For the most part, I’ve managed to conquer my shopping addiction. Sure, I buy random things every now and then, but on a much smaller scale than I did in the past. After nearly 18 months of (mostly) good behavior, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much I’ve really overcome. And other times, I remember all too well that it takes more than a year or two to recover from mistakes, especially financial ones.
Yesterday I was looking at a book on Amazon (and convincing myself I didn’t need to buy it). I decided to look at my account history – you can see every single order you’ve ever placed, which is a pretty cool feature. As I was looking, I thought, I wonder how much money I’ve spent there over the years. I’m kind of a book addict, so I assumed I had spent at least $2,000 since I opened my account.
I went through each year, starting with 1999 when I placed my very first order with Amazon. And I nearly died when I added up the total I’ve spent since then.
My Amazon Spending History
After I finished having a miniature heart attack – $6,000 would nearly pay off my car loan! – I noticed something interesting about the amounts I spent. The four highest spending years I had were 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009. Guess what was going on in my life during those years?
- 2005: My grandmother died, I graduated from college, and I started graduate school
- 2006: I finished graduate school, found out my husband was having an affair, and filed for bankruptcy
- 2008: I began to crack under the pressure of trying to hold my marriage together
- 2009: I remodeled a house, moved, and got divorced
How funny that the evidence of my emotional spending is right there in black and white. During the four most stressful years of my life, I spent significantly more money than I did during the “calm” years. And that’s only one store that happens to provide a detailed history. What would I see if I could view my history at Old Navy, Walmart, Zappos, Goody’s, and Target? Probably the same pattern, only in larger amounts that would make me want to puke.
You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide!
I can still feel my face flushing as I type this. It is so embarrassing to remember my former self, furiously clicking and shopping and swiping in hopes of distracting myself from what I was going through. I do still own all the books I’ve purchased from Amazon, but it’s not like I look at them every day and say, “Now THAT is what got me through those rough patches!” I don’t credit them with making me who I am today. In fact, I don’t do that with any of the stuff I bought during those years.
So why was that stuff so vitally important to me back then? It didn’t contribute to my survival or well-being in any meaningful way. I can’t think of a single reason behind all that spending except attempting to escape. And it didn’t even work – my grandmother is still gone, I’m still recovering from infidelity, and I’m still divorced. I can’t run from my past, financial or otherwise, no matter how much I’d love to sometimes.
My spending history does not tell an accurate story of my life. If an outsider went through my finances, s/he would see a spendaholic. An impulse shopper. An irresponsible dumbass. And while I own all of those aspects of my past, I know I’m more than that, and I was more than that back then.
What Are You Leaving Behind?
Imagine that random people (or even your grandkids!) come across your financial records someday, long after you’re gone. What story will those records tell? Does your spending reflect who you are, or who you want to be someday? Or, like mine, does it make you seem like someone you’d rather not be?
I said a long time ago that you can’t erase bad memories. Not with time, not with money. What you can do, though, is create good memories to pile up on top of the bad ones. Eventually, the bad memories are squished under all the positive things you’ve done, and the positives win.
No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, there’s still time to recover. Changing your financial habits NOW can result in a spending history that doesn’t make you cringe, and a lifestyle that revolves around the important things – your relationships with people you care about, not how much junk you can buy. It’s those relationships that will sustain you during a crisis, whether or not you’re able to see that at the time.
If someone looked at your spending right now, would their assumptions about you fit who you really are? If not, what needs to change so that your finances more accurately reflect YOU and your values?