understandings to share with our community of compulsive buyers, the people who love them, and all the professionals who want to help them.

Stay tuned!

Tie-ing Together Two Continents: My Holiday Experience Gift Part II

Two weeks ago, I returned from an incredibly heart-warming and productive nine days at Camp Sizanani, a camp for HIV/AIDS affected teenagers from the greater Johannesburg area.
My role at camp was to be an arts and crafts counselor and in the post I wrote before I left, I described that I was bringing materials for an art project that I was going to teach which I called Tie-ing Together Two Continents.

Using ties, shoelaces and other supplies that had been donated by my neighbors, the counselors and campers made colorful, inventive, original wearable art, all while singing and dancing!

To watch a short video of the counselors doing the project during their training, click here.

There’s so much that I want to share about my experience and how it continues to unfold.

One of the first places I did that was on the radio on January 5th, when I was a guest on Psych Up Live. I was interviewed by Suzanne Phillips about compulsive buying in general, what I learned about consumption from being at Camp Sizanani, and about my personal shopping challenges while in South Africa. You can listen to the free replay here.

Tie-ing Together Two Continents: My Holiday Experience Gift

Tomorrow I’m flying to Johannesburg where I’ll be one of two American counselors at Camp Sizanani,* a camp for HIV-AIDS affected teens who come from Soweto, a large township rich in the history of the struggle against apartheid.  Poor housing and infrastructure, overcrowding, and high unemployment are still the norm.  In addition to regular camp activities; sports, theatre, storytelling, dance, poetry, and arts and crafts, HIV/AIDS prevention education and life skills are integral components of the program.

I’m bringing two large duffel bags, filled with an impressive assortment of fabric remnants, shoelaces, zippers, seam bindings and dozens and dozens of richly patterned men’s neckties. All will be used for an arts and crafts project I’ll be doing with the kids, that consists of finger crocheting chains from the shoelaces, seam binding, or other material, then taking the ties apart, cutting or ripping the deconstructed ties and the fabric remnants into strips, and finally, tying these strips onto the chains.

These refashioned materials will re-emerge as necklaces, bracelets and whatever other objects spontaneously arise in the course of this creative art play. I learned how to make these from Debra Rapaport, one of the advanced fashionistas I wrote about in a blog post a few months ago (

Through my apartment building’s listserve, I sent an email to my neighbors, told them where I’m going, what I’m doing there, and described the kinds of supplies I could use; ten of them responded with generous donations. Some left shopping bags with the doorman or in front of my door; others invited me to come to their apartments to pick up and, in some cases, pick out, the hauls.

Some of the items still had price tags, others showed the wear and tear of being well-loved. The panoply of labels and styles suggested that these gathered riches had been purchased on a number of continents over a number of decades.

A few of my neighbors shared personal narratives about their contributions.  These stories of stuff ranged from hearing about one neighbor’s half finished sewing projects, long ago abandoned, yet never discarded, to hearing from another, who wrote that her husband died six weeks ago and had a lot of neckties for me.

When I went to her apartment to pick them up, I learned that her husband, Jack Greenberg, a noted civil rights lawyer who once represented Martin Luther King, spent a good deal of time in South Africa. Beginning in 1978, he traveled the country, introducing the concept of civil rights legislation to members of the South African Bar and to South African law students. At Columbia University Law School, in 1989, he taught a seminar on post-apartheid Constitution, which was attended by a number of the South African lawyers who later drafted the historic document.

How incredibly fitting to be bringing ties to South Africa, worn by someone who has positively affected the lives of each of these campers. I’ve put these ties in a separate bag so that each camper can include a piece as a tangible reminder of devastatingly hard won freedom.

My neighbors have been delighted to learn that their materials are going to live out their days, not in landfills, but in the hearts and minds, and on the bodies of these campers and their loved ones. Jack’s widow said he’d have been touched to learn how his literal and figurative ties would be revived.

May your run up to the holidays be relaxing and peaceful.

Warm regards,

April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

*Sizanani means “helping each other” in Zulu

How Can Advanced Style be a Retreat from Compulsive Buying?

Surrounded at dinner recently by six maverick women, ranging in age from their late 30’s into their 70’s, each dressed in the most creative, non-conformist, ensemble, how could it be that I was writing down the names of thrift stores? Each of these women looked like a million bucks, if not two or three.

We had all gathered at the invitation of Debra Rapoport, whose signature paper towel hats are the single most arresting piece of clothing I’ve seen in an age. (Both Merle and Debra are wearing them in the photos below.) I’d met Debra at a class that I took at the Museum of Arts and Design and we’d since become friends.  The occasion was the book launch of Advanced Style at the iconic Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village, New York City.

Advanced Style features the photography  and creative genius of Ari Seth Cohen, a handsome guy in his mid-30s whose childhood hero was his beloved grandmother. A model of zany elegance, she sported fun vintage jewelry; she and Ari discussed style.

Following her death, he’d come to New York, worked at a museum and started talking to women on the street who exuded the style and verve of his grandma.  Conversations and photographs gave birth to a blog; the blog begat two books [we were there to celebrate the publication of the second] and a documentary. It’s a bona fide movement.

To get back to my six dinner companions: With their obvious attention to display and to detail, one could easily imagine an overshopper or two in the group.  Yet, my strong impression is that there isn’t  a compulsive buyer among them.  Their pleasure is in combining, recombining, and stirring the pot of their accessory fashion instead of acquiring new.  The gravitational pull of the thrift store may be, in roughly equal measure, about saving their money, saving their planet, and saving their souls.

Let them speak for themselves.


Merle Weismer

“I went bead shopping today. I found myself saying, will I really use this, do I really need it? Also, stopped in Uniqlo yesterday and ran into the 2 freaky guys with the polka dot head [referring to two men that had been at the book launch]. They helped me find these promotional designer t- shirts for $10. Again, I found myself asking how much do I really need xyz.”


Debra Rapoport (center), flanked by two young advanced fashionistas in training

“I don’t think I have an addictive personality. I do have a life style that is filled with creativity and to that I am “addicted”!   I don’t need to shop but love going to thrift shops to see what treasures there might be. I love to shop in my closet as I know there is everything there that I love no matter how many decades I have owned it. I have been labeled “Gifted and Thrifted” as many people send me stuff regularly. What fun that is!

I only buy things that I love and I know my taste, for me and my body, won’t change. How I put them together changes and evolves….but it is always about color, texture and layering.

Going into stores is not enticing to me. A thrift shop is different…it is the hunt and the quest and knowing that if I make a purchase the money is going to a good cause. It is a win/win situation.

I often do this with my partner or friends as a social activity. My other motto is “Frugality is Fun!” and it is.

After 70+ years what do I really need…letting go perhaps of some stuff that I have been carrying around for a few decades, but I do use everything!”



Patrice Wynne

“Advanced Style is a way of life for older women with a cultural message: we live by our own internal guidance, visible and free from cares about what the culture at large thinks about aging, women, fashion. We will be ourselves till we die. As we grow older and wiser, we realize that we have a natural style in creatively putting on our daily wear. We don’t need to shop for the latest and the greatest and the most expensive, because everything we need is in our own closet. Getting dressed is a creative art; our body is a canvas; our clothes and accessories are our paints and brushes. Juxtaposing our clothing in different colors and styles, shapes and patterns, decades and memories is part of the play of our lives. And if we want something different, we know where to go: thrift shopping, exchanging with friends, a pair of scissors for playful alterations, the back of our closets for orphaned article of clothing and drawers for old jewelry that can be refashioned into something reimagined.

Here is an example of those principles in action in my own life. In the photo on the left I’m wearing one of my own dress designs from Abrazos, my Slow Fashion fair trade clothing company in San Miguel de Allende ( I just met this lovely Mayan woman who made the pom pom necklaces around my neck while on vacation in the Yucatan. By the time I got home, the necklaces had become hopelessly tangled so I cut them up and sewed them onto the bottom of a black linen skirt that I’ve owned for 20 years that I’m wearing in the second photo, at an Advanced Style fiesta in New York! Voila!”

Patrice Wynne (right) with a creative Mayan woman


Patrice Wynne (left, on couch)

Fabia Brackenbery


“I think I can say that my view is very similar to Debra’s.  When I worked, I was certainly hooked into shopping.  Many years ago now.

I know what I like, what excites and stimulates, nurtures or brings joy. I know my style and my taste.

Life changes, our circumstances and values change.  Mine changed by being medically retired in my fifties, having no income and having to adjust.  All of that was testing, there was loss.  Loss of earnings, loss of work colleagues, loss of opportunities to keep up with technology and skills. Loss of identity.

Then the revelation happens, and you find you can do without.  That there is joy in less and great, huge, wonderful pleasure in the challenges of making the best life you can from virtually nothing.  Post WWII baby. I grew up with parents dedicated to making ends meet, make do and mend was a favourite saying.  My childhood gave me all the tools I needed to survive a life crash and to arrive at an entirely wholesome and wondrous place of adventures in thrift land!  Bring it on! There can often be unforeseen blessings in loss.

There is probably a noticeable difference between spending because you are a collector of beautiful but useful textiles/objects of adornment that you know you can put to good use and apply and the shallow purchase of manufactured goods.  I am also a dedicated de-clutter expert.  I mean, seriously!  Review all possessions regularly.  If I find any thrift store purchases no longer satisfy my creativity or no longer have a use, I give them back to the thrift store and they make more money to help others.

While all are reading the 10 item wardrobe and the book on how to live with less, I have been doing it for 15 years and so wish I had the confidence to write those books first! Perhaps I could consider living with less over 60 as a new title?”

I have a very alone kind of life.  I have all day.  I am like Debra.  I find the excitement of the thrift stores in England fill my hours well.  I do not have to buy.  I am big on needing visual stimulation.  My life long love of art and textiles means that I can make discoveries every day.  Nurture my needs and never have to spend anything.”

Having met these unusual women and gotten an introduction to advanced style through them, I wanted more hands on involvement.

What might it feel like to be one of them?

I’d been collecting preloved items that I hoped to repurpose and went to Debra’s studio with a small bag.  I’d saved an old worn grey purse that had a great ruffled front in decent condition, and fabric from a pair of jeans that were too ripped at the knee to be able to patch, so I’d had them cut down and made into shorts.  For inspiration, I’d also brought a choker made of silk covered balls that I love wearing, wondering if I might be able to make similar covered balls out of the left over denim.

Within a few minutes, we’d decided to cut out the ruffled floral front from the handbag. Debra playfully put it on her head in a variety of positions; voila, the focal point of a fabulous hat.  We glued down the raw edges and finished it, using the lining of the handbag. Here’s a picture of Debra modeling it.


Turning our attention toward the fabric that was left over when I made the jeans into cutoffs, Debra was persuasive when she told me that denim was too thick to make into the same kind of balls from my treasured choker. Instead, she suggested sewing the two pieces of leftover denim together at both ends, making sure it would fit over my head. A hint of flower began to emerge at the center front, which we took to the next level by transforming it      into a rose with a few well placed stitches, and tying off sections with assorted strips of fabric from Debra’s rag basket.


With a dash of creativity and Debra’s seasoned eye, without spending a dime, I had two one-of-a-kind stand-out accessories, several new ideas to apply to future castoffs, and a strong desire to advance my own style.

Please comment; we’re eager to hear what this Advanced Style blog post evokes in you.


Are You Making Payments Too Quickly?

Forward​ ​movement,​ ​if​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​call​ ​it​ ​that,​ ​in​ ​Industry​ ​and​ ​technology​ ​has​ ​made​ ​monetary
transactions​ ​faster​ ​than​ ​a​ ​speeding​ ​bullet.​ ​​ ​Today​ ​it’s​ ​common​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​make​ ​and​ ​pay​ ​for​ ​a
purchase​ ​simply​ ​by​ ​tapping​ ​your​ ​cell​ ​phone.

Efficient​ ​and​ ​convenient?​ ​Yes.
Risky​ ​and​ ​problematic?​ ​If​ ​you’re​ ​reading​ ​this​ ​soundbite,​ ​the​ ​answer​ ​is​ ​probably​ ​“yes.”

According​ ​to​ ​​American​ ​Banker​,​ ​a​ ​”very​ ​effective”​ ​payment​ ​approval​ ​takes​ ​no​ ​more​ ​than​ ​two
seconds.​ ​Faster​ ​purchases​ ​often​ ​mean​ ​less​ ​thoughtful​ ​ones.​ ​​ ​​ ​These​ ​transactions​ ​are​ ​designed​ ​to
be​ ​both​ ​fast​ ​and​ ​irrevocable.​ ​Fast​ ​payment​ ​approval​ ​offers​ ​no​ ​time​ ​to​ ​pause​ ​and​ ​skillfully​ ​consider
the​ ​purchase.

This​ ​being​ ​the​ ​case,
Are​ ​instant​ ​payments​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​exacerbate​ ​existing​ ​societal​ ​problems?
Do​ ​already​ ​vulnerable​ ​people​ ​overspend​ ​even​ ​more​ ​with​ ​effortless​ ​payments​ ​transactions?

This​ ​article,​ ​a​ ​refreshing​ ​challenge​ ​to​ ​the​ ​banking​ ​industry,​ ​implores​ ​banks​ ​to​ ​ponder​ ​the​ ​question
of​ ​whether​ ​“as​ ​fast​ ​as​ ​possible”​ ​is​ ​always​ ​the​ ​right​ ​answer​ ​and,​ ​if​ ​it’s​ ​not,​ ​what​ ​would​ ​be
appropriate,​ ​optional,​ ​and​ ​unobtrusive​ ​“payment​ ​reconsideration”​ ​steps​ ​or​ ​what​ ​constitutencies
should​ ​put​ ​them​ ​into​ ​place?

To​ ​learn​ ​more,​ ​click​ ​​here.

Are You A $mart Woman?

If you already consider yourself one, The $mart Women podcast series will help you maintain your smarts, and if you’re not, the series will help you become one.

Sponsored by Payne Capital Management and hosted by Michelle McKinnon, the series seeks to help women “get smart” with their money and is a great resource.  Recently, I was a guest on this series and was able to go into depth on a variety of topics related to overshopping that may be of help to you and your loved ones.

Listening to the Podcast Will Give You Insight Into:

  • How to tell if you’re a shopaholic. For example, if you can afford what you buy, could you still be a shopaholic?
  • How to dial back your shopping. Michelle’s own shopping experience prompted her important questions on this subject.
  • How to evaluate if your purchases are necessary.  I explain the model I’ve developed for recording and evaluating expenditures in such a way that you get to see very clearly what you could be saving each week if you were only buying things that were necessary.
  • Male shopaholics and how they differ from female shopaholics.
  • How to promote lasting change. I talked about what my experience has been in terms of how people make changes and what the necessary steps are to promote lasting change.
  • Why it’s so hard to face this problem and how to find effective help once you do.

In addition, I talked about my own journey from compulsive buyer myself to specializing in studying and working with compulsive buyers.

You can listen here to learn more.

For Smart Cookies, Less Spending and More Saving is a Piece of Cake!

How do you rationalize your overshopping and overspending?

Do you talk to friends about this?  

Do some of them do the same thing?

Stopping overshopping and ending overspending can actually be easier when you’re joining with others that are facing the same challenges.  The “Smart Cookies” are a group of five young women that have proven this very point.  Inspired by Oprah’s Debt diet series, they came together with a common goal of less spending and more saving.  Weekly meetings and making small changes in their everyday routines resulted in enormous differences in their lives.  You might want to try this with friends who are also struggling.
To learn more, click here.

Are You Using This Prescription Drug? It Might Explain Your Compulsive Shopping

Are you taking Aristada or Abilify?

Have you begun to shop compulsively, or has your compulsive shopping gotten more pronounced?

Both of these medications, sold under the generic name aripiprazole, have been associated with compulsive shopping and spending, as well as other compulsive behaviors such as binge eating, gambling, and sex. Until now the only side effect listed on the drug’s label was compulsive gambling, which according to the FDA, does not sufficiently convey the scope of what users could experience from using the drug.  Additionally, a class action suit has recently been launched on behalf of Canadian Abilify users.  While none of these compulsive behaviors are a frequent side effect and they cease when the medication is stopped or the dose is lowered, beginning now, the drug’s packaging and patient guides will add new warnings about these other potential side effects.

To read more, click here.

What Does Your Bank Look Like Naked?

Abstract design with,
Imagine that your bank took truth serum one morning and when you went in for a loan that afternoon, they told you the real scoop about the massive debt they’re hoping you’ll accrue with no regard whatsoever as to whether you can ever pay it off.
You’ve conjured up

Early this spring, I was contacted by Gregg Jackson, who introduced me to the new public service website he authored, which uses “parody, with eye-catching graphics and humorous text, to warn people about the hype and traps of consumer debt. It offers branded credit cards for every delusion; limitless student loans; big debt for automobiles, adult toys, and elephants; and a frank ‘no-privacy’ policy.

Through humor and memorable images, the site reveals what the industry thinks of its clients—that we are stupid, gullible, and impulsive; how it profits from selling clients more debt than we can afford, despite that appearing to be self-defeating for the industry; and how its business model is similar to that of drug cartels, although without the risk of jail time.”

One ironic advertisement for Naked Truth Bank encourages readers to “live your dreams with extravagant debt.” Another states, “We don’t give loans, we sell you debt.”

Entrance of bank with
In direct opposition to the mercenary aim of this hypothetical bank, Greg isn’t looking to make any money off of this—only to be of some help in the battle against imprudent personal debt by alerting readers to the various ways the consumer finance industry tries to dupe them into imprudent and even disastrous debt, with the hope that when readers are subsequently exposed to these ploys, they will recognize the intent and resist the solicitation.I invited him to write a guest post and followed up with some questions. Here’s the story behind this shrewd tongue-in-cheek website from the founder himself:“The site began as two images for another website (, the Finances page). It was for that website that I first developed some visual humor to counter the consumption ethos of our culture.The first cartoon was of a credit card as bait on a rat trap, then a few more came to mind, and finally it occurred that I could create a whole satirical bank website.

I have never been a shopaholic, but family irony and trauma probably made me super-cautious about debt. At age 7 or so I asked my parents for a bike but they gave me a piggy bank and explained that when I had saved half the cost, they would chip in the other half. It took me a several months of shining dad’s shoes at $.25 a pop but I got a good used bike.

Several years later, however, my parents inadvertently taught me a darker lesson about personal finance. When my father developed a chronic illness and couldn’t work, it became apparent that my parents hadn’t accrued a “rainy day fund. We were forced to sell our comfortable 3-bedroom home and move into a one-bedroom basement rental.

Ever since, when I watch other family members, friends, and even acquaintances spend every cent they earn or go progressively deeper in debt, I dread that an unexpected setback with similarly unravel their lives.

I have been a borrower a few times (modest student loans for grad school), and a mortgage for a condominium apartment and later a house, all paid off as quickly as prudent. I am grateful for those loans but I disdain the way banks, retail chains, and also credit unions, are constantly encouraging people to borrow and spend more than they can afford. It galls me, and I hope the NTB website helps some people to avoid the trap.

I asked Greg what the response to his website has been.

“Several personal finance bloggers have mentioned and send traffic the site. The hope that it would be used in the personal finance courses offered in some high schools and colleges does not yet appear to have been realized, perhaps because many of those courses—scandalously but not surprisingly—have been developed with the sponsorship of banks and credit unions.

All the site’s materials, text and images, have been placed in the public domain and may be used without permission. Please alert people and organizations that might be able to make use of them. The site’s ‘Contact Us’ page welcomes comments about the consumer finance industry, its customers, and the website.” can provide both a humorous distraction from impulses to overspend and a straight from the hip shot of hyperbole to penetrate even the thickest wall of denial.