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Spenders Anonymous - Personal Stories

A 12-Step Fellowship

Are you a spender?
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My name is Kirk, and I'm a Compulsive Spender.

My compulsive spending problem is intricately linked with my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I make lists of things to do, and to buy. When I get going on a list, it can be like an avalanche of activity. Not only will I try to finish buying everything on the list, but inevitably I will end up buying many other things that were not on the list. I have run up credit card bills that I didn't know how I would pay off. I recognize when I am engaged in a spending spree, but I often have felt powerless to stop myself. The compulsion to finish the list and to avoid adding other things to the list - by buying them right then - has often been much stronger than the recognition that I didn't have the money to pay for what I was buying.

Since I started attending Spenders Anonymous (SA), I have developed some techniques to help me deal with the compulsion to buy things. In my meeting, we talk about three questions to ask oneself in making a spending decision - "Do I need it?," "Can I afford it?," and "Is it peaceful?" With my OCD, I have developed a more elaborate set of questions, but the core meaning is the same. For example, if I am tempted to buy a tool, I remind myself that I am only allowed to buy it if I need it to complete a job on which I am working. This has been very helpful in preventing me from making many purchases.

I have a long way to go (I need to find and work with a sponsor on actively working the steps), but I find comfort in recognizing the progress that I have made, and the commitment that I have made to continue attending my SA meeting. After attending inconsistently for almost a year, I volunteered to be the trusted servant for a month, and attending the weekly meeting has been my routine ever since. I have found a group of people who I trust and who understand my struggle with compulsive spending. I feel comfortable and comforted in sharing my struggles with them, and they have become my friends.

When I feel overwhelmed, sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is to say to myself, "The most important thing is that, no matter what, I just won't ever give up."


Happiness and Money

My story in the compulsive spending world I think is pretty common.

I believed at the time back in 1990 that everyone had credit cards and always bought what they wanted. That is what I did. I spent a lot of time window shopping, store shopping, and buying now, but paying later. I always thought I would have the money, so I lived with this heavy feeling from debt and also from living in a fantasy world. I bought things because I thought that was where happiness was.

By chance I heard of a spenders' meeting, and it took two months to find the courage to attend. Somewhere in me I had this feeling that I did not want to live this way any more and that I would probably be divorced a second time, due to my compulsive spending.

I went to my first meeting. It was scary and liberating at the same time to be with other people who had a similar problem. I learned and have been able to manage my money very differently. I am learning about peace and happiness that does not involve buying things. I have contentment and know what a peaceful purchase is. I can see the red flags that indicate for me when I am about to spiral. This is a program where I have found ways to do things in a way that do not hurt me. It is a long road, and I keep learning every time I go to a meeting. (R)

Self Worth

I came from a family of money crazies. I grew up being told that saving money and being frugal were signs of being an appropriate person. However, talking about money and letting others know about your finances was a big "NO NO." Money was to be held as a sacred thing - given all the honor and awe that others reserve for church. It's no surprise that I came to believe that my personal worth was tied into my money worth.

I am not a spender in the traditional sense. I am a money hoarder and bargain shopper. My past included depriving myself of fun things/times and even from some necessities in order to save money. I would spend my precious time driving to many stores to use coupons or to save a few dollars. I would plan my week around my "saving's" activities rather than around the needs of my family or myself. I have often made purchases based on price rather than need, fit, or personal preferences. I would get true elation from saving 25-30% of our grocery bill by using coupons, never considering the time and attention this activity required.

I have kept my "net worth" a big secret yet have let others know that it was substantial. When I felt demeaned, ignored, afraid, "icky", I ran my "numbers" through my head. It was an escape, much like a drink is to an alcoholic. What I have always feared most is being alone and unloved, and I used my financials to keep me "safe". Ironically, it is what made me feel even more scared and separated from others.

I joined another 12-step program years ago while living with an actively using addict. It is with this program and the grace of God that I began to feel more closeness and worthiness. However, I still knew that this money thing was an issue. It was hard to talk about because people don't usually talk about money as an emotional problem. When I chose the wrong folks to share parts of this problem, it often blew up in my face. I learned that talking about money could cause confusion and jealousy even with program people. I just continued along attending Alanon and CODA meetings and worked those programs with a growing awareness that this money issue needed to be addressed.

My "bottoming out" came when I got engaged to a man who was in debt over his head. I always knew that I was attracted to alcoholics, but I came to see that I was drawn to other money crazies too. We both began attending SA and went to counseling to focus on the emotional issues we brought to our finances. He switched to Debtor's Anonymous, and I stayed in SA. We did get married and are both continuing with our programs.

I still retreat into my net worth "LA LA Land" on occasion, but I recognize it as a symptom. It is a clue that I need to look at where I am feeling fear, shame, etc. It is only in SA that I can say that "I am compulsive about money" and not feel judged or ridiculed. The group gives me the strength to recognize that I am NOT my money, and income is not my report card in life. I am worthy and valuable just because I am. (M)