The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft & Spending

       November 2007 e-Newsletter

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New Movie Warns of Trend of Superconsumerism
Terrence Daryl Shulman



            I haven't seen the just-released 90-minute "shock-documentary" film "What Would Jesus Buy?" I don't even know if it's coming to a theater near me in the Detroit area. But from the clips I've seen on the Internet and from what articles I've read, its timing couldn't be better—right before the kick-off of the holiday shopping season. The film—produced by Morgan Spurlock of "Super Size Me"—shifts the focus from the consequences of "fast food" eating habits to our similarly insatiable consumerism--whose consequences are not only financial but relational and spiritual. And I don't think one needs to be Christian to appreciate the message.

            The question is: will anybody listen? If so, what will we do--individually and collectively--to stem our tendencies to "buy now, pay later" or, more accurately, "buy more now and make somebody else pay later or, even, don't pay at all."

            After "Super Size Me," McDonalds—and a few other fast food chains—dumped their extra-large portions and increased their healthy choice menu offerings. What can retailers and other companies do—assuming they'd even be willing—to help curtail consumer gluttony? Of course, it is really up to each of us to make any necessary changes in our own lives. And this seems to be a big part of the movie's message as well as in the new series on the A & E Cable Channel--"Big Spender"--which highlights shopaholics in action who are confronted by interventionist Larry Winget.

            This is a complex problem. The national, state, and local economies appear increasingly fragile and volatile. Yet, we've been told many times and in many ways that the best way we can help the economy is to spend and pump more money into it. There may be some truth in this but, without balance, this strategy can cause more harm than good. Biting off more than we can chew is a recipe for disaster, individually and collectively—from home foreclosures to bankruptcies. And here come the holidays...

            Now, I'm not an economist, but saving money, investing in bonds and stocks still need to be part of the plan—not to mention investing in college, our businesses, life's necessities and the occasional "non-material" luxury. What's going on here? Are we becoming a nation of "shopaholics" and "spendaholics"?

            Don't laugh. Last year, Stanford University released the results of a landmark study which concluded that a phenomenon called "compulsive shopping disorder" exists. It is characterized by the same "out of control" and detrimental behavior seen among alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers and the like. The Stanford study estimates that nearly 17 million Americans (roughly 6% of the population) meet criteria for this disorder and, perhaps surprisingly, men and women overshop and overspend about equally.

            It's all too well-known that nearly 50% of marriages are ending in divorce but it's less known the causes. While many factors exist, friction and conflict over money, values around money, debt, and financial "betrayal" have replaced "sex and romance issues" as the leading contributing factor in relationship conflicts and divorces. The average American now carries nearly $10,000.00 (Ten Thousand Dollars) worth of credit card debt—much of it due to shopping-related or non-essential purchases.

            In my work as an addictions therapist, I have counseled many compulsive shoppers and spenders whose habits often begin early in life and snowball until bankruptcy, divorce, and nervous breakdowns loom or actually occur. Overshopping and overspending often have less to do with poor budgetary skills and shallow greed or materialism; for most, its roots lie in unresolved grief or trauma, low self-esteem, and an ill-fated effort to fill an endless void and emptiness and dissatisfaction. Overshopping and overspending often lead to crossing over other lines--not sales lines, but into shoplifting and/or employee theft as a way to make ends meet or save money. The cycle can easily work in reverse: many people start of with a pattern of stealing and then stop but continue to overshop and/or overspend.

            With the holidays upon us, now is the time to ask ourselves: what are we really shopping for? To escape? To keep up with the Joneses? For love and approval? And for those inclined to wrestle with the question in the title of the new film, stop and think for a moment: What would Jesus buy? My guess is, probably not much. A $4.00 latte from Starbucks? There's a widely circulated scene from the movie on the Internet where Reverend Billy from Texas--and his troop of anti-consumerist minions--actually stage a protest at a Starbucks! Are we being duped into spending more than we really need to or can afford?

            Preliminary post-Thanksgiving retail sales figures have indicted a 5% increase in sales from last year but with a caveat: most shoppers bought less expensive gifts and most retailers had to offer increased discounts in this shaky economy to battle their competitors. Still, according to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend nearly $920 on gifts this December alone—a 3.6% projected increase over last year and a collective drop in the bucket of the $475 Billion to be spent overall. Online shopping, by the way, is expected to rise from 28% to 30% of our holiday purchasing.

            Imagine all the different ways in which our money could be used--not to mention our time, energy, and creativity.

            I'm not suggesting we don't spend any money or don't buy any gifts but, as the old saying goes: money can't buy love or peace or ultimate security. There are countless ways to show our love and to celebrate the deeper meaning of the holidays—a time for thanksgiving, appreciation, love, miracles, celebration, generosity, rebirth, renewal and the close company of family, friends and community.


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FRIDAY NOVEMBER 30, 2007! Terrence Shulman will be on Fox TV's "The Mike and Juliet Morning Show" at 9am EST discussing shoplifting addiction and the holidays. Mr. Shulman will also have a guest with him--a woman in her 60's who has been in recovery from shoplifting addiction for 13 years. Her husband will also be on the show. Hope you can tune in. See

2007 Conference on Compulsive Shopping and Shoplifting set for Saturday November 3, 2007 in New York City has been postponed. We regret any disappointment and hope to create a conference somewhere and sometime in 2008.

Mr. Shulman assisted with an MSNBC segment on compulsive shopping. Air date and time TBA.

Opening November 9th: "What Would Jesus Buy"--a new film about our culture of consumerism.

November 27th--Mr. Shulman presented a local talk (Detroit area) on compulsive shopping, shoplifting and employee theft to a public gathering sponsored by MetroChick radio news. See

November 30th--Mr. Shulman was a guest expert on Fox TV's The Mike and Juliet Morning Show discussing shoplifting addiction and the holidays.

Look for topics in the media this coming holiday season on shoplifting, overshopping, and employee theft...

DECEMBER and beyond...


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Contact The Shulman Center

Terrence Shulman
P.O. Box 250008
Franklin, Michigan 48025


Call (248) 358-8508 for free consulation!

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Products for Purchase

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Livonia, Michigan Financial Manager's Conference 10/19/06. $75.00

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Louisville, Kentucky Business in Industry Conference 9/19/07. $75.00


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© 2007 The Shulman Center

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