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The International Writers Magazine
: Lifestyle Issues

Shopping obsession: is it our fault?
Amy Barlow

In today’s world it is becoming impossible to escape the idea that ‘Image is everything’. Television advertisements shouting "Buy this new car and it will make you complete" or promising that happiness will be found if you look a certain way. Ideas like these are plastered everywhere, you can’t run, you can’t hide, they catch you twenty foot high on billboards, booming from TV ads in the break of your favourite shows, everywhere you look in the retail world somebody is promising that their product will be the one, it will change your life.

Promoted by slender attractive models or gorgeous celebrities, it’s etched into your subconscious, without realising you have caught the virus. A way of thought that leaves you wanting more, yearning for the next best thing, and tragically never happy with what you have. Could it be that the youth of today are growing up in a culture that instills this belief? Enforcing the idea that happiness is to be found in the form of the latest trainers or mobile phone. This way of thought leads to an obsessive need for material possessions, in some cases this can take the form of a spending addiction, a shopping bug that is causing debt figures to skyrocket.

Spending obsessions are rapidly developing causing more and more people to borrow money as they find that funding the habit is too hard. Financial organisations such as credit card companies are really the only ones who are benefiting from this epidemic, making millions of pounds profit from the interest they charge. If you can’t afford to have everything you want, they have the solution. Disguised in a beautiful piece of plastic that you can even personalise with your own photo of the kids or your favourite movie star, dept sugar-coated. They bombard you with offers you can’t refuse, praying on the shopping addicted, the people who truly believe that even if they don’t have the money now, they will have one day, false notions that they will easily be able to pay it off at a later date.

I confess, I was sucked in by the credit card monsters, cries of interest free for 12 months and all the stick on goodies they tempt you into the cake shop with. "It’s ok," I told myself "it’s only for emergencies". I failed to see that my definition of an emergency was the new outfit that I had to get, along with the shoes, bag and jewellery that matched. World War Three would break out in my bedroom, clothes fly like missiles through the air, cries of " I have absolutely nothing to wear, I wore that last week, I haven’t got any clothes" would explode from a red face that truly believes (and I know all you ladies have been there) it’s the end of the world. Out comes your plastic friend and before you can say half price sale you are descending into the land of no return - a shopping obsession and a giant credit card balance.

Even if you go shopping with the best of intentions, just to have a look, without knowing it you are walking into the retail trap. Hidden in the stores layout are devices to catch you out, without you realising they are getting inside your head, manipulating you to spend money even though you have no need to. Oh yes, the shops got smart, using psychological research into how our minds work, they have set their layout to stun mode. Here’s the classic example, they know that when you walk into the store the first thing that catches your eye is most likely to be the item that you will purchase. They locate these magic spots on the shop floor and place the items that aren’t selling so well there, hey presto they will all sell out within a day. It sounds crazy but its true, even if you think you are strong willed and not manipulated they will have caught you out at some point. Innocent shoppers completely oblivious to the fact that the marketing giants are controlling them, months later they will find the book, jumper or gadget at the back of a cupboard and wonder what possessed them to buy it. Now you know!

Even the colours and placing of signs in shops can direct you to the products that end up in your basket, combine these factors with a smiley over enthusiastic sales person and there is no going back, the walls close in, the secret escape shoot is locked and the mantra of the credit card begins, spend me, spend me. You know the sort of assistant I mean, you’ re standing there in the changing rooms cringing in the mirror at the most disgusting pair of jeans you’ve ever tried on, they make your ass look like a balloon, are too short and slice giant grooves into your flesh with every movement. Then they pounce, exclamations of "Oooooo, they look gorgeous!" you stare in disbelief and wonder if she is actually seeing what you are. Before you know it you are surrounded by them "oooing" and "aaahing" passing you the belt and shoes that go really well with the horrific trousers, making it impossible for you to politely decline without seeming ungrateful, and once again you wave goodbye the money that you haven’t got.

Have the shopping addicted just become pawns for the big people? Trapped in life where a black spot on the horizon is constantly edging closer. The dreaded time when the interest free period runs out and then the monthly payment doubles, we can’t find the extra cash so end up with another card to pay the balance of the first one, it’s a downhill spiral. Meanwhile the credit card directors lean back in their giant leather chairs, rub their hands together and smirk at the profit they will make.
Who’s going to blame them for being smug when we can be steered around the stores who can pretty much guarantee that at least one of the traps will catch us, they are in control. Then out comes the card, and the fateful reassurance that it won’t matter, I will pay it off a couple of months. How can we avoid it? As impossible as it seems it just takes will power, to only spend the money that you have and to instantly tear up the credit card forms as soon as they fall through the letterbox. More than anything it’s the realisation that happiness is a state of mind, not to be found in the form of material objects and never satisfied by the next best thing.
© Amy Barlow April 2005
(UK Credit Card debt stands at 19 billion pounds in 2005)

Amy is a Creative Writing student at Portsmouth University.

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