Retail therapy is definitely a thing. There’s a dopamine hit from shopping that more than a few of us seek out when we’re feeling stressed in one way or another. With online stores, we even have the pleasure of opening gifts to ourselves a day or a week later. The problem, of course, comes when our credit card bills show up. Too much spending can become self-destructive, whether it’s the short-term inability to pay the bills or the longer-term consequence of not having savings available for an urgent need. Unlike other potential addictions, though, we can’t give up on buying things completely because that’s how we function in modern society. I suppose if you go completely off-grid, you will at some point be able to become completely self-sufficient, but for most of us, we’re going to have to trade dollars for goods and services at regular intervals. Balancing stress-relief shopping with necessary spending can be difficult. Here are some of the ways to make it work:
The answer you’re probably going to hear the most is: make a budget and stick with it. Easy to say; hard to practice. If you haven’t tried it, you should anyway. It does work for some people, whether it’s a sophisticated spreadsheet or app that tells you how much you have left in your “fun money” bucket, or simply an envelope with some cash stuck into it for those times you really need to hit the mall (does anyone do that anymore? Maybe a gift card dedicated to mad money?). By doing the work ahead of time to figure out how much you can spend and not get yourself into trouble, you can shop without guilt as long as you stay within that number. Otherwise, at the very least, you should check your bank account and credit card balances, and know what other bills are coming due soon, before you click “Buy.” It’s a more on-the-fly version of budgeting, but is still better than spending blindly.
You can also steal a little bit from other parts of your budget by channeling your spending to things that need to be purchased anyway. It’s easy to put off grocery shopping when we’re busy, let alone new clothes we might need or household supplies. We might not even have noticed that we’re running low on some staples, and need to restock with a bigger shopping trip than usual. Sometimes we don’t get around to buying those things because frankly, we’re dreading the expedition. That might make it seem like they won’t hit the spot when we’re wanting retail therapy, but that’s not always true. The process might not be as fun up front, but you might change your mind after you dive in and get distracted by the possibilities. Either way, you will get the hit from choosing and acquiring new-to-you things and, if you’re shopping online, the perk of getting yourself a present in the mail.
The pleasure of shopping doesn’t always require actually spending money. Window shopping and researching the thing you think you want to buy can give you similar satisfaction. Instead of adding to your shopping cart, you can add to a wish list for a future time. If you return to the same item over and over again, you can be more sure that you aren’t completely impulse buying. You’ll also have the opportunity to, when you aren’t as driven to buy-buy-buy, reconsider whether you actually want it and will be able to fit it into your life to enjoy it. Along these lines, I’ll also keep track of purchases that I’m considering but don’t need right away, just …eventually. Things that aren’t necessities, but also perhaps not complete luxuries – a kitchen gadget that you know you’ll use regularly but not every day, a nice pen for your office, that fancy block of snacking cheese. That way, when I’m hunting for something to hit that retail therapy button but want to limit my guilt, I’ll have a list I can draw from that I’ll know I’ve already put some thought into on whether they’re reasonable choices.
One way to stick with the not-buying part is to put a time delay or other condition around actually making the purchase. Go shopping all you like, but promise yourself that you won’t buy anything until you’ve left it in your shopping cart for an hour or overnight. Be extraordinarily picky and make a deal with yourself to only complete checking out when it’s absolutely perfect, at exactly the price you want to pay. Play games with finding the best price, or only looking at clearance or sale pages. Limit your retail therapy to certain websites or types of sellers, though perhaps avoiding Etsy, Amazon, or other bazaars. Get a gut check from a friend who can be trusted to be honest about whether it’s a good idea to get the thing you’re considering. Anything to put a speed bump between you and the “Buy It Now” button can help you prevent the future stress of buying something you discover later that you didn’t really want or couldn’t really afford.
It’s okay to buy things you don’t strictly need, that are luxuries or even what some folks might call wastes of money. It’s okay to go on shopping sprees when you can afford them. It’s that last part that can be challenging to stick with. I’ve given you a few of my ideas of how you can. What works for you?