What Is Retail Therapy?
Updated March 07, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Retail therapy can be like drug addiction, if not handled well. It can give a person a high for the moment, but it can also bring with it some undesirable long-term effects. In the case of retail therapy, it's when the bills come in.
What Is Retail Therapy?
If you've ever had a bad day and thought to yourself that a shopping trip was to help you feel better, that is retail therapy. Retail therapy is the process by which you go shopping for the sole purpose of making yourself feel better. You don't need anything, yet you find yourself at the mall anyway, buying those shoes you've had your eye on for months because it will take the gloom out of your otherwise crappy day.
This is fine if you have the money to do it. If, however, you're putting everything on credit because you live paycheck to paycheck, then retail therapy, while it does feel good at the moment, may not be the best idea in the long run.
Experts define the retail therapy meaning as a psychological disorder referred to as "oniomania," or compulsive shopping disorder. This is because, in a way, retail therapy is a bit like gambling. You keep doing it as a compulsion because it makes you feel good, even if you're hurting yourself in the end.
Experts also agree that retail therapy is similar to drug addiction. Consider the process:
- You feel like crap, so you go out and buy stuff.
- However, you don't have the money to spend, so you immediately have buyer's remorse when you get home.
- This leads to a comedown from your initial high of buying things, followed by feelings similar to those of withdrawal.
Interestingly, while women have often been found to purchase clothing while engaging in retail therapy, for men, it's food. The latter can lead to further feelings of guilt and depression. Not only are you spending money you don't have, but you're also packing on the pounds by indulging in food that is, more than likely, bad for you when you might not have eaten it otherwise.
Ways To Curb Retail Therapy
If you have fully accepted the fact that you succumb to retail therapy when you're upset, and you know that it's bad for you to do that, then you can start taking steps to refrain from engaging in that behavior. What follows are some helpful suggestions to help you choose other options when you are tempted to spend money you shouldn't be spending:
Recognize Your Triggers
What mood are you in when you want to grab your purse and head to the store? Are you mad? Sad? Frustrated? Once you recognize which mood it is exactly that causes you to pick up your charge card, then you can start modifying your behavior once one of those moods hits you.
For instance, if you find that you do a majority of your online shopping when you're bored at work, take up a new hobby. You may enjoy journaling, or read a book on your phone. At least both of those activities still look like work…and you don't spend any extra money to enjoy them!
If you like to shop after you've had a frustrating day at the office or with the kids, maybe go for a nature walk instead. Not only is it a great way to get some exercise, but the fresh air combined with the birdsong and sunshine can do wonders for lifting your spirits. And even if you go while the parks are still open, it's a lot cheaper to pay for parking than it would have been to bring home bags of clothes from The Gap.
Let It Breathe
Say you're in the store, and you find that one outfit that you have to have. The only way to know whether you truly want that outfit or your desire is stemming from compulsion is not to buy the item right away.
Instead, write down the item that you want and the store that you saw it in, along with the item's price. Over the next 48 hours, decide whether you need that item and whether it's worth the price. You may find that the majority of items that you write down don't end up coming home with you.
Do you have apps on your phone that greet you every time you log in (or worse, send you to push notifications), like Amazon or eBay, that remind you of available items they think you might want to buy? Do yourself a favor and delete these apps. They're encouraging you to spend money when you otherwise wouldn't have if you hadn't known about that item.
The same thing goes with emails. You know how, when you go to Payless, they ask for your email address, then spam you with weekly emails featuring shoes that you just have to have? No, you don't have to have them. Unsubscribe from these emails, and delete them. The less temptation you have right there in front of your face, the less likely you will end up making a purchase you'll come to regret.
Make A Budget
It has been proven that people tend to spend more money when they use a debit card because they can't see the money they're spending. Then, when it comes time to pay bills - whoops! - all their money is gone.
Instead, create a budget for yourself. Write it down. This will give you a better idea of how many bills you have and how much money you truly have for spending willy-nilly. (Chances are, the amount you come up with is much lower than you might have originally thought.) Budgeting is perhaps the most important tool in your belt to combat retail therapy because it forces you to put money aside for bills that you might otherwise not have earmarked and would have spent on useless garbage.
Window shopping can be frustrating for some people because it simply doesn't provide the same level of satisfaction to see all of those things you want and not be able to buy them. However, if you go with the express purpose of making a wishlist of things you may want to buy later on, that can make it a bit more fun, like a game of sorts.
No, not with the big items, but with the little ones. Being able to bring home something small satisfies your urge to purchase something without breaking the bank. Just make sure it's not death by a thousand cuts. Use that budget you just created, and only spend the $10 you're left over with every month for little trinkets.
Remember, there's nothing wrong with engaging in little retail therapy from time to time. It's only a problem when you spend too much money and put yourself in debt and leave yourself less money for bills.
Retail Therapy Quotes
What follows are some retail therapy quotes that glorify the practice. By no means are these meant to encourage you to go big or go home, but if you want to buy something within your budget to assuage your down mood, then the folks behind these quotes have felt your pain (and have also treated it by shopping).
- "Whoever said money couldn't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping." - Gertrude Stein
- "Shopping is a bit of a relaxing hobby for me, which is sometimes troubling for the bank balance." - Rebecca Hall
- "E-commerce is a strange situation for an old guy like me. You can buy a TV online, OK, but to buy a dress or shoes? Ugh. The customer has to go back to the store and breathe and smell and have a good time. Because shopping is a good time - like going to a nice restaurant." - Max Azria
- "I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist." - Tammy Faye Bakker
- "When you're shopping you forget about eating!" - Jennifer Hudson
- "Online shopping makes everything so much easier - it's a bad habit of mine." - Barbara Palvin
- "Shopping with friends is a great way of still enjoying the thrill of the chase without having to make a purchase. It can also be a real bonding opportunity. Helping your friend find something nice is just as rewarding as helping yourself." - Sophie Kinsella
- "I don't shop because I need something, I just shop for shopping's sake." - Cat Deeley
Do you struggle with retail therapy and controlling your spending habits? Our expert counselors here at BetterHelp can give you more advice on how to stop.