This is a sponsored post written by Claire Murdough
Quick – name a famous shopaholic! I’m immediately thinking of Cher from Clueless, or Carrie Bradshaw, or that movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” or one of the many TV shows that include a girl equipping herself with an armful of shopping bags after a breakup or family crisis. And I’m thinking… hmm, now that doesn’t seem right… where are all the dudes?
A quick and trusty Merriam-Webster dictionary check defines a Shopaholic as: “a person who shops compulsively or very frequently.”
What the simple definition above leaves out, however, is how society tends to define the shopaholic. Which seems – at least as evidenced in movies, TV shows, and books – to almost always be a female character weighed down with bags and swiping a credit card quicker than she (or her husband or father) can fill her bank account. This typical version of the shopaholic racks up a mountain of debt and usually comes across as lacking in either willpower or financial literacy.
So where did the stereotype come from?
It’s long been considered a pinnacle of financial success to reach a position where you can spend money rather than make it. In many ways, that means that “shopaholic” behavior has often been equated with a kind of “status symbol” in society. And while it’s not a new stereotype, it’s definitely grown more prevalent as consumer advertising has become an all-encompassing part of our lives. Used in society today, it’s more likely to be linked to compulsive shopping and consequently, excess debt.
Why the shopaholic stereotype presents a problem
Right or wrong, women are often assumed to be on the “shopper” side of a relationship – regardless of the reality. With women as the main “characters” of these shopaholic showcases, that results in some pretty unfortunate associations with a woman’s relationship to finance.
To be honest, even knowing that the shopaholic wasn’t generally a very flattering portrayal of women’s financial literacy, I hadn’t previously considered just how harmful the term could be. I also didn’t quite notice how common it was. That is, until I started looking for it. Once I kept an eye out, I was blown away by the prevalence. It’s everywhere.
Ad after ad (especially those featuring couples) shows the woman buying and the man cautioning against the purchase or sighing and pulling out a credit card. So why does this present a bigger problem? Because the truth is much more egalitarian. Women aren’t always the spenders. What’s more, they aren’t simply spiraling into debt from shopping at the mall. Being in debt is not necessarily indicative of a spendy personality. These two falsehoods – that all debt is the result of undisciplined spending and that women are always the big spenders – create a dangerous cocktail of judgment that many women unfairly must face.
Debt and shopaholic tendencies are not inextricably linked
Credit card debt isn’t just for “shopaholics” out there. You can like shopping without being in debt, and you can be in debt without having a love of shopping. While an overeager credit card habit could be the impetus, six digit debt is more likely to occur due to graduate school or even medical expenses.
People (not just women) who are in debt are often in the position due to things outside of designer sunglasses and the like. Me, for instance. I’m categorized as a full-fledged millennial, and like so many others in my bracket I entered into the workforce with a hefty amount of debt following college graduation. $24,000 in the red to be precise. That debt has absolutely nothing to do with a penchant for shopping.
The truth of the matter is, a large majority of people who carry debt are impacted by:
- medical debt
- mortgage payments
- education costs
- catastrophic disaster
- cost associated with care of family members
Assuming those who are in debt are those with the most credit card charges only adds even more stigma to the debt.
According to a study highlighted at Daily Finance,
- On average, 60% of women carry a balance on a credit card at some point
- On average, 55% of men carry a balance on a credit card at some point
- Men carried an average of $12,953 in debt
- Women carried an average of $11,486 in debt
Overall it’s clear – we’re all pretty close when it the numbers in debt and debt doesn’t discriminate against gender or cause.
How to smash the stereotype
Even today, debt is still considered a four letter word in our society – despite the fact that nearly every single person will accumulate some sort of debt over the course of their life. But because money is considered a taboo topic, the hush hush nature puts those seeking financial help at a serious disadvantage. Why? Because one of the best ways to spread financial literacy is to talk about it. Not joke about shopaholics. Not sweep debt under the rug. But by talking about and sharing resources and conversation. Financial knowledge is empowering. And that’s something that translates to all ages and genders. When you consider that only 40 years ago, women weren’t legally allowed to apply for their own credit card, you can see the bounds that have already been achieved. But, that milestone took effort and it took talking about. Just like the image of debt will take time to lose it’s stigma for for the word debt to shake the image of an overspending woman. We’re definitely not living in a debtless society.
Pay off your debt, continue the conversation
Debt is nothing to be ashamed of. As we saw above, it affects a huge number of people in the U.S. If you’re in debt – for whatever reason – and ready to kick it to the curb, then efficiency and financial check-ins are key. This is why taking advantage of financial tools comes in handy. While it’s great to talk about debt, it remains a pretty unfun thing to have to think about all the time. By paying off your debt in the most effective way possible you can ensure you don’t spend more time (or money) than necessary on your debt. To pay off debt even faster:
- Use the avalanche method to pay off the highest interest rate first, and then target the next highest interest rate and so on.
- Opt for bi-weekly payments which can save you TONS over the life of your loan (you can check out the impact of bi-weekly payments with this handy calculator)
- Automate your payments to avoid missing a scheduled payment
- Track your credit score to ensure that you maintain (or are trending in the right direction) a sense of what creditor’s might see and to protect against financial fraud
ReadyForZero is an excellent tool to help with all of the aforementioned steps.
Removing the stigma from debt, and facing it head on is just one step in the journey. But it’s certainly not the least of them all. Conquer your debt, spread financial literacy, and shatter the shopaholic stereotype while you’re at it. It’s about time for all three to lose their taint!
Claire is a writer at ReadyForZero. She’s a Bay Area native with an affinity for travel, food, and happiness who enjoys writing on topics that help people to gain control of their finances and personal goals.