This is the our Real Money Talk series where we interview Australians from all walks of life about their personal finances.
This week we're talking to Emilie who developed a serious compulsive buying habit and accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt.
We've changed Emilie's name to protect her privacy.
Where do you live?
What is your current net worth?
How does it break down? (shares, real estate, businesses, home, superannuation , etc)
+$500 Spaceship Voyager account
+ $29,000 in superannuation
Any debts? (including HELP from Uni)
- I owe my parents $15,000
- $4,000 credit card debt
-$22,500 HECS (communications and media studies degree).
What do you earn now?
I’m on $90,000 a year, before tax and super.
My rent is $330 a week and I live in an apartment with one other girl.
I own my car (which cost me $6,000 around three years ago).
What was your first job?
My first job was in fashion PR at a boutique agency in Melbourne.
I went there straight after University when I was 23.
What was your starting salary and how did it grow from there?
It started at $55,000 and went up by $10,000 a year.
I left that agency at the beginning of the year and I had just started getting paid a $85,000 salary.
Did you feel like you were compensated fairly?
Yes, because the work is not that hard.
It’s difficult though, because when you work in fashion and go to a lot of events you kind of need new clothes all the time.
There are lots of judgemental people in fashion and lots of people come from money, so they have access to a lot.
There’s a real pressure to have new branded clothes and not really wear the same thing twice.
That ends up being incredibly expensive. Some firms give out a clothing allowance, but it’s really not much compared to how much designer clothes cost.
You can borrow and rent things from agencies or other people, but there’s a pressure to look and act a certain way.
What would you change about your job, if you could?
I was bullied at my workplace.
I went to the same school as a lot of the girls that worked in the industry, but was always on the outside.
To this day, I can’t really tell you why I was on the outside.
It got really bad where I wouldn’t be included on emails and invites and things and it meant I kept screwing up my job because I didn’t know a lot of things were happening.
That started pretty much right when I started my job and went the whole way through until I quit this year.
When did you first start thinking about money? What prompted you?
I have depression and anxiety.
And for a while, up until about April this year, my anxiety manifested in compulsive shopping.
It’s really hard to tell you about just how much stuff I was buying, mostly online, and how hard it got out of control.
I think it started from scrolling Instagram and Facebook constantly when I was 23 and just liking all the beautiful images and pictures. I found myself crossing roads, sitting down on benches in parks just to scroll through Instagram.
I would then switch to The Outnet and Farfetch (which are online clothing stores) and just scroll through dress after dress. I would add things to my wishlist and baskets.
For a while, I became fairly obsessed with curating a really cool wishlist but I wouldn’t buy many things because designer clothes are thousands of dollars. I maintained a Pinterest page and a public “wish list” Instagram that had around 4,500 followers.
The compulsive shopping part kind of came on suddenly for me. Because I’ve always been pretty good at saving.
I had around $5,000 in savings at the time.
I had an event coming up and needed a new dress for it. I decided I would splurge on an Ellery dress which was around $2,500.
I was really good about saving up the bulk of the money for the dress so didn’t dip into my savings, but I got obsessed about other things I needed for the event.
I bought heaps of cosmetics and hair products and face masks and started getting lots of cheap jewellery that might match the dress.
I bought three different pairs of shoes. And I kept telling myself I would return the ones I didn’t wear.
Apart from the $2,500 I spent on the dress, my savings went down to $4,000.
Could you describe how that felt at the time?
It actually felt really great.
It felt like I had a project to work on and nobody else was involved.
And it felt like all that scrolling I was doing was for a purpose, like I was really hunting for something.
It also felt really creative. I think everyone in fashion really just wants to be a stylist and source amazing clothes and things for different looks.
How did the event go?
It was really amazing. It was like a highlight of my whole time working there.
Because lots of people complimented me on my outfit, even the girls that were giving me a hard time in the office.
It gave me a super awesome confidence boost and I had a great night. It was like when somebody wins gambling, they spent the rest of their lives trying to get back that awesome feeling.
What happened then?
I switched my obsession to find a next project, which just became my lifestyle.
I then started to scroll The Iconic and Showpo, through thousands of dresses and shoes and began buying things. These sites are a lot cheaper.
I found myself waiting for them to upload new stock when it came in.
And I started buying a lot of stuff. It felt great.
I loved getting packages at my office. It was my favourite part of the day.
I was buying literally anything and everything though. Earrings, socks, headbands, dresses, shoes (lots of shoes), and lots and lots of make-up.
Because in the beginning I had that savings balance, it kind of felt okay?
That $4,000 went down really quickly though.
I think I spent it all in maybe three months after the event.
What did you do then?
I got a credit card.
The first limit was $7,500. It was so easy to get one. I just walked into the branch one day and applied for it.
I had a never had a credit card before and the personal loan I had got for my car was paid off pretty quickly.
Nobody asked me about my spending habits at the time.
I spent that card really quickly, because I started buying designer clothes again. It felt like I had heaps more money suddenly. I literally had no concept of how the interest worked.
I was also buying heaps of crap around the sides, like facials, expensive dinners, going to festivals.
My lifestyle totally changed to match the ones I thought everybody else in the industry was living.
You know what is so sad, is that I was starting to get accepted by the work girls too. Which just made it feel like what I was doing was okay.
I got a boyfriend who I actually really liked.
He sometimes asked me where I was getting all the money from, and I lied and told him I had got some investments from my parents that I had sold.
Did you try and stop?
Yes, I did quite a few times. My housemate called me on the fact that our apartment was getting packed with stuff.
Like half the stuff I wouldn’t even unpack from the wrapping. I was totally addicted to the feeling of getting things delivered to my office and the actually rush I got from clicking BUY online.
But when I tried to stop, I got seriously depressed.
Like I got really anxious about how much debt I was in, I got really angry at my family and work colleagues and at the industry for making me feel like shit.
I would hold off buying stuff for maybe a day?
But the only thing that would make me feel better was finding more stuff to buy. I would describe it as a giddy rush, kind of like an artificial high.
My boyfriend tried to intervene because I stopped letting him stay over at my house because there was stuff everywhere and there was no way I could tell him how much debt I was in.
I ended up breaking up with him.
How bad did it get?
The worst was when I had three credit cards with a total of $25,000 maxed out on all three.
I was completely out of control and I was verging on an eating disorder.
My parents were seriously worried about me because I wouldn’t let them over to my house and they finally contacted my housemate.
She let them over to see how much stuff I’d bought and how I was living.
They waited for me after work one day and intervened and brought me home (to their house).
I lied for that first meeting and told them I was fine. Then I got really angry when they didn’t believe me and left.
Then they got me after work again and I broke down and told them the truth.
I showed Mum my bank accounts and my room and she started crying and I was crying it was a mess.
How did you fix it?
My parents got me a psychologist who specialised in OCD and financial spending disorders.
I’ve been seeing her twice a week since April, when I quit my job.
Sometimes it makes me feel really sick to think how those girls would have laughed at me but seriously I reckon a few of them have serious credit card debt too.
My parents paid off two of the credit cards for me, which I know put a real dent in their finances as well.
But I still need to pay them back for that, which at the moment is $15,000.
I also have one credit card outstanding with $4,000, but I can’t use it. My therapist and I cut it up.
What else have you learned about managing finances?
I’ve drawn up a budget and my therapist and I go through everything I spend in a week.
In the beginning it was really hard because I felt really babied and I got really angry that I couldn’t buy myself a lipstick or something.
But now, I like it this way, it holds me to account and I feel like I’m winning when I haven’t spent anything stupid in a week.
I also am really hopeful, because I used to be really good with money and saving so we know that I can get back there.
How is your work-life balance?
I got a new job pretty much straight away with a tech PR firm and that industry is so much easier to work in, in my opinion.
I’m lucky I get paid pretty well. But it’s more that the judgemental thing is nowhere near as much.
Like, people care about gadgets and things but no one actually cares if you don’t have the new iPhone.
This story is an edited transcript from a phone interview conducted on Monday, 12 November 2018.