Could You Have a Money Disorder?

If money controls you, the reason could be deeper than a lack of willpower.

Your problems with money could be deeper than you realize.

The act of shopping and spending money is a normal activity that we all in engage in. But for some, it can become an obsession that leads to hoarding or compulsive overspending. How do you know if you just need a dose of will power or if you have a serious problem with money? Black Enterprise sat down with Sally Palaian, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in addictive behaviors and an expert on money disorders. Palaian, who is also the author of Spent: Break the Buying Obsession and Discover Your True Worth ($14.95; Hazelden Publishing) offered some answers.

What is a money disorder?
A money disorder is when someone is out of control with their finances and they’re doing dysfunctional things with their money. It could be self-destructive behaviors that are not in line with their values. It could be actions that cause them to get into serious financial trouble.

Is there any way to know if you have a money disorder?
If it’s getting worse over time, and you’ve tried to stop but you can’t. You try to change your behavior but you just can’t seem to change it, no matter what the financial outcome is. Another sign: You’re lying or trying to conceal your behavior from others. Your behavior could start out to be normal (e.g. buying a dress), but then you could fall into a slippery place and eventually get completely out of control and form an addiction (e.g. buying every dress in the store and then hiding your purchases from your spouse).

What would you say to people who don’t believe money disorders exist?
I would tell naysayers to look around. You’ve got people with all kinds of credit card debt, people who have lost their homes because of being overextended, people buying things they really can’t afford, and people who can’t stop spending or shopping. Financial disorders are classified as such because money is the substance as opposed to alcohol, drugs, or sex. The object is money.

If someone thinks he or she might have a problem with money what’s the first step?
Seek out a therapist whose specialty is addictions. However, those with financial disorders often don’t have enough money for therapy, so they might need to start with a 12-step program. In this case, seek out a program like Debtor’s Anonymous or Spenders Anonymous. They need to start telling someone the truth about what is going on with them. That’s the beginning of any recovery program.

Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.

Art by Dave Wheeler

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