Battling the Recession



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Consumption Crazed, originally published in XPress Magazine, Dec 21, ’09

Consumption Crazed

The costly consequences of shopping addiction.

by Lea Wiviott, Editor-in-Chief

DECEMBER 21, 2009 4:41 PM

Marissa Brown went to Macy’s today for a new pair of boots and pantyhose, but came back with four times more merchandise than she had planned to purchase. The tights will eventually find their way into drawers that are already stuffed with many tights and countless pairs of leggings.

Making room for new goods that are not needed has resulted in turning the attic above her bedroom into a makeshift storage unit. The downstairs closet has also turned into a burrow for extra jackets. Brown’s townhouse is immaculate, with the exception that there is clothing everywhere. “You will play tricks on yourself to get it and it becomes the most important thing,” says Brown, who does not want her actual name used due to the stigma of shopping addiction. She slides her mirrored closet door open, and stuffs her new Stuart Weitzman leather boots on top of a mountain of shoes before sliding the door closed.

This wall-length closet is squished with seventy-five jackets, along with around fifty pairs of jeans, in addition to the boots. Yet Brown feels such a sense of euphoria when she acquires anything new that she has trouble controlling her consumption. “When I see somebody with something I want, it doesn’t matter where it’s from or how much [it costs], I have to have it and I’m good, I always find it,” Brown explains.

Many people can relate to Brown. According to Terrence Shulman, founder of Shopaholics Anonymous, “a shopping addict is someone, male or female, who shops excessively in a manner that produces negative consequences yet refuses to or is unable to curtail or stop this behavior.” Shulman says shopping addicts are unable to control themselves despite negative consequences such as financial troubles, loss of time, changes in sleep or appetite, inability to keep relationships, or feelings from guilt to anxiety, along with an overall loss of control and preoccupation with shopping.

According to recent studies, nearly ten percent of Americans fall into the diagnosis of oniomania, the scientific name for shopping addiction, which is up from six percent in 2006. Shulman says this trend is only increasing and he cites the prevalence of bargains in the recession as the culprit.

Angela Wurtzel, another addiction therapist specializing in oniomania, sees a brighter side of the recession in that “more people are open and willing to address their own limitations around money and shopping, and deal with the deeper emotional issues that have to do with deprivation, fear of deprivation, emptiness, and self worth.”

In Brown’s case, deprivation is a common theme throughout her life. “My husband never shows affection,” she says, later adding that while she comes from a wealthy family, as a child money was never spent on items like jewelry or clothes so “it was like we were poor.”

When she moved to San Francisco she therefore felt entitled to her new BMW 325i and all the wonderful offerings that the unique city boutiques had to offer–even if she were purchasing them on credit. “It doesn’t matter if it makes sense financially, you just have to have it,” she explains.

Like nearly half of North Americans, Brown spends more than she earns annually. And while the recession has resulted in her losing a portion of her retirement, it is her overwhelming love for shopping that has plummeted her twenty thousand dollars into debt. (After today’s trip, that number increased by around five hundred dollars.) The result: she has had to take out a second loan from her house as well as take on extra shifts as a flight attendant. “And I haven’t been the best about saving,” she continues.

According to Wurtzel, transferring balances from one credit card to another is also a common practice of shopping addicts, along with “getting a large sum of money as a gift and rather than using the money in a way they ‘know’ they should, like to pay a bill, they ‘feel’ their way through the experience and go shopping and tell themselves they deserve it.”

Wurtzel has even heard of women donating their eggs to pay off bills and then using the rest of the money for more things they do not need but crave to the point of obsession.

While Brown says she would never donate her eggs to fulfill her love of shopping, her problem has led to extreme measures on other fronts. Not only is her house packed to the rafters, but her marriage has suffered from her spending practices; money disputes are one reason her husband and she have fallen into estrangement.

“The problem is, during times of stress, many addictions get worse,” says Shulman. “Many people who can ill afford to continue to shop often do so even more when under stress–it’s like a drug.”

Like drugs, there are many different kinds of shopping addictions. According to Shulman, compulsive shoppers shop to avoid uncomfortable feelings or situations; trophy shoppers need special items to stem an emotional vacuum; collector shoppers, like trophy shoppers, need more and more of a particular item (usually sets) to feel complete; image shoppers buy things they hope will project an image of power or perfection to stanch feelings of inferiority; bulimic shoppers buy and return items; co-dependent shoppers buy more for others than themselves to gain love, approval, acceptance; and, finally, spendaholics, or people who do not necessarily buy things (though they may overspend on a home or a car) go way overboard purchasing vacations, dining out, and other events.

As is the case with most shopping addicts, Brown mainly buys clothes to make herself feel beautiful, but she does so at the expense of her relationships and financial security. Nevertheless, she does not want a formal diagnosis. Still, whenever she travels to a new place–which, as a flight attendant, she does biweekly, she also collects Starbucks mugs bearing that city’s name and she buys souvenirs for her family… even when they have asked her to stop.

According to the experts, people commonly exhibit multiple oniomaniac behaviors, which many attribute to the prevalence in American culture of encouragements to shop. The average American is bombarded with three thousand advertisements daily.

“There may be many different theories on how we got to be such a consumerist society. I think advertising got more clever and pervasive. I think we began to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous more. I think the explosion of malls and stores and the Internet and Home Shopping TV all played a part,” Shulman says.

While it was not always called oniomania, this problem has been around forever. President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was one of the earliest documented Americans with this disorder. Yet over the past twenty years oniomania has received much more attention. Support groups like Debtors Anonymous and Shopaholics Anonymous have since emerged. Academic movements against the mainstream American dream of making money to acquire new goods have also come into light.

Still, Brown believes a shopping lover is who she is and she is not planning on changing. She has, however, recently been diagnosed with Attention Hyperactivity Disorder. And she, along with experts, believe there may be a link between the anxiety and boredom that sometimes characterizes people with ADHD and the need to shop.

“When people are anxious, they are vulnerable to turning to easy ways to temporarily calm themselves–food, alcohol, drugs, TV, shopping… of course, when the negative consequences and secrets mount so, too, does the anxiety, and then the vicious cycle begins–more shopping to cover up more anxiety… until there is a crisis or a discovery of the problem and then the bubble bursts and real recovery can begin,” Shulman says.

“My hopes for shopping addicts are that they find the way that works for them to develop and understand this destructive problem,” says Wurtzel. “I try to tell people that they will end up having more if they work through this and come to understand themselves, develop emotionally, and create a structure to live a safe and contained life.

“My hopes are that people, especially young people, wise up about the seductive dangers of overshopping and overspending not just in terms of lost dollars but lost time, lost focus, lost relationship, lost direction, says Shulman. “We need to develop a healthy, balanced, and realistic relationship with money, credit, things–just as with food, alcohol, relationships, work, anything.” [X]

» E-mail Lea Wiviott @

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Our Opportunity is Great, & Rare –

Today I woke up and did something new, well I should rephrase that and say I did something today I have not done in a long time. (I have to admit.) I  read the mission of our practice, my mission, that I wrote, before my practice was what it is today, before what it will be tomorrow, before what it will be next year, and always moving forward.
When I look back years from now, here is what we will still be living by:
Never forget we are in a powerful position. Not many people have our opportunity. Never forget our opportunity is great and rare and make every moment count. Live with gratitude and use our position to inspire others to reach their dreams, whatever they are, always.”
About 6pm tonight I had a decision, my toughest decision yet today to make. Either dent my sea of emails (that kept flowing in), or make an impact now. We all could have tons of excuses as to why we can’t commit to make our mark now- its 6pm and this person needs a reply, I have a 7am meeting tomorrow-these are all reasons I could have used. But never forget we are in a powerful position… I didn’t need to read the rest of my mission and value proposition, to myself, again. I looked up the World Affairs  agenda for tonight.
I’ve passed by the World Affairs Council more times than I can count. Yet I have not stopped in, especially not on a workday Tuesday night. But why? An impact on myself, my education, about specifically, tonight,  “Global Poverty, What Everyone Needs to Know” sounded intriguing.
A big cause of mine already is economic empowerment, many of you know, and particularly financial literacy for children, women, young adults, and professionals (well really everyone – I’m truly happy to help impact anyone who is of high integrity and high quality). So just how great is this cause, and where are the main areas it comes from, I wondered.
A quick Google search on child poverty in specific pulled up one alarming statistic: of 35 developed countries the US has the highest rate of poverty second only to Romania (with all due respect that doesn’t say alot considering the history). One out of every five American children live in poverty.
Tom Nazario, founder and president of The Forgotten International was the speaker tonight, and here are just a few of his points:
160,000,000 women are missing in Southeast Asia. (Yes that is 160,000,000- I had to correct myself when I was taking notes I dropped down the zeros after copying them verbatim then realized I did copy them correctly- there are 7 0’s, plus two more digits to communicate factually the number of women missing in Southeast Asia.)
Yes- women typically live longer than men, most people know, yet women are currently outnumbered by men worldwide.
Women are missing for no reason any more significant other than because they are women, and thereby viewed as less tough and strong than men, young boys in particular in this case. In SouthEast Asia, it is extremely common for example after the ultrasound of a baby to determine the child’s sex these days, and use that information to abort the pregnancy if it’s a girl, and take further measures to eliminate the lives of girls. This is today, not last year, and not thirty years ago. This is right now.
Right now 19,000 children die every day for no reason other than the fact they are too poor to live.
As it stands 55% of the poor, those who are under the baseline of poverty, currently live off of the land or sea, and these 40,000,000 people  feed over 50% of the population with the food they produce.
I can’t help but beg the question – what are we all going to do as climates continue to effect our environment and cut into our crops, lakes and other bodies of water continue drying up, sea plants such as water hyacinth continue to invade and take over, and essentially make sealife unavailable all together for fishermen access, cutting off food supplies, and essentially mass migration will happen and go where?
Right now, 1/3 of the world population is  considered “moderately poor-“ that is billions of people who are making less than around $2 per day. 1/6 of the world population (still over a 1 billion people, that is 1,000,000,000 people) live off less than $1 a day.
Do you ever wonder what these 1,000,000,000 people are doing every day, what their lives consist of?
Here’s a personal story Tom spoke about: A single mother with kids was living in a home somewhere, let’s say anywhere, it was some country, a nice home, with lots of land, and a cattle, one cattle, that was all she needed. One night her cow was attacked, and by the time she woke up it was dead and its carcas was being devoured by the animals and birds out front of her home. There was nothing she could do to stop it from being devoured. She watched it devastated, and there was nothing that she could do.That was it, everything. In those moments while the wildlife was eating her cattle out front of her home, a nice home especially relative to the area, and she was watching everything she had go down the drain.
There’s multiple key roles that one cattle played: That cattle produced the milk for her youngest infant. The leftover milk she used to generate some income. If her landlord ever tried to take her home from her, she felt secure because she would just sell her cattle (she had to stay in the home, her family lived off the crop). If the crops had a bad year, she could sell the cattle, make some money, good money, or even use it to feed her family. Her youngest infant depended on that cattle for more than just milk, it was all her nutrition, and so did her other small children. By losing that one cattle, she ended up losing her youngest infant. The infant, her infant, died, from malnutrition. Nothing else. Malnutrition from the lack of that one cattle caused her infant child to die. This woman lost much more too you see, she lost everything, she lost everything from that one cattle. If her landlord came for her home, she had nothing to barter with, if crops were bad one year she had no cattle left for the children to eat, at this point you get to see how substantial of an issue this one cattle is, and there’s tons more women like her, you could continue as to why a cattle is so important to so many.
Her story begs the question: how much does a cattle cost? As little as $150. We can start an organization or find an organization already established – and each one of us donate a cattle to the cause, even just one cattle can save a life, and sustain life for many. Cattle for a Cause. (Did anyone think of that?) We could think about it as we are in a powerful position. Not many people have our opportunityNever forget our opportunity is great and rare. (We have only have 3% of the world’s population of children, and one of every second child born in this world, that is one out of every two children, is currently in poverty and will continue to live in poverty.) Our opportunity is rare. Make every moment count. Live with gratitude, and use our position to inspire others to reach their dreams  whatever they are, always.
I know a great person who I’m sure could help make our cattle dollars, cattle.
Is this important to you? If so, please visit
What’s your impact? Please tell us what you did. Together, let’s move mountains.
Want more information?
Check out this Washington Post article, these stats from various sources, more information about the issue of the water hyacinth and drought particularly in Lake Victoria, and this video.
Thanks, #impact

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Insight from the Brett Farmiloe, Author of Pursue the Passion

Hi Brett, thank you for taking the time to do a Q&A with me, Jennifer Hartnett, for Success Strivers! First of all, can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a published author, company founder and have a history of bringing unique ideas to life. My first company, Pursue the Passion, was a career education startup that took three friends and myself on two cross-country road trips to interview people about how they found passion in work. Since getting off the road, I’ve delivered over 100 speeches from Alaska to Miami Beach and authored the book, Pursue the Passion.
I’m also the founder of an online marketing company in Scottsdale, where I create online campaigns and executes social media strategies for cutting edge ecommerce companies.

How do you set goals and how do you accomplish them?

In a very analytical way. It’s all about math. I set an objective. I then create as many tactics as I need to mathematically achieve that objective. Then I go do everything on my tactic list and gauge whether that objective will be reached.

What are your ambitions for your career?

I love marketing. I love working for myself. If I stay true to those two things, I think I’ll go interesting places. 

How did you figure out your passion?

Oddly enough, on a cross-country tour I dubbed “Pursue the Passion.” I interviewed over 300 people about their career path and made some observations about each one of their stories. This tour also garnered a lot of media attention – we were driving a 28-foot RV around the country, so we were hard to miss. I think we made about 40 media appearances to talk about our tour. What I realized from the media and the tour was I’m passionate about inspiring movement – specifically through marketing campaigns. Because in the end, that’s what Pursue the Passion really was – a campaign to inspire people to think about, and go after what they enjoy in their careers.

What should everyone do to pursue their passion?

Some of the best advice we got on tour was to pick a costume, put it on, and be it. If that costume doesn’t fit right, take it off, put on another costume, and be that. You learn about what you’re passionate about through experience, and less by sitting in a chair. So go out and have experiences.
One of the best experiences you can have, by the way, is doing face to face interviews with people you want to be like. Those experiences will bring reality to fantasies.

Do you have a strategy for pursuing one’s passion?

It’s tough, which is why 70% of the American workforce doesn’t like what they do for a living. The minority of America enjoys what they do because the process is difficult to get to a place where you enjoy what you do. The strategy isn’t magic. It’s as simple as taking ownership on an idea, making calculated risks when necessary, and working hard until you get there.

What continues to inspire you?

Growth. I love seeing a concept of ours go from theory, to specific tactics, to tangible results. Since our marketing company deals so much with ecommerce business, I’m inspired by the growth our clients and our company experiences.

How do you stay true to you’re passion?

Money helps. When you get paid for doing what you love, it’s easier to stay true. But when I was working with no salary and redeeming vouchers for free Hot Pockets to survive…those are the times where you need a clear objective to continue on. Objectives give you significance. Tactics give you a way to measure how close you are to your objective. Both significance and measurability are things you need in your back pocket when you go on a journey.

What drives you?

I mentioned earlier that I like inspiring movement. If I had to sum up why I do what I do, I like being in a position where I can inspire movement to “the good life.” The good life is a better life than you’re living now. Our clients offer products that make lives better. That’s why our job as marketers is fun. We get to help people improve their lives. And of course, if we do our job well, our lives become better as well.

How do you stay motivated?

I enjoy seeing if stuff works or fails. Every day we get to try something new to see how people respond. That’s pretty motivating.

What advice do you have for the community to stay motivated?

Do stuff. Motivation stems from excitement. Doing stuff is exciting.

What would you recommend others do different?

Auditing. I majored in accounting in college. My first job out of school was being an auditor. The job is full of checks and balances to make sure the overall picture makes sense. I audit everything – finances, activities, focus – just to make sure things are going the way I’d like them to. It’s a great activity.

Is there a perfect way of living life? If yes, what is it?

If there is, I haven’t found it.

How do you influence people in a meaningful way?

Numbers is how I’m able to see if what I’m doing is meaningful. If I give a speech, I might include my email address on slides to see how many people email me afterwards. For an interview like this, I’d include a link to my website – – and see if what I had to say here inspired people to go check out other things I’m up to. There’s always a way to measure influence, and measurements lead to meaning. At least for me.

What works for you to keep striving for success?

I think the answer is in the question. It’s to keep striving.

Will you write another book soon?

The last one took four years to produce. I don’t know if I have that in me again.

What advice do you have for Success Strivers?

Only advice for Success Strivers is to start building up that email list. That’s how people will stay up to date with you. Email is the best form of marketing delivery around.

More from Brett Farmiloe on his Ted Talk here: 

(This video is embedded with permission)

That’s Jennifer Hartnett for Success Strivers, thanks for reading and thank you Brett Farmiloe for your time! Best wishes to the Success Strivers community in finding your passion if you have not already! If you have, please do share it with us! Learning from others can make all the difference in your success and the success of others! Thanks for reading, and we will be posting much more soon!

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Have you grown up? Are you true to yourself?!

I don’t know how I just came across this interview with Joanna Lumley, but it’s so inspiring–especially for our young and establishing ladies!

Have you grown up? Are you true to yourself? I really encourage you to read Lumley’s take on “How to Live Your Life and Make it Glorious, ‘Darling'”

Lumley will help motivate you to be your best you, and we all need that at some point! Don’t waste your opportunity to hear from Lumley–I wasn’t looking for inspiration tonight, but I found it, and you always need to explore your opportunities no matter when they present themselves! Especially ones that help empower you to achieve your own greatness–from within you!  What are you capable of?

Joanna Lumley on how to live your life and make it glorious, darling

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Some More Striver Philosophy

I find it really interesting that people who have success and freedom in their holistic goals seem to have really similar perspectives: constant innovation, positivism, and teamwork–and they will ask for help when need be. Refer back to Leader Jim Fraser’s sound clip from 2010 (click here for it), and you’ll hear more about how these traits will make you stronger; and challenge you to accomplish great things.

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Some Striver Philosophy

Always be happy, just never satisfied!



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