Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Retail Therapy? Putting An End To Emotional Shopping

Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer's mood or disposition. Often seen in people during periods of depression or transition, it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as "comfort buys".

Retail therapy was first used as a term in the 1980s with the first reference being this sentence in the Chicago Tribune of Christmas Eve 1986: "We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy." [Schmich, Mary T. (1986). A Stopwatch On Shopping. Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1986

Emotional spending simply means you buy things when you feel a particular emotion very strongly. It could happen when you’re stressed, happy, upset, hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Usually when we try to avoid feeling something, we end up acting out in some way and for me (and maybe you, too!) it means spending money.
No one says to themselves, Gee, I’m feeling awfully upset right now. Now I feel the urge to buy a new pair of shoes in an effort to ignore my emotions! If it was that easy to recognize, none of us would do it. Ask yourself these questions to figure out if you are an emotional spender:
  • Do I reward myself with food, clothes, or other tangible items after a long day?
  • Do I spend time justifying purchases in my head?
  • Do I hide the evidence (remove tags, throw away receipts, etc.)?
  • Do I find things around the house that I forgot I even had?
  • Do I find myself wishing I hadn’t bought a certain item because it keeps me from doing something else?
  • Is there something bothering me that I don’t have time to deal with right now?
Sure enough I can answer yes to most of these questions and I am choosing to put an end to it! 


Right before baby Marc was born we had no credit card debt and while we did not have a lot but we had some money in savings.  After he died we received generous financial help from friends and family that I am so thankful for. People always talk about how having a new baby is so expensive the first year but when someone has a baby die it can get pretty expensive. Marc only spent a few hours in the NICU and I went to the ER for a few hours and in that time we racked up nearly 20k in expenses when all was said and done. So thankful that we have insurance and only have to pay a portion of that because I know a lot of people in my situation do not. Still we will be paying on these hospital bills for a while. The funeral expenses and unplanned extended time off from work for Marc helped add to the problem and finally a really big part of the problem was/is my emotional shopping.
It started just a few weeks after baby Marc died. Mom was trying to get me out of the house so we got the idea to create a memory garden on my patio. We went to Hobby Lobby to shop for decorations and pots. I remember that trip vividly because there was this beautiful little boy who was talking in the sweetest baby voice to his mom and I broke down right there in the middle of the Hobby Lobby. I composed myself and focused my attention on shopping for the garden. By the time the garden shopping was finished I had probably spent about $400.00, maybe more. All I knew is that for those few hours I felt a little better. 

Over the next few months I found that shopping gave me a way to get out of the house and away from all the things I should be doing at home with my baby. I started getting the mentality that because I was hurting so much that I deserved to indulge in other desires for a while.

It's about wanting that instant gratification, for me it's a small high to get a good deal or buy something that you don't really need but want. The thing with emotional shopping is that the instant high lasts for a very short time and over the months it started to not feel as good anymore. 

“Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.”
- Bo Derek

The realization came that no matter how many shopping trips I took the hole that was created in my life by Marc's death could not be filled with things. Of course I knew this in the beginning but shopping was sort of an escape into a world where the only thing that you needed to do was decided if you wanted the dress in pink or red. 

The emotional shopping has decreased but I have formed a habit and a way of coping that is not easily broken. I still find myself overspending everywhere even at the grocery store. Last week I had a horrible week and what did I do...I bought more plants and pots for my garden, more than I really needed to have a really nice garden but I was depressed and it made me happy so I did it. 

The problem is while it makes me happy for that short time later I feel bad that I spent the money and that I should have saved it to pay bills or pay down the credit card. 

“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.”
- Tammy Faye Bakker

Is it really though? Window shopping maybe! I am using six free sessions with my counselor through my employee assistance program and after that it's around $30 for a one hour session with my insurance. If I go twice a month that is only $60 a month for two hours of substantial and lasting help whereas I could easily spend more than that at Hobby Lobby in two hours of emotional shopping.  Not to mention the stress cost of retail therapy! I don’t ever feel guilty after talking to the counselor but I do feel guilt after and emotional shopping trip. 

I have finally decided that I will consciously put an end to my emotional shopping and overspending. I have recognized this issue for a while and in passing said that I need to stop but this time I am very serious and I am making a plan. 

I am going to take it one day and track my progress. Here is my plan!

·         When I am depressed and I get the urge to shop I am going to choose to do something else to occupy my time. 

o   I have tons of crafts and art projects just waiting to be created or finished.  
o   I can spend time in my garden reading the have many unread books on my shelf.
o   If I need to get out of the house I have a 24 hour gym membership and exercise is a definite mood lifter that I can do with no remorse.
o   I could take the dogs for a walk or play with them outside.
o   I can spend time learning a new recipe in the kitchen, as long as I don’t have to go spend a lot of money on exotic ingredients.
o   I have Netflix and Hulu which offers hours of entertainment and escape.
o   I could take a bath and relax

With those things alone there is no way I would run out of things to do instead of shop. 

·         Strategies for saving money to pay down bills faster

o   Make a shopping list before going to the store and actually stick to it! If I cannot think of it at home with my recipe books I shouldn’t buy it when I get there.
o   If I have to go shopping for something specific take cash and only what I plan to spend and leave my debit/credit card at home.
o   Block emails that I get from my favorite stores trying to tempt me with sales and free online shipping!
o   Resist the urge to eat out, it adds up fast and I can usually make a better meal at home for less. Also gives me less time to shop if I have to be home cooking.
o   If I am tempted to buy something make sure to ask myself why I am buying the item. What will happen if I just put it back? Will I really be missing much? Probably not. 

On that note I have to post an excerpt from a blog I found while searching for tips online. Great advice here, this woman also has a lot of other interesting blogs on her struggles with saving money and paying off debt. http://www.sooverdebt.com/how-to-stop-buying-on-impulse/
Choosing the Questions: Prioritizing
To select the questions I would ask myself before buying something, I had to learn how to prioritize. I wrote out a list of “good” and “bad” reasons to buy something. Then I picked the most relevant ones and ranked them in order of importance. This is the list I came up with:
Do I need it to live? This puts food, clothing, etc. at the top of the list.

Do I already own something that will meet the same need? This prevents me from buying McDonald’s when I have food at home, or buying a new coat when I already have 10 of them.

Will it solve or prevent a real problem? I don’t need toothpaste to live, but it prevents cavities and bad breath so I’m going to buy it. I may think that boredom requires a new DVD, but that’s not a real problem so it doesn’t pass the test.

Will it provide SOME kind of value? Sometimes things aren’t necessary, but we want them anyway. For example, I bought an Apple TV last year. It allows me to stream Netflix, which made it possible to cut off my cable. So even though I don’t need an Apple TV to live and it doesn’t necessarily solve a real problem, I still decided it was worth buying.

Can I afford this item without going into debt? If I have to go into debt for something I must have to live, I can deal with that (though I’d rather not). But if it’s not a need and I’ve still decided to buy it, I have to make sure I can do it without pulling out a credit card or incurring overdraft fees.

Will someone be angry if I buy this? Will I have to hide it or hide the receipt? Now that I’m divorced, I don’t have to picture the wrath of a spouse. But when I was married I used to pull the tags off new clothes and sneak them into my closet all the time. (Hint: This is probably a sign I shouldn’t have bought said clothes.) These days, I pretend that Suze Orman will be going through my shopping bags when I get home.

Could my money be better spent elsewhere? Can I really justify buying a pair of shoes if I know my car needs an oil change? What if I need to buy a birthday gift for a friend next week?

Is the “something else” really important? Am I spending money that needs to go toward bills? If so, not buying. If the money is just earmarked for a competing “want,” I’ll have to make a choice.

Do I still want the item after all this? If none of these questions made me give up, I’m probably buying it. For something silly like nail polish, I probably would have given up a long time ago.
Wish me luck! I will keep you updated on my progress. 

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