The average American has about three credit cards and knows how to use them -- on average, a cardholder owes almost $16,000 on their plastic [source: Woolsey]. Compulsive shoppers have, on average, the same number of cards as the rest of us but the difference is that they're more likely to maintain balances between $100 to $500 shy of each card's maximum limit [source: Koran]. They shop excessively and impulsively, typically making their purchases on credit.
What's excessive? Treating yourself to that pair of luxurious new boots you've had your eye on may feel excessive and unnecessary, especially if you're on a tight budget, but compulsive shoppers might buy five, 10 or even 20 pairs of those boots without hesitation. Some shopaholics shop for the thrill of the purchase no matter what the item is. Others may have specific shopping preferences -- consider the 2,000 to 3,000 pairs of shoes former first lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos had collected, for example.