How To Keep Your Retail Therapy In Check

It feels good…until it doesn’t.

Buying that great pair of jeans after a hard day can make us feel good. We work so hard, why not enjoy life? But like anything else, moderation is the key. Too often these “comfort buys” can improve our mood but the feeling is short lived. Many people feel remorse after the purchase is made.

Left unchecked, retail therapy can have a devastating impact on our financial health. As we spiral deeper into debt, our anxiety increases. We then look to reduce that anxiety by shopping. It’s a vicious cycle.

Taken to the extreme, retail therapy can sometimes evolve into compulsive spending. When this happens, people are driven to buy things in order to fill a need. But the purchase does not quench the need. The person may not even know what need they are trying to fill. They cannot help themselves and will continue to shop, even after facing negative consequences. If this feels familiar, these resources could help.

You are not alone.

So how big is this problem? Let’s use credit card debt as a proxy. Here are a few staggering statistics about the state of our credit card debt.

  • The average American household credit card debt is $5,700.
  • For those households carrying a credit card balance, their average is $16,048 (U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Reserve)
  • According to a recent press release by the New York Fed, America now has $784 billion in credit card debt.
  • Here’s what’s worrisome: credit cards delinquencies are increasing at a rate not seen since the 2009 recession.

Retail therapy, or the act of shopping in order to make ourselves feel happier, is a big contributor to credit card debt.

So what can we do to stop the madness?

5 questions to ask yourself before you buy anything.

Changing a habit is not done in one day. It’s a process. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before making your next purchase.

  1. Do I really need this or do I want this?
    Is this a necessity or a splurge? It’s OK either way, no judgement zone. Simply asking the question will help you reframe things in your mind.
  2. What Impact will this purchase have on the planet?
    That new toy is wrapped in a bunch of plastic. Ask yourself if your kids really need another piece of plastic from China. Is there an alternative that would bring your family just as much joy?When feeling anxious, sometimes it helps to focus on something outside of our own immediate needs.  Taking a moment to consider the broader impact that our purchases have on people and planet could have the added benefit of reducing unease.
  3. What impact will this purchase have on my community?
    Is the purchase helping my community in some way? Are you buying from a local merchant who is sourcing their materials sustainably? Is your purchase creating jobs that people enjoy?
  4. Can I text a friend?
    Set up a code word with your friends. Any time you text “Itch”, they’ll know you have a shopping itch that you need to scratch. Ask your friends ahead of time to talk you away from the mall or online store. Great friends are good at helping you refocus.
  5. Can I take a walk?
    We’ve heard it before: if you exercise, eat healthy and sleep for 8 hours a night, all shall be well. But sometimes those things are hard to do in the moment.If you’re shopping to ease anxiety, see if you can do something else to make yourself feel better. Keep it small and simple. Instead of walking into the store, walk around the block. See how you feel about making that purchase once you’ve taken a little walk.

They say it takes 27 days to form a new habit. Start small, lean on people, help others, and above all, be kind to yourself.


Photo by unsplash

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