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Shopping addiction can make you financially sick

Shopping online with a credit card can give you a lot of pleasure but, if you can't control your spending and become addicted to buying things, it can leave you penniless.
Shopping online with a credit card can give you a lot of pleasure but, if you can't control your spending and become addicted to buying things, it can leave you penniless.
Image: 123RF

Shopping should come with medical aid cover, especially for the compulsive few. Retail therapy is hardly therapeutic when it leaves you penniless. With the rise of internet shopping, this problem is escalating.

A recent study, conducted by the Society for the Study of Addiction, reveals that compulsive buying behaviour affects more that half the adult population in developed countries, particularly young women in low-income groups.

The study found that the condition is on the rise, with at least 70% of the working population now chronically broke, falling into credit card debt for everyday spending.

According to Psychology Today, sponsored online ads are trying to capitalise on a concept scientists call "cue-reactivity," or excitement from shopping cues. So when you are on Facebook, Instagram, or playing an online game, you see more ads. The idea is to cause a craving to purchase. And some of us are weaker than others. The craving is said to come from the field of behavioural addiction which includes problems like gambling and cybersex addiction.

Shopping addiction has many names - pathological buying, compulsive buying, buying addiction, and oniomania. An estimated 5 to 8% of the population are thought to suffer from it. But scientists are yet to figure out how to categorise it.

Is it similar to impulse control disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, or addiction?

Sunday World polled some adults who admitted they are addicted and their habits had cost them their financial freedom.

- Thando Ndlovu of Albermale in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, said for her, shopping was a coping mechanism. "It made me feel better after I had a fight with my baby daddy. He cheated a lot but would send me money to apologise. I got used to it, then I started using my salary to feed my addiction."

At first, the 29-year-old quantity surveyor could afford whatever she wanted to buy. "I earn a very decent salary, banks approached me with credit cards and would usually increase my buying power. . and I spent the money ."

She realised when her whole salary started going to credit cards that she could not afford to buy anymore. " I owed three different banks about R170000 on credit cards that I used for getaways with friends and mostly shopping. As we speak, I'm in debt and I could no longer afford basic things like buying groceries at Woolworths."

- Nkele Maredi, a mother of two, had her salary garnisheed because she could not pay all her creditors any longer. "I'm stuck in a job . I have a judgment against my name. I currently work at the bank and the only way to get a new job is if I can remedy my debt life."

Maredi's debts also cost her a relationship. "My fiance did not know I buy online so much. I would hide my purchases. When he found out that debt collectors were breathing on my neck, he freaked out."

Her fiance wanted to help her cut some clothing accounts. "He was very furious but he promised to help. What he did not know was that I was in the deep end. One day, he learnt that I had missed my car instalments and that was it. He told me I should call him when I have decided to get help."

- Sandile Mkhize, a 32-year-old from KwaMashu, said for men the addiction is costly.

"As men, we buy expensive shoes and suits. I found myself having to downgrade my car because I could no longer afford fuel. I initially bought a Mercedez Benz because I could pay it and still have a decent disposal."

Mkhize said he had to ensure that at every wedding, his suit was noticeably expensive. "I made sure that I wore a Carducci suit to work without fail. For me, having more than 10 of them was satisfactory . but when I go to the weddings, I would normally buy Fabiani and Cavalier suits.

"After my salary goes into my bank account, credit cards would deduct, I would pay other stores and one month I was left with R125 in my account. It was rough, I had to seek help."

- Natasha Oliphant, a mother of two, only recently stumbled onto online shopping. "My credit card has been working overtime. I don't see the money, I just swipe. I know I'm going to regret it month end."

She maxed out her overdraft to cover her credit card. "I know it's a vicious circle."

She also hides purchases from her fiance. "I generally have a shopping problem. I tend to spend money on things I don't need and we fight about it all the time. Now with this internet shopping ... I may have to get help - but I won't have money to pay for doctors."

Sophie Ndaba
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi.

How celebs do it

Actress and wedding planner, Sophie Ndaba: "I think for me it is rather convenient to buy online. It saves time."

Ndaba says she never used to buy online. "But as I got busier and busier, the necessity of having to buy items online became greater."

She says a friend told her she had become addicted.

"I thought she was exaggerating because I thought, how can you be addicted to shopping. At some point I bought a lot of items. As we speak, I have 800 pairs of shoes. But I have regulated myself. I now buy things like shoes once in four months."

Ndaba says she definitely still supports online buying.

"Although I'm very cautious about it now, I still buy. I use a bank card that I hardly pay money on. I don't use my main card to avoid fraudulent activities on my bank account, and I avoid over spending," she says.

Model and TV personality Blue Mbombo says she survived the addiction. "I used to buy plenty [of] items online. I would buy clothes and shoes and avoid queues and fights. That for me was convenience," she says.

"Sometimes you want to shop in peace so online [affords one] the peace one needs.

"But I woke up one day and decided enough is enough. I decided I would buy the things I only need, not what I want.

"The problem is, we also go online to buy exclusive items. I realised that clothes are not everything. That is where it stopped for me," she says.

The good and the bad


  • It's convenient as you can shop any time of the day or night, in the comfort of your home.
  • There are often better deals and specials online.
  • There's more variety and exclusive drops online only.
  • When buying a gift, you can buy online and send it direct to the recipient.
  • Ideally, it should be cheaper than a trip to the mall as you save on transport costs.


  • You cannot try on clothing as you would in a shop or retail outlet.
  • Your item may not look anything like what you ordered, especially if the site is not a reputable one.
  • On top of your purchase you have to sometimes incur costs of delivery - or spend money on two or more items to evade delivery costs.
  • You don't get instant gratification as you have to wait a few days for the item/s.
  • The delivery man may never deliver your goods.

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