Shopping Gone Wrong

In 2009, the vice president of finance for the electronics company Koss was fired after it was discovered she had been embezzling money from the company. Sujata Sachdeva had been stealing millions of dollars for years, using it to buy expensive jewelry and furs and to pay off credit card debt. Sachdeva claimed to be a serious shopaholic with a $650,000 per week habit. When all was said and done, the total she is thought to have stolen from her former employer was close to $31 million [source: Singleton].

Have you ever been called a "shopaholic" because you'll hit the mall at the drop of a hat? It turns out that shopping addiction is a real thing, and it affects about 1 in 20 people [source: Gordon]. This addiction, also called oniomania, can be destructive, and not just to your bank account.

So what do you get from compulsive shopping other than a new pair of shoes? What's going on is that shopping makes you feel good: The body releases endorphins that stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain, making you happy and reinforcing your shopping habit. What's addictive is this high that comes with making purchases [source: Hatfield]. Another reason some shopaholics take to the stores is to soothe away negative emotions, like sadness and depression, giving meaning to the phrase "retail therapy."

But how do you know when your shopping habit has spiraled out of control? One of the most obvious signs is continually spending outside of your budget. Compulsive shoppers may have a spending limit in mind, but lack the self-control to stay within it. And it happens time and time again, not just once or twice. Shopaholics also often convince themselves that they actually need the things they're buying, even if they don't. Some shopping addicts even go to lengths to hide evidence of their shopping, whether that means stashing purchases or hiding bank statements, in fear that others will make them feel guilty about it.