Ask Amber: The Trouble With Shopping

Readers, a question has flooded in! Well, a problem, really. For me to solve. This is awesome. Maybe after this I’ll at last fulfill my dream of having my own problem page in a magazine or something? It could be called “Agony Amber”. Magazine editors: call me!

Now, before I put my Agony Amber hat on, a couple of  three quick disclaimers:

1. Am totally not qualified to give anyone advice, about anything. OK, maybe shoes. Say what you will, but I DO know shoes.

2. Will give it a shot anyway. Because any excuse to get all wordy on you is just fine by me.

3. This is REALLY wordy. More so than usual, even.

So! The question comes from a reader I’m going to call Isabella, because isn’t that a pretty name?

Isabella says:

“Hi Amber,

I have been following your blogs for a while now, and thought you may be able to help me with something.
My fiancé of 3 years has recently started complaining about me buying clothes and shoes. In the past year he has mentioned it casually, but the other day we got in a full scale argument about it. He doesn’t seem to understand that I like to buy clothes for fun and that it makes me happy and more confident when I am wearing certain things. The frequency of shopping is around once a month when I have saved up some money. He complains that shopping isn’t a hobby and that there is something wrong with me. He seems to think I am the only one who is like this, whereas there are many style programmes, magazines, websites and so many high street fashion stores it is obvious there is a huge market for it.
Have you got any ideas of how I should overcome this? I want to keep him happy, and this is the only thing we argue about – I don’t see why it is such a problem. I would also quite like to carry on shopping, and it is my money, after all. I could just not tell him when I buy new things, but I don’t want to lie to him!
Have you ever experienced anything like this before?”

So, I like to shop. I know this isn’t exactly breaking news for anyone who’s been reading this site for more than a day, but it’s true: I didn’t JUST dress up as Becky “Shopaholic” Bloomwood for Halloween last year because I’m lazy, you know. Like Isabella, I shop about once a month, using money I’ve budgeted for the occasion. I have some fairly strict rules to govern my shopping, too: for instance, I NEVER use credit. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it. If I REALLY want it, I save up for it. I will also only buy something if I really, really love it, or if I think I’ll wear it constantly. And I do wear the things I buy: these days I operate a cunning “coat-hanger” system which means that I don’t just buy things and hang them in the closet never to be seen again. If something doesn’t get worn, it gets donated, and it serves me right for spending money on something I obviously didn’t really need or love.

But the fact remains, I like to shop.  By that, I don’t just mean that I like acquiring new things: I mean that I enjoy the whole process. I love hunting down something that’s exactly my style. I get a thrill out of finding that perfect dress, or pair of shoes, and I get even more of a thrill when I find it on sale, or on eBay or something. I even enjoy just walking around shops browsing, although I’d probably enjoy that even more if The Others weren’t such spoilsports all the time. Then of course, there’s the whole process of bringing the item home, putting together outfits with it, and then getting to wear it and (hopefully) feel great in it. It’s a creative process, but it’s also a lot of fun, which is I guess explains why so many people enjoy it. Shopping isn’t my ONLY hobby, of course,  (I also enjoy whining about stuff on the Internet, too, for instance. Am well-rounded person.), but it would be fair to call it a “hobby” of mine. And here’s the thing:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

To answer Isabella’s last question first, no, I’ve never actually experienced the kind of situation she describes. Oh, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who feel that way about me and my shopping. So far, though, none of them have been brave enough to come out and say it to my face, though, and while I don’t think Terry really relates to my love of shopping, exactly, he likes the fact that it makes me happy, and he understands that when I’m spending my own money, that I earned myself, it’s really up to me what I spend it on. Sure, he’ll say “Not ANOTHER pair of shoes!” (he said this just last night, in fact)  and it’s his (incorrect) opinion that I have more than enough dresses, but as long as I’m not spending our savings on them or racking up debt, he’s cool.

I originally started off that sentence by saying “I’m lucky” that Terry is like this. But while I don’t want to play down the wonder that is Terry (Who I am, indeed, very lucky to have) I really think it’s pretty much a given that your partner should enjoy seeing you do something that makes you happy, and should understand that we’re not all the same, and we don’t all get pleasure out of the same things. This “Shopping isn’t a hobby” thing? Says who? I mean, it’s not like there’s some magical list somewhere that says “Things That Are Acceptable Hobbies To Have”. Is there? If there is, can we have “gardening” removed from the list? That would be great!

Actually, gardening is a pretty good example here. I can’t for the life of me understand why some people enjoy gardening. Intellectually, I can understand that there’s a lot of satisfaction in creating something, and seeing it grow, of course. But personally, I can’t see the pleasure in enduring back-breaking labour, out in the elements, only to have to do it all over again a few days later. I just don’t understand it, but at the same time, I’m not about to tell all the gardeners out there that they’re “weird” (They are weird, though, aren’t they?) (That was a joke, by the way.), or that they shouldn’t enjoy gardening. Hell, they’re not hurting anyone, and while they’re busy digging in the cold, hard earth, they’re leaving more shoes for me, so have at it, gardeners! Garden for your life!

My point is that just because you don’t understand why someone likes something, it doesn’t mean it’s fair to tell them they’re somehow wrong to like it, or that it’s “not a hobby”. I think people say these things about fashion, or shopping, because it’s frivolous. And let’s be honest, here: it IS frivolous. There’s no point even pretending otherwise. But here’s the thing about that:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either.

Sometimes frivolous is just what you need, ya know? We can’t all be super-serious all the time, and actually, now I come to think of it, I can’t really think of anyone I know who has a hobby that could be described as a weighty, important or intellectual pursuit. (Now that I’ve said that, I bet dozens of you are going to comment saying “Actually, my hobby is giving money to charity and building houses for the poor with my own bare hands.”) Hobbies tend to be, by their very nature, fun, relaxing things that give you a bit of a break from the serious stuff for a while.

Some people watch a lot of TV. Some like football. Or knitting. Or…jumping out of planes. And some like shopping, and fashion. I don’t think the person who spends 30 minutes watching Eastenders is a better person than the one who spends the same amount of time reading fashion blogs, or vice-versa. (Unless the fashion blogs are mine, obviously, in which case fashion-blog-reading person WINS.)  We all have things we like to do with our spare time and spare money, and as long as we’re not hurting anyone, what’s the harm? You could, in fact, argue that even a “traditional” hobby like… oh, let’s go with gardening again, shall we?…like  gardening is “frivolous” too. You’re not saving the world, after all. You’re not grappling with quantum theory, or discovering the cure for cancer. Ultimately, what you’re doing is making your environment a little nicer and creating something that’s pretty to look at. Do you see where I’m going with this comparison.?

(Am aware I’m on shaky ground with the gardeners, here. Obviously if you’re a vegetable gardener you’re also putting food on your family, as a not-so-wise man once said. So you win. In this example, though, you’re just a regular gardener, with the flowers and the water features and stuff. But moving on…)

Of  course, you wanted advice, and you got a rant. Sorry about that. Let’s see if I can rescue this now…

At the risk of sounding like Jerry Springer, I think the best advice I can give Isabella is to sit down and talk to the fiance. I mean REALLY talk. Honestly, his surprise at your love of shopping is… surprising to me. It’s hardly the most unusual thing in the world for a woman to enjoy, is it? It’s not like you’ve just confessed that your hobby is dressing hamsters up as the Beatles and making them dance, say. THAT would be weird. (Although also a little bit cool, it must be said. Assuming the hamsters were into it, obviously.) I think shopping is only really a “problem” for a relationship if you’re doing it aaaaallll the time, getting into debt over it, or sacrificing other things because you just. can’t. stop. shopping.  Like, if you see the assistants in Topshop more than you see your friends and family, or you want to buy a house together but you can’t because you spent all your money on shoes and now the debt collector wants to have a “friendly word” with you. Or if it’s literally the ONLY thing in your cold, empty shell of a life. (Which for most of us, it isn’t, because we are modern women, which means we can enjoy shopping AND quantum physics. Well, some of us can. Liking clothes, though, doesn’t preclude you from ALSO having an interest in other things, although, for some reason, lots of people like to assume that it does.)

To me, a once-a-month shopping trip, with money you’ve saved up doesn’t really fall into that “problem” category, so I think you need to first of all find out what it is, exactly, that bothers him so much about your shopping, and go from there. Hopefully some of the points I’ve made here will be of some use to you, but if not, I’m hoping my readers will weigh-in here with some advice of their own. Because they’re cleverer than me, let’s face it.


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  • I'm going to chip in with my two pence here, because it's just more interesting than doing any work this morning! (although I totally do need to do some work)

    I can't really understand what Isabella's fiance's problem is – if it is that she is getting into debt, or has so many shoes that there isn't room in the house for people to get in through the door or something then he might have a point. But it doesn't sound at all like this is the case, more that he just doesn't understand it.

    I'm very lucky in that my boyfriend is very happy for me to knock myself out and buy whatever I like, but if he didn't like it I'd probably just go ahead and do it anyway. It's my money, and I'm not harming anyone. My ex played guitar and his idea of shopping was to spend hours playing the same riffs on about twelfty different guitars in various guitar shops. I couldn't see the point, but he was harming nobody and it made him happy, so I was happy enough to go along with it.

    So, what I'm trying to say is that, if his argument is that shopping isn't a hobby, well then his problem isn't really with the act of shopping itself. The problem is that he's unable to see that just because he isn't interested in it, it doesn't make it an invalid activity. I agree with Amber and think that Isabella should sit her fiance down and explain calmly that, while she understands that he doesn't see the point, that it makes her happy to buy dresses. She should point out that there isn't anything wrong with her, what makes her happy is harming no-one else. It's very judgmental of him to jump straight to 'omg you're weird' just because he doesn't feel the same way about shopping.

    Isabella shouldn't stop doing something that she enjoys just because her fiance doesn't understand it. If it irritates him that's his problem really, and he should be the one finding a way to overcome that, not her.
    .-= Roisin´s last blog ..It must be love….holding hands when you're not even on your holidays =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • Timothy Szczuka


    It sounds to me like this guy is not worth the effort. If it is your money and it makes you happy and most importantly of all if you are spending within a budget and not getting into debt then it is nobody’s business but your own what you spend your hard-earned cash on. I would challenge this individual on his spending habits. He is probably squandering his money on cigarettes and alcohol or xbox live. In fact if he really loved you then he would be offering to take you shopping to your favourite stores and sharing the experience.

    April 29, 2010
  • Great post! Thank you! I could totally identify with what you wrote and wholeheartedly agree.

    Some years ago I had my first big argument with my then-boyfriend. He was very sportive and he had to go running or work out pretty much every single day. To him, sport was one of the most important things in life, he kind of defined who he was through sports.

    Since I am not generally opposed to trying new things, I agreed on going running with him. I even bought running shoes (I spent 100 €!! On the most hideous shoes!!!) and so we went running almost every day. This went on for about 9 months, when I felt that even though I had tried, I didn't really enjoy it. So one day I told him that I wouldn't go running with him anymore. He did not understand it at all and started ranting. He even said stuff like "when you're forty you'll be forced to sit in a wheelchair…" and so on and so forth. So we had quite an argument about it and he just didn't get it. I told him that HE could do whatever HE likes, but that if I decide that this is not for me, he would have to accept that. He was really mad about that whole thing though.

    A bit later I started cardmaking and rubber stamping; and he would never fail to make me feel stupid about these hobbies (and also many other activities), because in his eyes they weren't sports and therefore not "valid" or useless pastimes.

    To this story there is unfortunately no happy end that I could tell "Isabella", but I'm glad to report that my new boyfriend isn't just tolerating my passion for crafting, he even asks about certain things and is very supportive.

    Hope that things will work out for "Isabella"!

    Best wishes from New Zealand!
    .-= Nina´s last blog ..HB2me 😉 =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • Rock Hyrax


    Interesting – I thought most men who like to tell their wives how to live waited until after the contract was signed…

    I believe humans like shopping because it's a modern version of the hunter-gatherer activity of finding the right food or flint to make a spear, etc. Women tend to shop for clothes and shoes because we are judged very much on our appearance (more so than men are). Men's version of shopping can be anything from fishing to reading magazines about cars or gadgets.

    Isabella, if you were spending too much money on an addiction that would be a problem, but from what you say you're spending a reasonable proportion of your *own* money and therefore it is no one's business but yours! btw I hope you're the one who keeps putting back the wedding date…

    April 29, 2010
  • my boyfriend loves how i pay attention to my looks, and he loves my clothing choices. one of the things i like to do is go look at designer clothes to admire the quality and fabrics, even though i don’t buy anything. he doesn’t even mind coming along such ‘pointless’ trips, he says he adores the spark in my eyes when i spot something absolutely stunning.

    does your partner has a ‘hobby’ he is passionate about? compare your shopping to it, explain how it makes you happy and why you like it.
    .-= annet´s last blog ..draakplaats =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • maz aka MallyMon


    I know it's crazy but I just do not think that it's any of his business. It's her money and it's her shopping. It really does sound as if he can't bear her to do the thing that makes her happiest. What could be more lovely than saving up your own money and then going and spending it in a wonderful spending spree? If her fiance really loved her, he'd be happy that she's happy, surely? I agree that she needs to sit down with him to try and find out what the real problem is. Otherwise, their relationship seems doomed. In fact, I totally agree with Timothy!

    April 29, 2010
  • I totally agree with your stance on the shopping subject. My husband and I have a joint account for our general household expenses and our savings, but we each contribute a percentage of our earnings into it and the rest that we keep is our own money to do what we want. I think that's fair, as the person who makes more gets to keep a larger amount to spend, proportionally, but the percentage is the same. My husband never really gets upset when I buy myself something new, as he knows I've saved whatever my budget for the month for it is. I agree that Isabella should probably talk to her fiance…perhaps there is a different underlying issue?
    .-= Marie´s last blog ..the cats go adventuring =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • Terry


    I think the best way to deal with this is with love rather than conflict. Show him how happy it makes you, get him involved, show him your joy. If he loves you then I am sure he will share in your happiness.

    Also ask yourself if you are spending a reasonable proportion of your money. As you are to be married then really your money is also his money in a way so perhaps he has money worries he hasn’t discussed or wants to save money?

    April 29, 2010
  • I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those arguments that really has another issue at the root of it. I mean – as everyone else has said, as long as the money Isabella is spending has been set aside for shopping and other financial needs come first – there really isn’t anything wrong with spending it. Maybe he is upset about something else – I dunno, sometimes I snap at my boy about leaving the toilet seat up when really I’m upset that I’ve been the person to clean the bathroom the past two times, but the toilet seat is the catalyst and so that’s what we argue about. Or to get back to hobbies, sometimes I get annoyed that the boy is playing his favorite video game AGAIN when really I’m not upset that he’s playing games, but rather that it’s not a game that I could play with him. Maybe he’s actually worried about money and thinks the two of you should both be saving more? Or maybe he’s worried about space? Or maybe he’d like you to have a few hobbies that the two of you could enjoy together? Maybe he really is upset about shopping as a hobby, but it’s worth investigating to see if there isn’t something else bothering him. I would also (if you haven’t already) clearly show him your budget, how much you set aside to spend shopping, and the process of how you choose what to buy. Even if he can’t understand why it is fun to you, maybe it would put him at ease to see how much careful planning goes into the decision to buy something. Good luck!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Two Things I love (right now) =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • I forgot to add – some people have a moral opposition to consumption (sweat shops, landfills, etc. etc.) or grew up in households where you only bought new clothes when the old ones were too worn out to wear. If this is the case, it might be good to see if there is a way to compromise (ie, all of your old clothes always go to a second hand shop or charity, you try to only make purchases from responsible companies, etc.). It's a long shot, but perhaps this is where Isabella's fiance is coming from?
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Two Things I love (right now) =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • Emily I.


    I started to realize 27+ yrs ago that my husband was the guy for me when he happily drove me all over southern Maine since I couldn't remember which store sold the perfect pair of shoes I'd seen weeks before. When I commented on his patience he just said we were together and that's what he enjoyed. The good advice has already been covered, but as I face an afternoon of replacing all the mulch I put down last week and replacing plants that were all washed away during a horrific storm on Saturday, plus a garden path project that will take me months to complete, I'm thinkin' maybe I'll scrap gardening in favor of shopping. Very soon.

    April 29, 2010
  • I second what Amy and Terry said. It’s quite possible that her fiance grew up in an environment where you “fix it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” was the family rule. It’s possible that he sees your shopping as immoral, unnecessary consumption. If so, you’ll just have to come to an understanding about your different childhood upbringings. That’s what marriage is about – communication and compromise.

    As for the people saying, “it’s HER money, so she can do what she wants!” Well, this is her fiance, not her boyfriend, so what she does with her money DOES affect him, and it’s okay for him to be concerned about it.

    I would recommend agreeing on a budget together. In the budget, set aside a bit of “fun money” for each of you. Each of you can spend your own fun money however you want – no criticism or comment from the other person. If you want to spend the whole thing on shoes, that’s fine. But you have to stay within budget, and you have to agree on the amount.

    Best of luck!
    .-= Kelley´s last blog ..Red Coral =-.

    April 29, 2010
  • Steph


    I don’t really have much to add on to the excellent advice given by Amber, except to agree that I’ve never understood why some hobbies are seen as more acceptable than others. Someone who spends time and money attending football matches is not being any more productive than someone who collects stamps in their spare time but only one of them is going to be viewed as odd. I was once asked why I ‘wasted’ so much time on video games – ‘what do you get at the end after you’ve spent so much time?’ Fun! Fun is what I get!

    April 30, 2010
  • greeting from australia! i stumbled upon your blog while looking for a company with a similar name to your blog and as a writer myself was curious.. am totally loving your blog amber, its briliant and you are a very good writer. can't help much in the advice category but i believe you pretty much covered everything i would say about shopping. i am the same, save up and buy what i need not necesarily want (unless it's something i've saved up for!) I'm a sucker for TV / movies as I love to review them as well as enjoy them. well done. can't wait to see what your other articles are about. to Isabella – (love that name btw) if shoppping is what you love (and you are not alone) and it makes you (and millions) happy – then there is nothing wrong with that. 🙂

    August 26, 2010