Do you love to shop? Does the smell of new Italian leather shoes make you feel alive? Do you find yourself rationalizing your credit card debt with statements like, “if the American economy can be billions in debt and still be ok, so can I?”
Although shopping and shopping addictions are often viewed through a comedic lens, mocked more than it’s viewed as a real vice, my recent re-watch of the 2009 film “Confessions of a Shopaholic” based on Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series proved to be quite insightful as to how and why shopping becomes addictive in the first place – and why we continue to charge away even when we’ve already amassed massive amounts of high-interest credit card debt.
Confessions of a Shopaholic: The Plot
For those who are unfamiliar with the premise of the film and/or book series, Confessions of a Shopaholic is the story about Rebecca Bloomwood, a young journalist living in New York City with her best friend, Suze.
Becky, as she is called by her friends, struggles with money because she has a shopping addiction that she is hiding from everyone – including her parents, her best friend, and her employer.
Becky explains that she loves shopping because when you go shopping, you are allowed to experience a joy that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Becky says that it’s only when you go shopping do you realize all of the things you need that you never even knew you needed.
Becky even says: “If I can just buy ________, I will be happy forever,” when her friends and family inquire about her finances and recent purchases.
In total, Becky owes about $9,500 in credit card debt divided among 12 different credit cards, but she’s still shopping and charging items she’s convinced herself to be needed items rather than wants.
She’s even being pursued by a debt collector – Derek Smeath – on a daily basis, yet she continues to experience an insatiable urge to shop every time she passes by a store’s window display.
Part of Becky’s money story is that money – having it, spending it – is what brings you joy, not necessarily saving it. “Because when I shop, the world gets better, and then it’s not anymore, and I need to do it again,” Becky says.
How often have you heard yourself say that, and then when you do reach that reward or goal, you’re already focused on that next thing you need to feel happy forever?
By the end of the film, Becky is fully aware of just how harmful her shopping addiction has become not just for her financial health, but it’s had a negative impact on her job, her relationship with her boss, her parents, her best friend, and even how she views herself.
So Becky does what many people with crippling credit card debt do – she got professional help, sold numerous items to pay off her credit card debt, and is now working on being much more conscientious about her spending habits.
While not everyone with credit card debt is a shopaholic, what can this movie teach us about our relationship with money?
6 Lessons from Confessions of a Shopaholic
1. Involve Your Kids in Money Conversations Early On
As a young girl, Becky was annoyed that her frugally-minded mom would not buy her the sparkly shoes she wanted that cost a premium price and lasted for about three weeks before falling apart. Instead, much to Becky’s chagrin, her mom would buy her the boring brown shoes that would last for years.
Because the sparkly shoes felt so far out of financial reach for young Becky, Becky made a promise to herself that when she got older, she would buy herself whatever she wanted using one of those magic cards – credit cards – to pay for the items instead of using cash like her frugal parents.
Talk to your kids about what it means to pay for items with a credit card, so they don’t mistakenly believe, like Becky, that credit cards are magical forms of payment that don’t require an actual exchange of real currency.
Many parents expect their kids will learn how to manage their money at school, but the reality is most kids are not learning personal finance at all, let alone in a healthy way. This is concerning given that a report commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Money Advice Service revealed that kids’ money habits are formed by age 7. Age 7! And kids as young as two years old are already enticed to want this, want that. The “Want Monsta” is really good at making us want more than we need or can afford.
As adults, we may forget we’re not born inherently knowing how to earn, spend, save, or give money. Additionally, we may not know how to go about having these financial conversations with our kids. But according to a 2017 Parents, Kids, & Money Survey conducted by T. Rowe Price, parents who discussed money topics with their kids were more likely (61% vs. 41%) to have kids who say they are smart about money.
Perhaps if Becky had been taught early on how credit cards work, she might not have grown up with a money story that involved her buying whatever she wanted so long as she used one of those magic cards.
2. Debt Can Negatively Affect Your Relationships
When Becky loses her job writing for a gardening magazine, her best friend and roommate Suze rips up Becky’s rent check for the month. This is not the first time that Suze has financially bailed out her bestie – there have been previous months when Becky didn’t have the financial means to pay rent, and Suze covered it all, no questions asked.
Additionally, Suze has been helping Becky avoid the debt collector Derek Smeath by making up excuses over the phone as to why Becky couldn’t come to the phone or pay off her debt – She’s in Finland taking care of her sick aunt. She even warns Becky when the debt collector looms outside their front door and helps Becky find an alternative way in.
Suze seems to be going the extra mile for Becky because Suze fully believes that Becky is trying to improve her financial situation but continues to experience rotten luck. Suze helps Becky organize items to sell so she can make payments toward her debt; she even suggests Becky freeze her credit cards to remove the temptation to use them and start going to Shopaholics Anonymous meetings so that Becky can find the support she needs to turn her financial situation around once and for all.
But Becky isn’t exactly doing the hard work to turn around her finances the way Suze thinks she is. And in the end, Becky faces a hard dilemma when she can only afford to buy one item back that she was forced to sell: the bridesmaid dress she is supposed to wear in Suze’s upcoming wedding or the designer dress from Bloomingdale’s Becky picked out for her first TV appearance, which cost her more than a month’s salary.
Becky decides to re-buy the designer dress, but as luck would have it, an older homeless woman buys the bridesmaid dress, and Suze sees the woman wearing the dress pushing a shopping cart down the street. Becky clearly has no way to explain this to her friend. Additionally, she has no way to explain why she didn’t sell all of the items from her closet like she had told Suze she had or why she was not at the Shopaholics anonymous meeting.
It’s not just Becky’s relationship with Suze that takes a hit because of her financial issues. Becky’s parents are in shock that she was in such a tough financial position, especially since they are so frugal themselves. They believed she had a heavily-padded savings account like they did.
Becky’s career is affected as well.
After she lost her job working for a gardening magazine, Becky was hired to write a personal finance column for a finance magazine under the pseudonym “The Girl in the Green Scarf.” But she not only lied about her experience and qualifications during her interview, stating she speaks fluent Finnish, but she had told her employer that the debt collector who frequently popped up at their office was an ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her.
It’s during Becky’s first-ever TV appearance as a personal finance columnist that the debt collector Derek Smeath is chosen by the TV host to ask Becky a financial question live on the air. Only instead of asking a question about budgeting, he inquires about Becky’s credit card debt, why she’s been avoiding him for so long, and he even starts to share some of the excuses she had given him in the past as to why she was unable to pay off her credit cards with the program’s national audience.
In the end, Becky is forced to come clean about her debt, the debt collector, and every other lie she had made about her finances and her experience writing about finance. The consequences extend beyond Becky losing her job. Her boss loses his job too, and given this is a romantic comedy – it seems like Becky’s chance at a happily ever after with her editor-boss is starting to diminish as well.
Money is one of the top two reasons cited in a divorce for a reason. Money can take a toll on our relationships and not just our romantic relationships, money can affect other relationships as well, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
When we are working to pay off credit card debt, for example, we may be reluctant to share this information with family and/or friends for various reasons, including shame. But oftentimes, our friends and family are the ones who can support us during challenging times. You may even find that when you open up about your debt, your support network is on a similar journey, and they may have tips and tricks to share with you!
Like in the film, at the Shopaholics Anonymous meeting, the group leader shares a mantra with the group that is designed to help them reduce their desire to shop and spend money: “My will is strong, my wallet is closed, I do not want to shop.”
3. Review the Credit Card Statements You’ve Been Avoiding
Becky not only has credit card debt, but she’s avoiding her debt by not opening any credit card statements for months. Although Becky is emotional about her financial situation, it’s important to review your credit card statements to ensure all of the charges are, in fact, yours.
Even if you have credit card debt, it’s possible that a charge could appear on your statement that you did not make, as identity theft is still a common issue when it comes to digital money. Suze wanted to ensure that the debt Becky owed was only because Becky had charged those items to her credit cards, so Suze took the stack of unopened statements and, together with Becky, opened and reviewed every single statement, every single charge.
Not opening your credit card statements does not make your credit card debt go away; if anything, what we learned from Becky’s story is that if you don’t open your credit card statements and make monthly payments, you’re likely to be pursued by a relentless debt collector who will show up at your office to collect their payment if necessary.
Regularly open and review your credit card statements if you get paper statements. If you receive digital statements, you can review your charges on a monthly basis or review them much more frequently to ensure that you are not the target of identity theft.
You can also use your credit card statement to review how you spend your money to help you create a budget and/or find ways to reduce spending.
4. Store Credit Cards Are Not Your Friend
“They said I was a valued customer. Now they send me hate-mail,” Becky says about the designers and department stores now sending her delinquent and past-due payment notices.
Becky was quick to open store-branded credit cards, thinking that she was building a loyal relationship with these stores and designers that she admired. But after buying a heavily discounted cashmere coat at a sample sale, Becky realized she had been duped by not reading the fine print on either the coat or her store-branded credit cards.
As Becky wrote in her personal finance column: “your store card is like a heavily discounted cashmere coat. The first time you meet, it’s exciting. But then you discover it’s not actually real cashmere.”
In other words, Becky didn’t read the fine print for either the store credit card or the cashmere coat, and now she realized that neither was as it originally seemed to be. She had been conned in a sense.
From the carefully selected scents to the lighting, the music, and even the sale signs, stores are designed to get us to buy things. And one way many stores try to increase our spending is by offering a discount if we sign up for and are approved for store-branded credit cards.
On the surface, store-branded credit cards seem like a great deal. And what’s not to like? They often include perks like:
- free shipping
- rewards points for merchandise
- in some cases, exclusive cardholder-only sales.
That’s in addition to the 30 percent, or so you’ll save when you open the card.
While it’s easy to see the appeal of store-branded credit cards, they present some specific dangers to consumers – no matter how loyal they may be to a shop.
One of those dangers? Higher interest rates.
Store-branded credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than regular consumer credit cards. This is because everyone gets the same rate, no matter their credit score.
In 2017, the average interest rate on regular credit cards was 16.5 percent, while the average interest rate of a store-branded credit card was 24.99 percent. For consumers who carry a balance month to month, such high-interest rates can become a pit of debt quicksand.
5. Don’t Wait For Your Debt to Balloon Out of Control
Although it’s not exactly clear in the film how long Becky has struggled with burdensome credit card debt or exactly how long the debt collector has been chasing her, we are given the impression that Becky has been struggling to afford even the minimum payments on her credit cards for quite some time before she sought any help.
It’s possible Becky accumulated her $9,412.25 worth of debt over a period of several years. And because she hid her debt from everyone and didn’t seek help, her debt ballooned out of control, growing into an amount beyond Becky’s ability to handle her credit card debt on her own.
While many of us are often embarrassed about our debt or our lack of financial literacy, the truth is most of us lack understanding when it comes to personal finance. As a result, many of us wait too long, burying our heads in the sand at the first sight of a financial mess instead of tackling our money problems right away.
Once Becky’s debt is made public information thanks to the debt collector’s appearance on the national television program, Becky’s family and friends help her get out of her financial situation by helping her auction items from her closet. They even offer to sell their own items, including her dad’s recently purchased dream – an RV of his own.
The best time to get help with debt is at the first sign of financial trouble. What that figure looks like may vary from person to person, household to household, because personal finance is personal.
If you are unsure if you are on the right track financially, you can always schedule a complimentary budget analysis with one of DebtWave’s certified credit counselors.
When you call DebtWave Credit Counseling, Inc. for a free credit counseling session, you’ll speak one-on-one with a certified credit counselor about your finances.
During this 60-minute call, your certified credit counselor will pull a soft inquiry on your credit, meaning it won’t affect your score, but will allow your credit counselor to view your financial history. At the end of the call, you’ll receive a copy of a personalized Financial Analysis Report outlining everything you and your counselor discussed.
6. Become Your Own Financial Advocate
Throughout the film, we see Becky’s numerous attempts to land her dream job working at the fashion magazine Allette – a dream Becky has had since she was 14 years old.
Despite a messy ending with her “Girl in the Green Scarf” personal finance column, Becky’s keen eye for fashion and her ability to make personal finance understandable for the masses caught the eye of Allette’s editor-in-chief, who offered Becky an opportunity to write a monthly column on affordable fashion for the magazine.
The thing is, the affordable fashion Becky was supposed to write about for Allette is not actually affordable. And as Becky shares with the editor, it was those fashion magazines that pushed Becky into buying more expensive items than she could afford, severely damaging her finances.
But the editor doesn’t seem concerned about suggesting that Louis Vuitton is affordable. She even laughed, saying, What are credit cards for? Before suggesting they print the premium designer prices in small print to help squash any concerns Becky has about the affordability of the pieces in the column.
But this doesn’t sit well with Becky, who has just lost pretty much everything because of her credit card debt.
She notes that she wouldn’t feel comfortable writing a column that she knows would put people into debt and says fashion magazines should talk more about debt collectors and what that experience is like, not just how you’ll feel if you buy these shoes or wear a couture gown to a ball.
Become your own financial advocate. It’s called personal finance for a reason. There will always be someone encouraging you to spend more than you feel comfortable spending, and there will always be financial temptations along the way. Some of those temptations may even be financial goals you once had for yourself.
Remember it is normal to adjust your financial goals as you grow and experience life. It is normal to adjust your budget and have periods where how much you are spending and saving goes up and down.