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The question

I feel like I'm drowning in debt this Christmas. I've been a little out of control, I admit, spending way beyond my means on things for myself, particularly clothes. I've been trying to hide it from my boyfriend and pretending to have more money than I do. I even offered to buy him a $500 watch he's got his eye on. He ordered it, and it's coming to the jewellers, and he's expecting it as his Christmas present, but I've spent so much on myself I can't afford it any more! Should I get it for him and go further into debt or tell him I have to get him something more modest this year?

The answer

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As a card-carrying (recovering) shopaholic myself, I can feel your pain, sister.

I, too, know the peculiar shame of attempting to slither past your spouse with a fresh purchase and toss it in the closet - where it might sometimes remain for weeks (or at least days) out of guilt.

I, too, have lied about prices - and been busted when my wife found the receipt.

Shopaholism is a terrible disease. One of the most insidious things about it, I've always felt, is that unlike other -holisms (e.g. work, alco, choco) the deeper it has you in its clutches, the better you look.

But obviously you need to get this thing under control, because it won't matter how fabulous you look if you wind up tossing and turning in a refrigerator box.

Tell your boyfriend you have this problem and need his help. Give him your credit card and tell him not to let you use it no matter how much you beg for a set period of time, e.g. three months.

Then tell yourself you're happy with your "look," and start using whatever money comes in to pay down your debts.

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Go thrifty this Christmas! We're all probably going to have to tighten our belts anyway, if economists' predictions are right, and a big pin is coming from the future toward the bubble we've been living in.

No time like the present to start!

I'm sure when your boyfriend sees you taking all these belt-tightening measures he'll decide he can live without a $500 watch for a while - or else buy it himself.

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