About a decade ago, when I was in my mid-20s, I was on a road trip with my boyfriend. We stopped for gas. I went to the ATM to get some cash. “Overdrawn,” it said when I tried to take out sixty dollars. Or maybe it said, “No more funds.” My point is that it said whatever ATMs say when you have no money.
I went back to the car and got in the front seat to wait until my boyfriend finished pumping gas. Once we got back on the highway, I told him the news.
“Someone stole my credit number,” I said, panicked.
“Yeah. I have no money.”
“Call your bank,” he said. “It happened to me last year.”
I got out my flip phone–remember when cell phones were all flip phones?–and I called the bank like my boyfriend said. A nice woman with a Southern accent picked up. I told her someone had hacked into my account.
“OK, ma’am–let me pull up your account.”
She verified I was overdrawn. And then she said, “Let me just read back your last few purchases here to see if you recognize anything.”
Then, she proceeded to list a bunch of stores: Nordstrom, JCrew, Abercrombie and Fitch, Victorias Secret. My stomach turned over. They were all places I’d been that week, at my local mall, buying up a storm because I was getting manic and all I wanted was new things.
I hung up the phone, embarrassed, and I told my boyfriend–who had a lot of credit card debt and student loans–the real problem. He said he would lend me cash for the week, the irony being that he had substantial student loans and credit card debt, and I had no financial burdens other than money problems of my own making.
It was a good lesson.
Over the years, I’ve been pretty good at tempering what I’d identified as the manic shopping spree. The high would hit me, and I’d want so many things I didn’t need: cashmere sweaters, shoes, kitchen appliances, expensive shampoo. I learned to recognize the spree as a symptom.
But I’m still learning: this past week, I have spent more money than I want to admit. I knew what was happening, but I told myself: I need this five hundred dollar necklace; I need this new leather wallet; I need this designer sweater dress; I need this hundred dollar Fitbit to track how much I’m sleeping and walking every day.
Yesterday, I told myself that I would stop shopping, stop taking cabs, stop buying expensive cheese, for at least a month. (And let me note here that I know how privileged I am to be able to buy these things in the first place. Some people can’t even afford to feed their kids or heat their apartment.)
Tonight, on my way home from the gym, I walked by the Loehmann’s going out of business sale. How could I not go in? It was a once in a lifetime discount. I spent two hundred dollars that I don’t really have.
My credit card balances will not be paid in full this month. All I can do is my best to get my mood back in check so I stop the irresponsible shopping, no matter how fun it is.
(Image by Valeri-DBF via Flickr.)