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I Spent Thousands Feeding My Compulsive Shopping Addiction. Here’s How I Stopped.

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My mother had a unique sense of humor. Weeks before she passed, she motioned for my husband to come closer to her hospital bed and hold her hand. “Yes mom?” he asked. “Son-in-law (her endearing nickname for him), I need you to promise me something ― I need your word of honor,” she said. “Of course mom, anything, absolutely anything,” he replied, expecting some juicy, hidden family secret to be unveiled. With a pause, she looked into his eyes, smiled, knowing she had him fully engaged, and simply said, “Just let… her… shop.”

There was a brief silence and then they both laughed so hard that tears ran down my husband’s cheeks and all of the medical alarms attached to my mom went off. But just a few years later, my shopping would no longer be quite so funny.

As an only child, my parents were loving and attentive, and I was most definitely spoiled. We were not wealthy, but you’d never guess that by looking at my bedroom, which was filled with all the latest toys. My mother, whose parents were immigrants, grew up poor with nine siblings. She had been forced to wear worn out, hand-me-down clothing, and she was ridiculed often at school. So when she had me, she was determined to see that I would have plenty.

My teenage years were filled with frequent shopping excursions with her. We’d often spend Saturdays at the mall, pausing only to grab a quick bite to eat. Shopping became the forum for us to discuss our lives. We chatted about problems I had, which boys I liked, or who was my current best friend. We did not, however, discuss finances or saving.

It was exciting to come home with shopping bags full of new things. Mom would joke about not telling dad about everything we bought or he would cut up the credit cards. I wasn’t taught any financial discipline. Instead, I learned that if you wanted something, you simply bought it.

My father was diagnosed with cancer when I was in college and he passed away soon after I graduated. My mom had not worked since before I was born, and so we were left with no income and plenty of bills. Thank God, I had been offered a great paying job and could help my mother pay the mortgage and utilities. I initially dealt with my grief by throwing myself into work. I didn’t have much time to shop, but when I did, the habits I learned in adolescence served me well. I wasn’t quite yet compulsive ― I was merely an irresponsible shopper who always carried a credit card balance.

I wasn’t taught any financial discipline. Instead, I learned that if you wanted something, you simply bought it.

When I met my husband I quickly learned we had different values regarding money. He worked in finance, enjoyed investing and was averse to having any credit card debt. It wasn’t long after we married that we started to disagree about our finances. He couldn’t understand why my mother and I always went shopping; I didn’t appreciate his need to save so much. Money was the topic we battled about the most, but we managed to find middle ground and pay off our charge cards monthly while still saving a little.

We began to have children at the same time as my husband’s career took off and we decided I would leave my job behind to become a stay-at-home mom. I quietly had reservations about forfeiting my own income because of the financial independence it brought me.   

Motherhood in all its splendor was, of course, chaotic. So when my mother came to visit, we’d put the kids in strollers and head straight to the mall for a little shopping respite. Once there, she would entertain the kids while I mindlessly shopped. This activity resulted in both increased credit card balances and new arguments with my husband. We navigated our way through these squabbles primarily because of our love for each other, but resentments manifested themselves now and again, most usually around my need to shop.

When my mother had a heart attack in 2007, I knew she would likely never be discharged from the hospital and after several months of daily visits, I needed to come to terms with losing her. These next sentences may seem cold and shallow, but it is my truth. I recall one day, about a month before she passed, I was driving home from the hospital and decided to stop at Nordstrom.

“Can I help you find anything?” a sales girl asked while I was browsing. “Actually, yes,” I replied. “I am looking for an outfit to wear to my mother’s funeral.” The young girl touched my arm and told me, “I am so sorry for your loss.” I stoically responded, “Thank you, but she’s not dead yet. I’m just preparing.”

I can still recall the look of bewilderment on the girl’s face when she heard that. I was coping ― however dysfunctionally ― with the inevitable loss of my best friend and I thought shopping could help.

After my mother passed, shopping served as my foremost defense in dealing with my grief. It provided an escape from my ordinary life as a stay-at-home mom of four kids and helped to obscure the pain of no longer having the comfort of a parent’s love.

I soon coveted luxurious designer brands and became a “regular” at Saks Fifth Avenue, where I even secured my own personal stylist. On each excursion to the store, my stylist would compile a selection of beautiful clothing and have it waiting for me in a large private dressing room decorated with Prada shoes, Chanel handbags and other expensive, designer accessories.

All of the salespeople knew me and would smile as they complimented me on how I looked. I felt like a celebrity. My stylist and I would chat about our lives while I tried everything on. My time there felt more like an afternoon out with a girlfriend than taking part in a compulsive shopping spree. I never left the store empty-handed and spent $3,000 on average during each visit.

I drove away feeling happy ― my car full of new merchandise ― as I headed back to my real life filled with picking up the kids, carting them to their activities, cooking dinner and helping with homework.

My compulsive shopping also affected various friendships as I often chose to go to stores alone rather than spend quality time with my friends for fear they would judge me. It got so bad that when we had guests over, I’d sneak away to my bedroom and log onto my computer to shop some special ‘limited’ sale.

As time passed, I shopped more and more frequently and when the subject of monthly bills came up with my husband, I’d always try to change the topic.

My compulsive shopping also affected various friendships, as I often chose to go to stores alone rather than spend quality time with my friends for fear they would judge me. It got so bad that when we had guests over, I’d sneak away to my bedroom and log onto my computer to shop some special “limited” sale. With the advent of online shopping came a newfound cycle of buying and then returning, which occupied much of my free time.  

By this point, my shopping habit had spiraled completely out of control and I was hiding it from everyone. It felt both duplicitous and emotionally isolating. Others saw me as a happy mother who always volunteered as “class mom,” lunchroom server, parent association board member and girl scout leader. Nobody knew that I was battling low self-esteem.

There were obvious underlying issues that brought about my insecurities, but they all seemed to dissipate with retail therapy. The high only lasted for so long, though, and my pattern of feeling great after a shopping spree was followed by a deep sadness because I could not stop this insidious cycle. I wanted to control it, but I felt I was simply too weak. Pining for whatever item I wanted was only satiated by the purchase itself, and every time I caved in, it only rendered me more stressed, more insecure and more alone.

Paying my credit card bills became a juggling act. My husband and I had agreed upon a set amount of money I could spend each month on clothing. This money resided in my own checking account and I then used it to pay my bills. Since I knew I couldn’t pay the full balances, I wouldn’t even bother to look at the actual amount due. I simply paid what I could, but knew a day of reckoning was imminent and I had grown weary of the charades and mounting guilt.

That day finally came when my husband and I were discussing finances and he asked about my credit cards. I tried to skirt the issue, but he insisted on knowing exactly what was going on. I knew it was time to come clean. At that point, I had credit balances from multiple retailers, Saks being the largest. I owed over $25,000.

Naturally, he was angry and felt betrayed. How could it get this far? After an intense and emotionally charged discussion, we decided to use our savings to pay off the debt. I then closed out my cards and we agreed I should seek therapy.  

And then it hit me: shopping had only made things worse. In addition to still being sad, I felt ashamed and hopeless after my buying lurched out of control.

I stayed in therapy for a few months but ended it too soon because I was convinced “I got this.” What I didn’t realize then is that shopping addictions, like all addictions, are not easy to overcome without continued work and real commitment.

In the years that followed, I did change the way I shopped and for a long time my shopping remained manageable. I rarely visited the mall and instead did most of my shopping online. However, as time passed, I began to sign up for new credit cards and my insidious shopping behavior re-emerged. I was now hiding my purchases and would go so far as taking it upon myself to bring the garbage to the curb so that my husband wouldn’t question why we had so many boxes. He thought my dedication to garbage duty was just me lovingly helping him out in little ways to lighten his workload at home.  

In the summer of 2017, before our oldest son left for college, my shopping problem cascaded out of control once again. Grappling with the fact that my children were growing up and they didn’t need me as much as they once did left me despondent. I wondered what this former software-engineer-now-housewife who hadn’t worked in 20 years would do with the next chapter of her life. How would I fill the void?

I escaped from having to deal with my emotions by throwing myself into more shopping therapy. Within months, I had racked up over $15,000 in charges.

And then it hit me: shopping had only made things worse. In addition to still being sad, I felt ashamed and hopeless after my buying lurched out of control. So, that September, I sat down with my husband and told him everything. After we talked, I returned approximately $9,000 of the merchandise I had purchased and also sold many of my designer shoes and bags. The remaining balance was, once again, paid off by our savings. I canceled my credit cards and rejoined therapy with an unyielding conviction to fix myself.

Now, fourteen months later, I consider myself to be a recovering shopaholic.

Through therapy I’ve learned to identify the things ― like sadness, insecurity or avoiding emotions ― that trigger me to shop. I have gained tools to better manage these urges when they arise. Now, before I make a purchase, I try to be certain I really need the item, can afford it and have a place to put it.

If I’m shopping online, I leave items in my virtual cart for a while before checking out. Often, the desire to buy them passes and I never complete the purchase. I no longer have secret credit cards or debt, and I have started to find new meaning in my life outside of being a wife and mother.  I have taken writing classes and began a blog, Overcoming Overshopping, to share my recovery journey and provide support to others who also struggle.   

By working on myself, I’ve gained some confidence and have set new goals for my future. My marriage is stronger and I am more present with my children and friends. I still have shopping urges and there are moments when I still overshop, but I have learned to recognize the compulsion faster and correct it as often as I can.

My journey has ups and downs, and I know that at times I will still battle urges to shop. But now I can confidently face each battle prepared with the tools and desire to win.

Antoinette Russell loves coffee, chocolate, watching Masterpiece Theatre and, of course, shopping. She writes a blog, Overcoming Overshopping, to share her journey as a recovering shopaholic with the hope of helping others who struggle with compulsive and overspending issues.

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4 things kids need to know about money

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(NC) Responsible spending includes knowing the difference between wants and needs. Back-to-school season, with added expenses and expectations around spending, is the perfect time to not only build your own budget for the year ahead, but also to introduce your own children to the concept of budgeting.

The experts at Capital One break down four basic things that every child should know about money, along with tips for bringing real-life examples into the conversation.

What money is. There’s no need for a full economic lesson,but knowing that money can be exchanged for goods and services, and that the government backs its value, is a great start.
How to earn money. Once your child understands what money is, use this foundational knowledge to connect the concepts of money and work. Start with the simple concept that people go to work in exchange for an income, and explain how it may take time (and work) to save for that new pair of sneakers or backpack. This can help kids develop patience and alleviate the pressure to purchase new items right away that might not be in your budget.
The many ways to pay. While there is a myriad of methods to pay for something in today’s digital age, you can start by explaining the difference between cash, debit and credit. When teaching your kids about credit, real examples help. For instance, if your child insists on a grocery store treat, offer to buy it for them as long as they pay you back from their allowance in a timely manner. If you need a refresher, tools like Capital One’s Credit Keeper can help you better understand your own credit score and the importance of that score to overall financial health.
How to build and follow a budget. This is where earning, spending, saving and sharing all come together. Build a budget that is realistic based on your income and spending needs and take advantage of banking apps to keep tabs on your spending in real-time. Have your kids think about how they might split their allowance into saving, spending and giving back to help them better understand money management.

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20 Percent Of Americans In Relationships Are Committing Financial Infidelity

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Nearly 30 million Americans are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their spouse or live in partner, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. That’s roughly 1 in 5 that currently have a live in partner or a spouse.

Around 5 million people — or 3 percent — used to commit “financial infidelity,” but no longer do.

Of all the respondents, millennials were more likely than other age groups to hide financial information from their partner. While 15 percent of older generations hid accounts from their partner, 28 percent of millennials were financially dishonest.

Regionally, Americans living in the South and the West were more likely to financially “cheat” than those living in the Northeast and Midwest.

Insecurity about earning and spending could drive some of this infidelity, according to CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman.

When it comes to millennials, witnessing divorce could have caused those aged 18-37 to try and squirrel away from Rossman calls a “freedom fund”.

“They’ve got this safety net,” Rossman said. They’re asking: “What if this relationship doesn’t work out?”

As bad as physical infidelity

More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed believed that financial infidelity was just as bad as physically cheating. That’s including some 20 percent who believed that financially cheating was worse.

But despite this, most didn’t find this to be a deal breaker.

Over 80 percent surveyed said they would be upset, but wouldn’t end the relationship. Only 2 percent of those asked would end the relationship if they discovered their spouse or partner was hiding $5,000 or more in credit card debt. That number however is highest among those lower middle class households ($30,000-$49,999 income bracket): Nearly 10 percent would break things off as a result.

Roughly 15 percent said they wouldn’t care at all. Studies do show however that money troubles is the leading cause of stress in a relationship.

That’s why, Rossman says, it’s important to share that information with your partner.

“Talking about money with your spouse isn’t always easy, but it has to be done,” he said. “You can still maintain some privacy over your finances, and even keep separate accounts if you and your spouse agree, but you need to get on the same page regarding your general direction, otherwise your financial union is doomed to fail.”

With credit card rates hovering at an average of 19.24 percent APR, hiding financial information from a partner could be financially devastating.

But, Rossman adds, it’s not just about the economic impact but also the erosion of trust.

“More than the dollars and cents is that trust factor,” he said. “I think losing that trust is so hard to regain. That could be a long lasting wedge.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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7 Examples Of Terrible Financial Advice We’ve Heard

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Between television, radio, the internet and well-meaning but presumptuous friends and family, we’re inundated with unsolicited advice on a daily basis. And when it comes to money, there’s a ton of terrible advice out there. Even so-called experts can lead us astray sometimes.

Have you been duped? Here are a few examples of the worst money advice advisers, bloggers and other personal finance pros have heard.

1. Carry a balance to increase your credit score.

Ben Luthi, a money and travel writer, said that a friend once told him that his mortgage loan officer advised him to carry a balance on his credit card in order to improve his credit score. In fact, the loan officer recommended keeping the balance at around 50 percent of his credit limit.

“This is the absolute worst financial advice I’ve ever heard for several reasons,” Luthi said. For one, carrying a credit card balance doesn’t have any effect on your credit at all. “What it does do is ensure that you pay a high interest rate on your balance every month, neutralizing any other benefits you might get from the card,” Luthi explained. “Also, keeping a 50 percent credit utilization is a surefire way to hurt your credit score, not help it.”

Some credit experts recommend keeping your balance below 30 percent of the card limit, but even that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Keeping your balance as low as possible and paying the bill on time each month is how you improve your score.

2. Avoid credit cards ― period.

Credit cards can be a slippery slope for some people; overspending can lead to a cycle of debt that’s tough to escape.

But avoiding credit cards on principle, something personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey push hard, robs you of all their potential benefits.

“Credit cards are a good tool for building credit and earning rewards,” explained personal finance writer Kim Porter. “Plus, there are lots of ways to avoid debt, like using the card only for monthly bills, paying off the card every month and tracking your spending.”

If you struggle with debt, a credit card is probably not for you. At least not right now. But if you are on top of your finances and want to leverage debt in a strategic way, a credit card can help you do just that.

3. The mortgage you’re approved for is what you can afford.

“The worst financial advice I hear is to buy as much house as you can afford,” said R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner who founded the blog The Ways to Wealth. He explained that most lenders use the 28/36 rule to determine how much you can afford to borrow: Up to 28 percent of your monthly gross income can go toward your home, as long as the payments don’t exceed 36 percent of your total monthly debt payments. For example, if you had a credit card, student loan and car loan payment that together totaled $640 a month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $360 (36 percent of $1,000 in total debt payments).

“What homeowners don’t realize is this rule was invented by banks to maximize their bottom line ― not the homeowner’s financial well-being,” Weiss said. “Banks have figured out that this is the largest amount of debt one can take on with a reasonable chance of paying it back, even if that means you have to forego saving for retirement, college or short-term goals.”

4. An expensive house is worth it because of the tax write-off.

Scott Vance, owner of taxvanta.com, said a real estate agent told him when he was younger that it made sense to buy a more expensive house because he had the advantage of writing off the mortgage interest on his taxes.

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment. A deduction simply decreases your taxable income ― it’s not a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. So committing to a larger mortgage payment to take a bigger tax deduction still means paying more in the long run. And if that high mortgage payment compromises your ability to keep up on other bills or save money, it’s definitely not worth it.

“Now, as a financial planner focusing on taxes, I see the folly in such advice,” he said, noting that he always advises his client to consider the source of advice before following it. ”Taking tax advice from a Realtor is … like taking medical procedure advice from your hairdresser.”

5. You need a six-month emergency fund.

One thing is true: You need an emergency fund. But when it comes to how much you should save in that fund, it’s different for each person. There’s no cookie-cutter answer that applies to everyone. And yet many experts claim that six months’ worth of expenses is exactly how much you should have socked away in a savings account.

“I work with a lot of Hollywood actors, and six months won’t cut it for these folks,” said Eric D. Matthews, CEO and wealth adviser at EDM Capital. “I also work with executives in the same industry where six months is overkill. You need to strike a balance for your work, industry and craft.”

If you have too little saved, a major financial blow can leave you in debt regardless. And if you set aside too much, you lose returns by leaving the money in a liquid, low-interest savings account. “The generic six months is a nice catch-all, but nowhere near the specific need of the individual’s unique situation… and aren’t we all unique?”

6. You should accept your entire student loan package.

Aside from a house, a college education is often one of the biggest purchases people make in their lifetimes. Often loans are needed to bridge the gap between college savings and that final tuition bill. But just because you’re offered a certain amount doesn’t mean you need to take it all.

“The worst financial advice I received was that I had to accept my entire student loan package and that I had no other options,” said Gina Zakaria, founder of The Frugal Convert. “It cost me a lot in student loan debt. Now I tell everyone that you never have to accept any part of a college financial package that you don’t want to accept.” There are always other options, she said.

7. Only invest in what you know.

Even the great Warren Buffett, considered by many to be the best investor of all time, gets it wrong sometimes. One of his most famous pieces of advice is to only invest in what you know, but that might not be the right guidance for the average investor.

In theory, it makes sense. After all, you don’t want to tie up your money in overly complicated investments you don’t understand. The problem is, most of us are not business experts, and it’s nearly impossible to have deep knowledge of hundreds of securities. “Diversification is key to a good portfolio, and investing in what you know leads to a very un-diversified portfolio,” said Britton Gregory, a certified financial planner and principal of Seaborn Financial. “Instead, invest in a well-diversified portfolio that includes many companies, even ones you’ve never heard of.”

That might mean enlisting the help of a professional, so make sure it’s one who has your best interests at heart.

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