March 30, 2009 12:00 PM

IN DEBT $40,000



Age: 32 Appleton, Wis.

Shopping online got hold of Nikki Patrie and wouldn’t let go. “It was like Christmas when the packages come,” she says. Last year she maxed out an $8,000 credit card in one week—some on gifts, but mostly shoes, jewelry and clothing for herself, like True Religion and William Rast jeans (paying $200 to $400 a pop). “It was disgusting to look at my closet,” says the former sales trainer, who is unemployed. Patrie, a mother of three, was increasingly unable to contribute to the family’s expenses. Finally last fall, her husband, Jim, 31, a financial compliance officer, took control of the couple’s finances, checking their bank account often. Patrie entered a debt management program and plans to see a therapist. “She realizes that she has a problem,” says Patrie’s mom, Judy. “But she’s turning things around.”

IN DEBT $20,000



Age: 48 Bridgeport, Conn.

For 13 years Vermont escaped her unhappy marriage by going to the mall. “The mall became my playground,” she says. But soon Vermont, a community relations consultant, was buying obsessively—for her two children, for friends, friends’ children, nieces, nephews, seemingly anyone. She thought she was being frugal, shopping for clothes only at sales where she would buy multiple colors of one item. “My thinking was, ‘The savings is there now. Why just get one?'” she says. She eventually ran through her entire $5,000 savings and maxed out five credit cards.

Vermont’s life didn’t turn around until after her 2002 divorce. Now okay with being home, Vermont cut back on shopping sprees, studied finance and started paying the monthly minimum on her credit cards, a payment she plans to increase this year. She now teaches weekly financial literacy workshops. Says Vermont: “Instead of running to the mall to find rewards, I find rewards educating parents.”

IN DEBT $120,000



Age: 56 La Habra, Calif.

The floundering economy did what nothing else could: slowed down Ginger Logan-Cannon’s spending. “The desire to shop is still there, but I realize I can’t live like this,” says Logan-Cannon, a parole agent who earns $100,000 a year. Her debt, built over decades, is extreme—but it was once a staggering $230,000, spent on luxe items like 13 fur coats, 400 pairs of shoes and Louis Vuitton bags that her children carried to private school. To make matters worse, Logan-Cannon often didn’t pay her bills—she declared bankruptcy three times before her debt reached its current level. Diagnosed as clinically depressed in 2006, the married mother of four still struggles with her addiction but started paying off her credit card debt last year. “I love to look good,” she says. “But this is horrible.”

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