When borrowing needs therapy

The classic sign of someone in the dangerzone is when they start planning current buying from future earnings.

Max Healthcare Print Edition: December 14, 2006


Many find shopping therapeutic, but when shopping needs therapy, it’s time for the doctor’s prescription in the domain of conspicuous consumption. To buy more than we can afford, more than we need, and sometimes, even more than we want, is natural. More so, theteasing guilt that tells us we have gone overboard. But when guilt spins off to depression, careening you into the very act that makes you depressed, this over-shopping, over-buying cycle is termed a disorder. We call it oniomania—compulsive shopping and borrowing. It would be difficult to find anyone, especially in the marketing  field to admit that such a thing even exists.

Nevertheless, my profession does recognise it. Oniomania is not an addiction or greed. It is a form of self-medication against depression. The human mind craves the stimulation of new and different things. In oniomaniacs, it is shopping that sates that “need”. Unfortunately, it’s usually followed by a strong sense of guilt or a feeling of being out of control which causes the patient to revert to shopping to relieve the self
from the ensuing guilt.

Almost every other patient of oniomania is the young Indian who wants all materialistic pleasures of life real quick. In addition, they wish to project an urbane flamboyant image of themselves. My experience shows that oniomaniacs live on credit. They become unclear about their financial situation and become oblivious to account balances, monthly expenses, loan interest rates, fees, fines and even contractual obligations. They feed off borrowings; from banks, seedy lenders, relatives and everybody who has money to give.

It does not mean borrowing or buying on credit is the first sign of oniomania. For instance, rather than wait for a bank balance of Rs 7 lakh to buy your dream car, you can pay a reasonable upfront and pay the balance as manageable EMIs. Many people have demonstrated that good credit discipline can help an individual achieve many financial goals.

But, there is a very thin line of differentiation and there is always the tendency to stray into the danger zone and get sucked further into the mire. The classic sign of someone living in the danger zone is when they start planning current buying from future earnings. Imagine a scenario when one starts to plan spending the entire next month's salary even before it has hit the bank account.

Sadly, the thrill of the bill fades soon and often people with oniomania find it the hard way that they no more acquire things, things acquire them. The best way to curb temptation is to avoid situations when they are likely to overwhelm you. Here are a few tips:

1.Don’t carry credit cards unless a particular purchase warrants one.
2. Don’t carry a cheque book unless absolutely necessary.
3. Carry a limited amount of cash with you.
4. Don’t “window shop”. That’s like to going to a bar to “just look” when you are a recovering alcoholic.
5. Don’t play games with your money. When you have to try to justify purchases, you know you are out of control.

It is best if those close to these patients talk it out with them and help them understand the impeding financial difficulties arising from their compulsive buying. That is, of course, bebefore a medical bill finally cures them of the “thrill”.

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