Do You Shop 'Til You Drop?

My Uncle Will died in his mid-80s, leaving his wife Madge over $20,000 in credit card debt due to his out-of-control Internet shopping.

Their garage was packed with boxes he'd never opened, yet he had continued to say 'yes' to a variety of products they had no use for. Without realizing it, he had shopped away their future. Now it is up to my aunt to pay off the balance.

Uncle Will, and millions like him, grew up in families where money, or the lack of it, was used to manipulate or control, to alter moods, to rescue, to reinforce certain kinds of behavior. As adults, they find themselves continuing the pattern. Some gamble. Others shop and spend and use credit cards to the limit, to pass the time, to make themselves feel good, to gain attention.

To men and women who feel compelled to shop, any reason will do. You or someone you love may be one of them. If so, you may recognize some or all of the following characteristics that seem present in the lives of people who 'shop till they drop.'

Taking Inventory

Men and women who feel out of control with shopping and spending answer 'often' or 'very often' to most of these statements.

  • If I have money in my pocket or purse I must spend it.
  • I feel compelled to shop, buying things I don't really need or want
  • I buy things even when I cannot afford them. I don't want to wait.
  • I shop to make myself feel better.
  • I am secretive about my shopping habits.

For help with out-of-control shopping and spending habits, consider visiting a meeting of Debtors Anonymous in your area. For information about this 12-Step support group (similar in style and format to Alcoholics Anonymous) visit"

Common Characteristics

Grew up in an emotionally distant home.

Perhaps you, like my friend Ann, were quieted down when you became excited, or you were told to "cool it," or to consider others, or not to make noise or show your temper. Or you may have been rewarded, as my cousin was, for being the even-tempered one or the dependable child. In summary, adults in your life were telling you to stuff your feelings. They don't count. But the Lord says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10 NIV)

Equate shopping with emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

When a sale occurs at a local store, you may be the first in line — perhaps not even sure why. Maybe you remember your mother taking you shopping for special outfits and then going out for lunch. You returned home filled up inside and feeling pretty or handsome on the outside. Today, you may be looking for that same emotional fulfillment, even if you have to spend money to get it.

But only the Lord can fill us up where we most need it. "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never go hungry." (John 6:35 NIV)

Feel worthy only when you spend on others.

If you grew up in a home where your mother was a full-time caregiver, then your sense of worthiness may be directly connected to how much you do for others and how little you do for yourself. Shopping for others, even when you can't afford it, makes you feel good about yourself. You may even feel you have to do it. But the Lord says, "...godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Tim. 6:6-7 NIV)

Driven by a desire for instant gratification.

You've probably seen the bumper sticker, "He who dies with the most toys, wins." Imagine! Our culture has so inundated us with a desire for every latest gadget and gimmick that many of us unconsciously believe we cannot get along without them: computer, cellular phone, CD player, automobile, kitchen appliance, exercise bike and so on. This is especially challenging for those of us who grew up with unmet needs — spiritual, emotional or physical.

We somehow believe that if we fill up our lives with things, we will be happy, content, acceptable. But the Lord reminds us, "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19 NIV)

Unsure of your worth as a person.

You may be an expert on what other people need and want, but you feel unsure of what is good for you. Perhaps you never stop long enough to find out, and that keeps you from making wise choices. The truth is you are precious in the sight of God and you don't have to do anything to earn it. "The LORD your God is with you…he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zeph. 3:17)