“To Buy Or Not To Buy,” by April Lane Benson, PhD

To Buy Or Not To Buy. April Lane Benson.A new book offers help to those caught up in the painful compulsion to over-shop, from advice on how to untangle the financial mess that results from living beyond one’s means, to exercises for uncovering the unmet needs that drive the addiction to over-consume.

“For every Imelda Marcos — who fled the Philippines leaving behind more than three thousand pairs of shoes — there are countless unknown overshoppers: a businessman whose collection of fountain pens has grown obsessive; a language teacher whose closets are stuffed with unworn, still-tagged garments; a waitress who’s succumbed to the Jewelry Television Network.”

April Lane Benson, PhD has written a self-help book that could quite easily be transposed to other addictions. But, this book is written specifically for the overshopper who is motivated to change their own addictive behavior. To Buy Or Not To Buy is more of a workbook than simply an explanation of overshopping. As such, there are specific exercises to follow, journaling, and a healthy dose of honest self-reflection required for the reader hoping to finish this text. Benson also points out that a significant measure of patience with the effort and with oneself is necessary.

Title: To Buy Or Not To Buy
Author: April Lane Benson, PhD
Publisher: Shambhala/Trumpeter Books
ISBN: 978-1-59030-599-7
Available from: Shambhala and Amazon.com.

Right from the beginning the reader is asked to take on some substantial work; there are questions to consider/answer, there are shopping myths to examine, and there are shopping behaviors to identify — all with the aim of helping the reader identify traits they may be unaware of. This work is intensified in the second chapter by looking at emotional/psychological triggers for overshopping and the fallout that inevitably results. Inventories, matrices, and journaling exercises lead the reader to better understand the mechanisms at work in their own overshopping behavior. The third chapter ties this work together by having the reader sketch a portrait of their overshopping self-image, really asking that a close look be taken so as to see and understand that the behavior is not the person, it is a behavioral profile. With this identity groundwork laid out the text turns to ways of changing.

 Right from the beginning the reader is asked to take on some substantial work  

Chapter four digs into the often delicate matter of sorting one’s financial tangle, the wreckage that usually accompanies overshopping. In some ways this chapter is the most straight-forward, and for many will provide the first outwardly visible change others close to the overshopper will see. As with prior chapters there are exercises and journaling work to help the overshopper move forward. Putting one’s finances in order can be both liberating and exhilarating, feelings that are generally noticeable by anyone paying attention.

Now we come to the heart of the matter, dealing with unmet needs, the root of the overshopping behavior. For many this will be a delicate subject requiring much sensitivity and kindness, compassion even. But, readers who have come this far and done the work prescribed earlier will have started to develop the understanding and patience that fosters momentum. Chapter six turns the magnifying glass away from the reader for a moment to look at how society is permeated by and buys [sic] into consumerism, how marketing aims specifically at luring us all into spending money. This chapter also draws upon the self-knowledge developed in earlier chapters in order to de-magnetize the places and feelings that repeatedly snare the overshopper. This sets the reader up to consider shopping more mindfully and with greater intentionality.

 The heart of the matter [is] dealing with unmet needs  

Chapters eight and nine dive back into the space of personal experience, looking in detail at what the body, heart, mind, and soul are doing/not doing when overshopping is occurring, and considering the consequences for living more fully in the present moments that make up our lives. The work here continues with the aim of building a vocabulary for identifying and describing our experience, in itself valuable for everyone not just overshoppers. Lastly, there is a chapter to brace the reader for overshopping lapses and/or relapse. Included are preventative exercises and journaling methods to prepare for the likelihood of resolve slipping or being overwhelmed by unforeseen circumstances.

Weaknesses of the book are few and relatively minor. They include the author, early on, citing a study that men are as likely to be overshoppers as are women, but failing to use a balance of examples to back the assertion. The first chapter lists six gendered examples of overshopper types, five of which are female. As the text progresses this ratio evens out at close to 7:1 making the reading easier for women than for men. The cover also is designed to appeal more to women than men. Another weakness — perhaps glitch is a better term here — is that the author offers the reader seductively easy access to obtaining a shopping journal, buying a ready made journal from the author’s website, ‘if they prefer.’ This seems ill-advised for one trying to help others curb an overshopping habit.

In spite of these two very minor complaints, To Buy Or Not To Buy is well thought out, well written, and contains a great deal of useful, sensible, and wise advice. More than that, it offers an effective and personal method for grappling with the very modern problem overshopping has become. More than thirty years ago Erich Fromm wrote To Have Or To Be, pointing out the alarming trend of materialism in Western culture. Today, April Lane Benson, PhD, provides the very necessary tools each of us can take up to regain our sense of self and worth in the face of this maddening materialism that is overshopping.

Priyamitra was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 2005.

He lives in Spokane, Washington where he is active as a prison Dharma volunteer. Previously, he worked in a variety of jobs, as diverse as software-tester and hanglider test-pilot.

In February and March 2009 he fulfilled a life-long ambition of going on pilgrimage in south Asia.

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