It’s a scenario that’s familiar to many: You’ve had a bad day, and a trip to the store is about to fix everything. A new pair of jeans, a cute addition to your home decor, a fancy kitchen gadget—a purchase is all you need to ease whatever is bothering you.
Retail therapy is not a myth. Financial therapist Amanda Clayman says that the benefits of retail therapy are real, and there is scientific research backing her claim. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that spending money may help people feel like they have more control over their environment, thus reducing sadness.
“The self-confidence we gain from buying something we feel good about . . . can take the brain out of whatever sort of negative experience it was in before,” Clayman said in a phone interview.
Unfortunately, retail therapy, like stress eating, has minimal and short-term effects. If your idea of retail therapy is buying a $9.99 movie at Target or splurging on a $40 pair of shoes once a month, you’re probably going to be OK, but using retail therapy as a cure for your general unhappiness, depression, or anxiety is not effective and can seriously hinder your financial goals.
If you find yourself spending money frequently, here are five tips to overcome the addictive high that retail therapy provides:
01. Create a budget.
If you struggle with overspending, creating a budget may be one way to keep yourself in line and allow for small indulgences. Often people think having a budget means cutting out all discretionary spending, but you can allow yourself room for a few fun purchases a month. Your budget should be a balance between your needs and your wants.
02. Automate your savings.
If you find yourself spending more than you’re saving, it’s time to change your tactics. For example, you can create a Digit account and automate your savings. Digit takes a look at your spending habits every few days and removes a few dollars from your checking account if you can afford it and moves it into a Digit savings account—with unlimited transfers, no minimums, and no fees. You can also set up automatic monthly transfers between a checking account and a savings account. Setting these up will take the work out of saving, and you can feel better about your finances.
03. Wait twenty-four hours before buying something.
It can be tempting to spend money on an impulse. That’s why having a period of time between seeing something you like and buying it can be a good idea. This way, you have time to let your emotions calm down before you irrationally make a decision you’ll regret in a week.
04. Keep an accountability partner.
Find a friend or family member you trust and to whom you can be accountable. For instance, if you find yourself itching to buy a new purse at the mall, text or call your accountability partner before buying it. Having someone else remind you of your long-term goals and why you don’t really need that new bag can be a powerful deterrent.
05. Be aware of your mindset.
Clayman says she teaches her clients how to identify when they’re more likely to fall back into poor habits and how to recognize those warning signs. “When we become conscious of those dynamics, we can use that information to make a different choice,” she says. “This is not a ‘spending less exercise.’ This is an observation and mindfulness exercise.”
If you have any other questions or require further guidance, consider contacting a financial therapist in your area. You may be able to find one through the Financial Therapy Association. You can also contact a therapist or counselor at the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Photo Credit: Ashim D’Silva