You can’t get by life without going shopping, even if you don’t particularly like to do it, because it is an inevitable part of modern life today.
Or you could be the exact opposite and love to shop. If you’re someone who loves spending hours at the shops comparing prices, discovering new things to buy, finding the perfect gift, or just plain old window shopping, you’re aware of how good it makes you feel.
With the internet, it has become much easier to indulge in retail therapy. Some people find that spending time browsing for things online, be it groceries, new clothes, or anything in between, can help them relax (maybe it gives them something “exciting” to focus on) – whether they actually end up hitting buy or just leaving the item in the cart. These are the real-life effects of retail therapy.
And there’s actually some science to back this up! A study conducted in 2011 followed 407 in three different experiments. Here are some of the conclusions that were drawn up as a result of it:
- Unplanned shopping helps get over bad moods.
- Controlling one’s urge to purchase something also alleviates the mood, especially for those who are trying to regulate impulsive spending.
- Positive mood boosts resulting from retail therapy last well beyond the time of purchase.
Another study conducted in 2013 found that, interestingly, retail therapy was much more effective in boosting one’s low mood when they were sad, rather than when they were angry.
So, Why the Bad Rep?
Retail therapy is, more often than not, framed as some sort of bad habit or guilty pleasure. But that’s not really the case. Researchers of the 2011 study also found that, contrary to popular belief, retail therapy does not lead to overspending. In fact, most participants stayed well within their budget when it came to spending. Additionally, they also found that retail therapy did not cause negative effects such as guilt, anxiety, or buyer’s remorse.
So, if it doesn’t come with any bad outcomes, why is it considered a guilty pleasure?
Well, as with pretty much anything else in life, moderation is key. While shopping can help you take your mind off of things, for the time being, it can also prevent you from seeking better alternatives of relief that could provide long-lasting benefits. And if you constantly retail therapy as a way to cope with everyday problems, this can take away from actually dealing with them and also ignoring important aspects of your life such as work and relationships.
Worst of all, if you are one of the few people who have trouble staying within a budget, retail “therapy” can lead to a dire financial impact!
The important thing is to distinguish between retail therapy and compulsive shopping. While they both stimulate the same “happy hormones” in your brain, one is a harmless, potentially beneficial habit, while the other is dangerous, to say the least.
Scientists compare compulsive shopping to other addictions, which means that the mood boost does not last beyond that very moment, unlike retail therapy. It also comes with lots of negative emotions afterward, like regret and buyer’s remorse.
Compulsive shoppers constantly buy things they don’t need, are unable to control what they buy and how much they spend, and also feel like they need to hide their purchases or lie about them. They also feel the urge to keep doing it constantly.
To differentiate between retail therapy and compulsive shopping, consider whether your purchases are of things you actually need and can afford and whether it makes you feel in control or out of it.
6 Tips to Help You Stay on the Right Side of Retail Therapy
Indulging in a little bit of retail therapy from time to time when you need a pick-me-up is completely fine. But here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that you only get the good of it and not the bad!
Stay Within the Budget
Overspending and going into debt would be considered the biggest negatives that could result from retail therapy. You can avoid this by setting aside a small portion of the budget for shopping every month and sticking to it.
If you can’t afford something at the moment, planning ways to save up can provide similar mood boosts as retail therapy as well!
Buy Only Things You Need
If you’re someone who loves shopping, make essential shopping trips such as grocery hauls more exciting. You can switch up the stores you go to or set aside time to spend browsing the aisles and discovering new items. These little things can help you keep from spending unnecessarily while also providing some retail therapy.
Try Window Shopping
Browsing the windows or scrolling through shopping apps on your phone without hitting “buy” can offer some of the same mood boosts as actually purchasing something, so try this first. As we said earlier, leaving without actually purchasing something can make you feel accomplished as well. If it’s something you really do need, you can always come back to it later and be sure it’s not an unnecessary purchase.
If you’re worried about overspending, it’s a good idea to give yourself a day or two before actually spending the money. You can spend some time comparing prices and options to choose the best one, then give yourself some time to mull over the purchase before proceeding with it.
This waiting period will help you avoid buying things you don’t actually want or need. And the act of looking for the item and choosing it will give you a mood boost when you’re in need of one. Again, you can always go back the next day and get it if you still want to.
It’s Not a Solution to Serious Problems
If you’ve had a bad day at work or just want to relax after spending the whole day looking after children, a bit of retail therapy can be just what the doctor ordered. However, it cannot be seen as a solution to serious problems, especially if the problem stems from poor finances in the first place.
If you find yourself turning to shopping every time you have a fight with your spouse or when you feel depressed, this is not healthy! These are not temporary problems, so they cannot be fixed with temporary solutions.
It is important to know when to seek help and to do it at the right time so you may avoid making them bigger by either adding fuel to the fire or neglecting them entirely. If you aren’t sure how to go about dealing with something, you can talk to a counselor to help you decide what the right thing to do is.