I wonder if you could help settle a little dispute between me and my wife. She thinks she's the female Santa Claus, distributing gifts to boys and girls of all ages. I think she's a shopaholic. Her illness first came to my attention when we began dating, four years ago. She mentioned that she'd bounced a check recently, and I thought that was weird since she makes a pretty nice salary. Well, come to find out, she bounced checks all the time because she never balanced her checkbook. And when I agreed to take a look at her finances (I'm a CPA, although I practice law for a living), I was astounded at her carelessness. Although she had plenty of money in savings, she nevertheless ran up huge credit-card bills. I was also astounded at her sheer ability to spend. Her monthly clothing 'allowance' was higher than my rent.
I must admit that I found this all rather charming at the time. She's a very vivacious person, and it just seemed like part of her free spirit. But I insisted on a prenuptial agreement, so that if she went down I didn't go down with her. And I offered to keep track of her financial affairs, let her know when things were getting completely out of hand. She graciously accepted, and our little system works very well 10 months out of the year. But starting in November, when the siren call of Christmas can be heard in the distance, she goes haywire. Virtually everyone she knows gets something, and those closest to her get many things. I make out like a bandit, except I feel like I'm stealing from myself, since I invariably have to loan her money to pay for it all.
That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that she refuses to admit she has a problem. She says this is the one time when she's able to let people know how much she appreciates them. She also points out that a third of what she spends is deductible as a business expense. Fine, she makes the money, so she should be allowed to spend it however she chooses. But I wonder whether her behavior is altogether healthy. When she comes home from one of her 'expeditions,' weighed down with plunder, she seems higher than a kite. But in January, when it's all behind her, she sinks into a depression.
What do you think? Shopaholic, right? I thought so.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Credit: The only case of shopaholism I've ever encountered was when my dear mother, in the weeks leading up to her death, went on a mad spending spree, enhancing the Home Shopping Network's quarterly earning statement while filling her guest bedroom with stack upon stack of unopened boxes. 'Mom,' I wanted to say, 'you can't take it with you.' But she knew that. It was herself she was trying to keep from being taken away. As long as she was shopping, she wasn't dropping.
Likewise, your wife may have some psychic disturbance she's trying to salve by presenting presents to all those present. Maybe she thinks the Beatles were right: You can buy me love. Or maybe the recipients are a foil, a way for her to indulge her shopaholic tendencies without drawing undue attention to herself. The mood swings seem relevant. Of course, we all experience mood swings around the holidays. And we all become a bit of a shopaholic. I don't envy your position, Credit: It's like trying to spot a lush on St. Patrick's Day.
Here's what I'd keep an eye out for: 1) Does she buy things she herself would admit she doesn't need? 2) Does she buy things she doesn't bother to open? 3) Does she try to keep it a secret? 4) Does she feel guilty afterwards? And last but certainly not least, 5) Is there any way I could get added to her Christmas list?
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping for: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.