Retail Therapy or Shopping Addiction?

Retail Therapy: Does It Help?

“I need to go shopping, I need some retail therapy.” You may have spoken these words yourself or had a friend call you after a particularly stressful day wanting to go to the mall.

So you go shopping, wondering the whole time whether accumulating material possessions will really help ease the pain, frustration or anger you or your friend feels.

You may wonder whether a new pair of shoes or a piece of jewelry is really the answer, but continue to shop anyway. It seems to help, the little boost you get from shopping and buying something will give you short term relief from the emotional pain. Turns out, research shows that it does help to lift the mood. Retail Therapy can be an effective coping mechanism when used with care and caution. It can potentially create problems of its own.


Compulsive or Impulsive Shopping

There is a difference between compulsive and impulsive shopping and retail therapy tends to be more compulsive in nature.

An impulse buy is usually a last minute decision to just grab something. There is a lot of marketing that goes into putting a variety of merchandise by the check out counter. You have likely already made multiple decisions while shopping and it is easy to cave when you are faced with a multitude of fun items that are staring at you on the way to the cashier. You can get the same boost in mood with an impulse buy.

Compulsive shopping is a little more intentional. It includes a mindset to shift the mood, to let go of some negative emotion, to give yourself an emotional boost, or to avoid thinking about something. There are people that engage in compulsive shopping because of fear of missing out, it creates anxiety not to purchase.

It’s a good idea to take a long hard look at your shopping to see if it is having a negative impact on your life, financially, in your relationships, with your productivity.

The Good

Shopping can be a fun way to pass the time, it can be a good way to spend an afternoon as an escape from the routine or to hang out with some friends. As long as it stays in the category of a fun activity you are enjoying a bit of retail therapy. Be honest with yourself whether or not it is still just for fun.

Forbes shared two articles one in the journal Psychology and Marketing, which stated that shopping can improve your mood. It also showed that a negative emotion could lead to more impulsive spending, but that the individuals viewed the purchase as a treat with the goal of improving their mood and did not regret the purchases.

They also referenced the Journal of Consumer Psychology with a study that agreed retail therapy did indeed improve an individual’s mood immediately and could fight sadness and stress. Shopping was able to help people experiencing sadness a feeling of control at the moment.

Using Retail Therapy Responsibly

While retail therapy might be an effective way to improve your mood and exercise control over your environment, it’s not always the best coping mechanism. After all, most of us don’t have an endless supply of money, and there will always be frustrations in life, so running out to shop or shopping online can become an expensive way to cope.

Retail Therapy can be a great outlet but like anything with the possibility to become a compulsive behavior you need to check in, and be honest with yourself. Are you being responsible, is this money needed for something else. Are you incurring a large amount of debt to get some relief from stress.

Here are some strategies to be responsible while using a bit of retail therapy.

  • Shop for something you intended to buy anyway.
  • Window shop
  • Buy something small that won’t break the bank, like a journal that you can use for future frustrations, or something that you know you will need in the future.
  • Try on clothes for a future purchase, and delay the impulse to buy now.
  • Put an item on hold, in the cart, or on your watch list, and see if you still want it after you sleep on it.

The article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology study indicated that hypothetical shopping was also effective at improving mood.

Afterwards take a look at the bottom line, does the purchase fit your budget after your monthly expenses. Whether you purchase or not you still get the benefit of retail therapy just from shopping.

Retail Therapy can absolutely have negative consequences, it should not be your only go to when you need a release but it can be an effective way to boost your mood when done in moderation as a once in a while splurge.

Be Aware Of The Following

Like any behavior that we use to uplift our mood there is the potential to abuse it. I look at shopping as a fun pastime and a way to build a wish list for holiday gift giving. However, if you are questioning your shopping behavior here are a few things to look for

  • If you are hiding your shopping purchases or lying about the amount you are spending
  • You are creating financial distress, increasing debt due to shopping
  • Shopping to avoid feeling guilt or depression
  • Feeling a loss of control while shopping
  • Shopping for longer periods of time than intended or spending more than intended
  • Thinking about shopping rather than engaging in your normal activities

If you answered yes to any of the above you might consider taking a shopping fast for a bit. You may need to get groceries and shop for some things but take cash rather than cards so you can limit spending.

The Bottom Line

Retail Therapy works, I am not suggesting that you run out and shop when you have problems. You need to deal with your stuff, most issues don’t just go away.

However, we all need a release from time to time and the results are in, shopping is a good way to boost your mood. So maybe putting aside some income for those times that you need an escape is something to consider.

Happy Shopping!

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