It's all about the money

Hi, my name is Chloe, and I’m a shopaholic.

Despite my parents’ best efforts and a financial literacy test I took in grade 12, I could be much better at managing my money. It’s not that I don’t know how. I’ve successfully operated my life on a budget before. But it took coming to the brink of financial semi-ruin to do so.

I’ve written before about my struggles with mental illness, but what wasn’t mentioned was the relationship between depression and how I spend my money. Without going into too much detail: in third year, I was romantically rejected at a time when I was beginning to struggle with money and then completely fell down the rabbit hole.

I spent so much of the money my parents had given me that I didn’t have enough to pay my rent. I was ashamed of what I was doing but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

Eventually, I told my parents and they worked with me to figure out how to make a budget and stick to it. I tried very hard to rein in my impulses, and I improved. But the worst part was not even remembering what I spent that money on.

I don’t remember because it didn’t matter, really. I was sad and depressed and I thought that I could fill the emptiness inside of me with things. I told myself that if something was going wrong in my life, I could at least be nice to myself and buy myself something I wanted.

That philosophy hasn’t really gone away, even though I know the consequences. It’s hard not to give into my desires when everything in my life seems to be conspiring against me: my job is rough, and my social life revolves around coffee and the mall.

So when, the week before Reading Week, I had less than $200 in my bank account, I knew it was time to do something a little more drastic than collecting receipts.

When I got back from the break, I went for seven days without spending any money except on absolute necessities.

When I started the challenge on Feb. 24, I set myself certain ground rules:

— No spending on anything except necessities from Tuesday, Feb. 24 to Monday, March 2.

— Necessities are limited to groceries and household items, i.e., toilet paper or soap.

— I can’t ask someone to buy me something on the condition I’ll pay them back. If someone buys me something, there’s no obligation for repayment. It’s a gift, not a loan.

— I’m only carrying my credit card this week, in case of emergency. No debit card, no cash, no change.

And then I began.

Tuesday, Feb. 24

1:45 p.m.

I forgot I had to start this challenge today. Luckily, I’ve bought nothing. I still had to message people who I was supposed to buy things off of and say, “Can we meet next week? SORRY!” I feel terrible.

Wednesday, Feb. 25

9:30 a.m.

I wake up with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. I drink a smoothie and pop two extra-strength Tylenol and wonder if it’s possible to experience physical withdrawal from shopping.

11:24 a.m.

On my way to my seminar, I cut through the ARC and pass the Tim Horton’s express line. Normally, I would be evaluating it to see if I have time to grab something before class. I wouldn’t have time.

12:57 p.m.

My seminar lets out for a break. My first instinct is to go buy a hot chocolate. Or a coffee. I think a coffee would fix my headache, but I can’t buy it and I have no idea what I’m going to do.

3:45 p.m.

I go to my best friend’s house, where I sit on her bedroom floor and take two more extra-strength Tylenol. Rachael wants to go to Starbucks. I remind her I can’t spend money. She points out the presence of money on my Starbucks card, saying I’ve technically already spent it — this is just redistributing it. I buy the argument, and also a coffee.

5 p.m.

My headache is gone, suggesting to me that I was suffering caffeine withdrawal. This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the week.

Thursday, Feb. 26

10:45 a.m.

I’ve been saving a Tim’s Roll Up The Rim winner for the last two weeks, knowing I would need the free coffee today, because today is the worst of days: a press day.

Chloë, the Journal’s Lifestyle Editor, accuses me of cheating.

It ‘s hurtful.

1:30 a.m.

The News section is done earlier than usual on press day. I didn’t leave the Journal house at all. Maybe that’s the secret to finishing early — no coffee runs.

Friday, Feb. 27

2 p.m.

I want a coffee. So badly. I told my friend I would go to the mall with her and there’s literally nothing I’ve ever wanted the way I want to buy an overpriced caffeinated drink.

I know in my heart that if I had my debit card on me, I would buy Tim’s. I even think to myself, “Chloë would never know.”

Sunday, Mar. 1

11:10 a.m.

I meet Leandra Guillet at CoGro to talk shopping. Guillet, ArtSci ’16, has a fashion and style blog and says she’s a shopping addict — though her definition doesn’t quite match the usual interpretation.

“I would say definitely a shopping addict in the sense of when I shop I don’t always buy, buying and shopping are two different things for me,” she said.

“I could endlessly window-shop and online-shop, but the actual purchasing is sometimes like, I need a job.”

At this point, Guillet said, she has her spending in check thanks to a combination of past experience and rules for spending.

“When I am working, I do this rule where I will subtract the price based on how many times I can actually see myself wearing an item,” she said.

If it’s an investment piece that will last a long time, she’s more willing to pay a lot. If it’s something trendy or frivolous or very expensive, she won’t buy it.

“That’s pretty much how I budget it. I basically look at, ‘is this something practical, will I actually use it?’” she said.

“I try to avoid trends as much as I can and sort of focus on my aesthetic instead.”

While she’s never put any of her basic necessities in danger from overspending, and she’s dependent on her parents, there was a period of time when Guillet was younger when she was a “huge impulse shopper”.

“I ran into huge debt with my parents because I’d borrow money from them and they’ve always taught me to pay off my debt with them, which is great, but it sucks sometimes because you’re like, ‘I don’t even wear half of this stuff, why did I buy it in the first place?’” she said.

Being on a student budget — she doesn’t work while at school — and living in Kingston has also taught her to spend more wisely.

Near the end of our talk, she said something I can definitely identify with: “For me, when I look nice I feel a lot better, especially when I’m stressed and it’s midterm season and I’m just super homesick and sad and miserable, and I’m like, ‘at least I look nice — small victory!’”

11:30 a.m.

At a coding workshop, I eat three and a half donuts.

They’re free.

Monday, Mar. 2

11 a.m.

I meet my therapist and tell her about the challenge. Most of our hour-long session is me just talking at her. She doesn’t say much, just lets me go on.

I’ve had a lot of time to myself over the weekend to think, and I tell her about the conclusions that I’ve come to: I have poor impulse control (which I theorize, and later confirm, is connected to depression, OCD and anxiety); I’m a little uncomfortable with the push and pull between being a leftist who is also very much a materialist; and I’m just really bad at saying no to myself.

I could buy makeup at the drugstore, but I honestly just like the cachet of name-brand items.

If I’m being totally honest, every time I talk about overspending, it centres on cosmetics. I don’t buy books often anymore. I don’t buy DVDs or CDs. I don’t even really buy clothes. It’s all expensive makeup.

My therapist does say something good about me, which is that I’m self-aware: I can recognize the contradiction between my desire to smash capitalism but also to own a lot of pretty things.

She’s intrigued by my story about the headache-fixing coffee. My personal theory is that because some Tylenol products contain caffeine, caffeine fixes headaches, meaning it’s legit to drink coffee when my head hurts. I’m also afraid of becoming resistant to Tylenol’s effects.

She takes my pseudoscience in stride, and tells me two things: what the coffee actually fixed was probably a migraine, and caffeine is often present in over-the-counter medication in order to combat the drowsiness-causing side effects

of codeine.

When I leave her office, my first thought is: I wish I could go to Tim’s right now.

I think a lot about it on the walk home. What is it that really drives my impulsive spending? Definitely poor impulse control — classic North American materialism. All these pretty things in front of me.

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