Did you know that over half of Americans shop to improve their mood?

8 Ways to Beat Retail Therapy

by Joanne Guidoccio

Almost three decades have passed since the expression surfaced in a Chicago Tribune article on Christmas Eve. The notion that we could nurse "our psychic ills through retail therapy" struck a chord and, according to a survey conducted by TNS Global on behalf of www.Ebates.com (2013), continues to resonate with many consumers:

  • 51.8 percent of Americans shop and spend money to improve their mood. This includes 63.9 percent of women and 39.8 percent of men.
  • 39.2 percent of women believe retail therapy can improve a person's mood compared to 20.6 percent of men.
  • Clothes were the top item on the therapy list for women (57.9 percent) while men gravitated toward food (28.1 percent).

The occasional shopping excursion or online splurge is not an issue. More problematic is the consumer who has difficulty curbing the volume and frequency of his/her spending. If you are wondering about your own shopping habits or that of a family member, be on the lookout for the following tell-tale signs:

  • Believing that you are saving money by taking advantage of deals for items you do not need.
  • Not being able to distinguish between necessity and luxury.
  • Juggling accounts to accommodate your spending patterns.
  • Feeling guilty and ashamed after a session of retail therapy.
  • Lying to family and friends about the actual amount of money you spend.

Related: The Emotions Behind Buying Stuff

Admitting that you have a problem with compulsive shopping is a necessary first step. If you are fortunate enough to catch the problem in its early stages, you can ease your way into better habits by employing the following concrete strategies:

  1. Confide in a supportive, nonjudgmental friend or family member. Invite him or her to accompany you on your shopping excursions.
  2. Identify your triggers. Do you shop after a stressful work day? When you feel lonely? To better fit in with your circle of friends?
  3. Distance yourself from anyone or anything that enables your shopping addiction. Cut back on the number of shopping trips and unsubscribe to any "tempting" websites and catalogs.
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  5. Take proactive steps to change your lifestyle. Instead of spending Saturday at the mall, plan less-expensive activities such as hiking, biking, or participating in a fund-raising event for your favorite charity. Pick up a copy of your community calendar and highlight free events, such as art exhibits, teas, bazaars, parades, lectures, and concerts.
  6. Experiment with new hobbies. While an initial expenditure may be required, once you have the necessary materials for your craft or activity, you will find yourself devoting fewer hours to shopping.
  7. Entertain at home and encourage your friends to do the same. You could take turns cooking or have pot-luck get-togethers. Include your children in the process. Experiment with new recipes and don't be afraid to improvise by switching less-expensive ingredients.
  8. Volunteer in your community. Local food banks and animal shelters are always in need of extra help.
  9. Spend more time supporting social relationships. In a decade-long study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life (2012), Professor of Marketing James Roberts noted, "Material possessions cannot deliver on their promise to make us happy. As human beings, it is how we feel about ourselves, our relationships with others, and our involvement in the larger community that brings happiness and contentment."

Reviewed October 2017

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For 31 years, Joanne Guidoccio taught mathematics, computer science, business and career education courses in secondary schools throughout Ontario. Her articles, book reviews, and short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, and online. She has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma. Visit her website at JoanneGuidoccio.com.

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