Helping the Compulsive Spender You Love

December 15, 2023

Shopping isn’t like smoking. With smoking, it’s been pretty well established that cigarettes are bad for you and there really isn’t any good reason to smoke even one. But shopping is something you NEED to do. And when done wisely, you can actually find great values and contribute to a successful financial life. But what about when the shopping goes overboard? Poll after poll shows that money differences drive families apart. So how do you help an over-spender in your family avoid destructive shopping habits without becoming estranged?

Complete a Budget
As you probably already know, taking an accusatory stance isn’t likely to solve the issue. By working on a family budget together, you can frame the discussion in terms of using money to best achieve goals instead of making it feel like you are picking on the over-spender. This also helps to establish a feeling of teamwork around financial topics.

Starting with the necessities – food, shelter, transportation, etc. – can help nail down basic living expenses. Once you have figured out what it will cost just to get by each month, think about how much of the remaining money can be put toward goals like retirement, education savings, needed repairs to car or home, and so forth. Look to balance the desire to achieve these goals with having some money go toward discretionary spending. The goal isn’t to have zero “fun” spending money, but rather to arrive at an amount that provides for both enjoyment in the present day and peace of mind knowing that future needs have been addressed too.

Be Supportive and Understanding
Often people who make unwise spending decisions feel very guilty about their choices. If you create an adversarial mood around money talk, you run the risk of pushing that person further into shame and/or having them adopt a completely defensive posture. By keeping the focus on staying positive and working together, you can keep the over-spender in a can-do mindset.

Realize That it is an Emotional Issue
Over-spenders typically don’t make bad decisions because they are trying to spite someone or because they are rationally choosing to throw money away. You simply can’t apply logic to the decisions that are being made, because in almost every case, there is an underlying emotional issue that overwhelms any rational thought. By helping your loved one identify the triggers that lead to the negative behavior, you can help encourage positive alternative activities.

Learn About the Available Help
Many people with spending problems are helped greatly by professional counseling. But taking that first step can be very hard, especially for people who have a difficult time facing the guilt they feel. You can’t take that step for them, but you can be at the ready with a list of recovery tools when the time comes.

Common sources of help include:

Debtors Anonymous 
Spenders Anonymous

Know That Everyone’s Process is Different
As you will find, there are plenty of resources out there to help people who make poor spending decisions, like counselors and support groups such as Debtors Anonymous. But if you try to push your loved one along one particular path of recovery or start in with demands or ultimatums right away, you can create counterproductive resentment. When dealing with this type of issue, asking and offering are much better to start off with than demanding and enforcing.

Always remember that a loved one’s bad choices don’t represent a logical choice to hurt you and your family. Irresponsible behavior on their part is just the symptom of a deeper internal conflict. Helping them to understand the feelings behind their decisions and supporting them through the process of healing are among the most loving things you can ever do for them.