Femke had a shopping addiction: ‘I was eating more and more of their savings’

Femke (35), web designer, is single mother of Jet (11) and Roos (9):

“Interior perfumes and candles in all colors and scents. Phone cases – even for cell phones I’ve long since lost. Disney knick knacks for the girls. Hair accessories, scarves, conditioners, masks and black tights. A lot of tights: I think I still had fifty in the package. And that’s not even counting the clothes that I ordered almost by the dozen and that often hung in the closet unworn, with the price tags attached.

Distraction

I’ve always earned well and could easily spend money on pretty useless stuff, but after my divorce in 2018, all the brakes were released. Shopping offered me comfort and distraction. It was the cure for loneliness. My biggest pitfall? The promotional bins with non-food items at the supermarket, Bol.com and AliExpress. Especially in corona times when I couldn’t go to a physical clothing store or the Action.

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“Shopping was the cure for loneliness.”

When the girls were in bed, I hid behind my computer and went through my favorite web shops. On Ali I found nonsensical gadgets or cheap versions of expensive brands. Pokémon cards for the girls’ collection: not seven euros per pack, but a hundred tickets for the same amount. erasable pens; at the bookstore you paid six euros each, at Ali I had three for that money. I didn’t even care anymore that it took weeks before they were delivered, the cards turned out to be completely fake and the pens stopped working after one write, so that everything ended up in the trash can. I had already had my kick.

Euphoria

Buying put me in a daze. With an addiction like this, dopamine, a happiness chemical, seems to be released in your brain. Except it’s just like with alcohol and drugs: the highs last shorter and shorter and take more and more time. Sometimes I sat at my computer late into the night, endlessly searching for nice items. Then I lay awake half the night full of adrenaline and I was only half functioning at work. But actually, the euphoric feeling had already disappeared when I walked past the cash register or pressed order. When I got home or opened the delivered package, I felt empty and guilty.

“Not only did my own salary go up, I also used my daughters’ savings.”

Why had I spent so much money? I couldn’t even afford it. Not only did my own salary go into nonsense purchases, I also used my daughters’ alimony and savings. My ex Daan and I had opened a savings account for them when the girls were born, which we put money into every month. After the divorce we stopped doing that, but the ‘savings passbooks’ with just under 10,000 euros on them fell under my management from that moment on.

Daan trusted me to spend it on things we had agreed in the divorce settlement. To school trips or expensive extras. He obviously didn’t mean a Frozen princess dress or my umpteenth little black dress. But as much as I hate to admit it, I did. Especially when my own savings ran out and I was increasingly overdrawn. In order not to look like a joker at the supermarket with ‘insufficient balance’, I always snacked on the children’s savings.

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shopping addiction

At the lowest point of my addiction I had zero savings, a arrears of 1500 euros with Klarna and After-Pay and more than 5000 euros from the children ‘borrowed’. Still, it took me a long time to realize that something serious was wrong with me. We lived frugally, I skimped on luxury. Vacation and eating out was not possible. I made pizza myself when the girls complained if we could take away pizza, because it was cheaper.

I didn’t repent until last January. My oldest daughter had a friend’s birthday party and wanted to buy her a ten euro gift card. But that really wasn’t possible. The month had just started, but my entire salary was already gone. I had to get the girls’ savings again. This couldn’t go on any longer.

The realization that I had come a long way came when I did online shopping addiction tests. I scored very high and was in the danger zone, because of my indomitable urge to buy and my exorbitant spending pattern. The best thing was to go to therapy, I read everywhere. Yet I didn’t. The thought of having to spend money on professional help held me back. I didn’t. Nor did I have any underlying traumas or a bad childhood that I would like to talk about. I thought I should be able to solve it myself.

“The thought of having to spend money on professional help held me back.”

I did read everything on the subject and followed the tips of experts. For example, I immediately went naked and told my environment about my problem. I found that difficult, although my parents and friends were thankfully understanding. The hardest part was the conversation with my ex. I confessed to Daan that I had looted the savings accounts. He was obviously not happy. I promised that I would work on myself and pay off everything.

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Special jars

I stuck to that. At first I imposed a number of rules on myself. I returned the items that could be returned with lead in the shoes. I have canceled my accounts at webshops. I couldn’t completely give up the physical shopping; after all, the children still had to have clothes and things for school and shopping I couldn’t skip. But I was only allowed to pay in cash. Once every three months I pinned the girls’ child benefit and put it in an envelope ‘Jet & Roos’. If they needed underwear or sneakers, I could buy them with that.

“I even begged for tea lights from my mother, for fear that I could not control myself in Blokker.”

The household money also went into a special wallet, intended for food. This allowed me to pay off my debts faster and I had a clear limit. It worked. Also because I felt the eyes of Daan and my parents prick my back if I only deviated from the fresh produce department. I even begged for tea lights from my mother, for fear that I could not control myself in Blokker and would come home with half the candle assortment.

The straight path

It’s now been ten months since I started managing my addiction – I’m not saying I’m cured on purpose. I believe I will always be addicted, but I have it under control. Last week I repaid Jet and Roos’ savings account to my ex to the last cent. Daan is now the manager, he didn’t trust me anymore. Justifiably. Recently I have used my holiday pay and bonus to pay off my debts with companies and I have transferred 500 euros to Daan every month to top up the savings. At the last deposit I did a happy dance.

It’s so shameful when you steal money from your kids. That can keep me awake at night. But as an addict you push your limits almost shamelessly. The urge to buy was greater than my guilt. Now I can look at that better. I never want to end up in that situation again and that is a huge motivation to stay on the right path.”

This article appears in Kek Mama 16-2021.

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