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Retail Therapy

By Rachel Parodneck



What is retail therapy?

If you’ve never heard of, let alone engaged in, retail therapy, the concept is in the name: using retail for therapy.

When can it be a problem?

Here’s where retail therapy can backfire: TIME reports the results of a 2015 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which found that the things you buy in a fit of rage or sadness might feel satisfying in the moment, but in the long-term, they often serve as a kind of trigger that can actually make you feel worse, by reminding you of whatever made you so upset in the first place. Block, J(4 March 2019).  Why Retail Therapy Can Make You Feel Guiltier for Shopping. High Snobiety.

Why do people engage in retail therapy?

1- Seeking immediate gratification.

2-Justifying the purchase with ‘I deserve it.’

3-Spending because of financial woes.

4-Shopping to decompress from stress.

5-Competing with friends, family members or co-workers. 

Karimi, S. (21 May 2014) 6 Danger Signs of Emotional Spending. US News: Money. 

What are the warning signs?

The most common warning signs for shopping that’s more problem than solution include: avoiding credit card or bank statements; lying or hiding purchases; missing work, school, or other obligations to go shopping; and feeling shame, guilt, or irritability associated with shopping. (Yarrow PhD, K. (2 May 2013), Why Retail Therapy Works. Psychology Today). In rarer cases, using retail therapy can be a symptom of a larger problem such as bipolar disorder.

How do I fix it?

Retail therapy may have a negative reputation, but it is an effective mood booster.   If you choose to indulge, just be sure to do so carefully so you don’t overspend. Barret, L. (30 April 2019). How To Curb Your Retail Therapy. Money Under 30. 

While retail therapy is an effective way to improve your mood and exercise control over your environment, it’s not always the best coping mechanism. Here are some strategies to try next time you’re feeling down:

Shop For Items You Already Planned to Purchase

When you need some retail therapy, limit yourself to buying things you already planned to purchase.

Window Shop Instead

The Journal of Consumer Psychology study indicated that hypothetical shopping was also effective at improving mood. That means you don’t actually have to spend money to get the benefits of retail therapy. Formulate a strategy for window-shopping. It could be putting items you’d like to have on your online wish list rather than in the cart.

Put it on Hold

Many stores let you put items on hold for a certain time period (often 24 hours). Use this to your advantage. Shop until you start feeling better, but instead of actually taking the item home, put it on hold.

Then, look at your budget when you’re in better spirits to determine whether you can actually afford the items you put on hold, and if you really need them. Force yourself to wait at least three days before making a big purchase.


Take an hour out of your day and unsubscribe from all those sales emails.

Implement a “no spending day”

Set aside one day a week where you don’t spend any money: You don’t buy a coffee in the morning (make your own at home), you don’t go out to lunch (brown bag it), and you don’t shop. It’s the like the opposite of “Treat Yo Self.” A “no-spending” day can be a nice little reset, especially after a period of excess spending. 

Make a list of ways you feel better without buying a big purchase

Try to come up with ways to make you feel better that don’t involve buying something, or that don’t involve buying a big something. Go take a walk, get a drink or a coffee with a friend, or watch your favorite show on Netflix. Focus on small joys that don’t cost anything, or that cost very little.

If you need extra support, therapy can be an excellent resource. There’s no better time than the present to book an appointment with one of our experienced therapists.