x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Overcoming the cycle of overspending

Mind reading Some people find that they cannot control their spending, even though they are running up debts they can't afford to pay back. Can shopping become an addiction?

Overspenders rationalise their purchases by coming up with reasons why they can afford them.
Overspenders rationalise their purchases by coming up with reasons why they can afford them.

There are many opportunities for shopping in the UAE, and some people find that they cannot control their spending, even though they are running up debts they can't afford to pay back. Can shopping become an obsession or addiction, and how can people understand and control it?

There are two main categories of problematic overspenders. Many times, overspenders are impulsive, which means they are not necessarily addictive personalities, but that they do not delay gratification. Impulsive people tend to deny what they can or cannot afford, to minimise in their minds the effect that the purchases will have on their budget. They rationalise their spending by coming up with reasons why they are able to afford it.

They tell themselves that there will be another pay cheque, a bonus at the end of the year. They use Eid or Christmas or a birthday to justify spending - any celebration requiring them to give gifts that they want to make special. So they buy something that is above their budget believing that they will be able to pay it off. But the next day or the next week, they are going to have the same impulse to buy irrationally and illogically.

There are different degrees of impulsivity. It can be a psychological disorder, or it can be due to a social situation that encourages unaffordable buying. Credit cards, for example, give the freedom to purchase without the thought of the consequences. These cards can be very useful, but they can also become a vehicle for living out a fantasy of being able to afford things that are not affordable.

Another group of overspenders buy things to make themselves feel better. They make what I call "medicinal" purchases. When they are upset or depressed, they buy something. Then, in three hours or three days or three weeks, they will be upset and depressed again and have to go and buy something else. Interestingly, we often see this with people who have lost money through a business deal or who have lost a job. They want to believe they can still afford the same quality of life, even though they are worried about how they are going to pay the money back. The people in this latter group can often learn to control their overspending once they understand why they are doing it.

People who suffer from impulsivity tend to need psychological treatment to help them with impulse control. Often this treatment can be done on an outpatient basis as long as they have a supportive environment at work and at home. They can, however, try to help themselves before they seek professional help. The way to do this is to have a controlled environment, with someone they trust who can support them. They should have no access to credit cards or a cash allowance, and they should not go shopping unaccompanied. After two weeks of a buddy system such as this, there should be a change in behaviour. But if someone finds they are having psychological withdrawal symptoms - difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, obsessive thoughts - then they need help. Psychological assistance can be anything from behavioural coaching to the treatment of the underlying impulse disorder.
Dr Raymond H Hamden is a clinical and forensic psychologist and the director of the Human Relations Institute in Dubai. He has been advising people in the UAE for 18 years, and, in the last five years, on his radio phone-in programme, In the Psychologist's Chair.