5 Tips From a Financial Expert for Engaging in Healthy Retail Therapy

Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick
Buying things to make yourself feel better may seem like a bad habit to get into. But healthy retail therapy is possible and even beneficial, according to science. Shopping to relieve stress or as an outlet for frustration can help with mood regulation, according to research conducted at Pennsylvania State University.

The reason that retail therapy can lift spirits is multi-faceted. Firstly, because sadness and frustration are often rooted in feeling out of control, the act of choosing to go somewhere to invest in yourself and something you enjoy can counter act this sensation. Retail therapy also provides a detour or distraction for your mind from whatever may be disturbing it, allowing space to focus on one specific thing, the task at hand, says Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD.

Experts In This Article

Additionally, retail therapy reduces feelings of residual sadness, per a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. And should you end up making a purchase during your excursion, that item can hold long-term satisfaction and retain the memory of a day that you took time for yourself and felt joy.

For your wallet's sake, though, it's worth learning a few tips to ensure that you're engaging in healthy retail therapy, and not relying too heavily on it as your only coping mechanism. It's important to have an arsenal of practices at your disposal to help regulate or raise a bad mood because, without parameters, shopping when sad can sometimes lead to overspending, further distress, guilt, and financial worry.

According to a recent Credit Karma survey, 35 percent of survey participants said that they made at least one impulse purchase during the pandemic because of feelings of anxiety and stress. "Among those, nearly half said they are stress spending at least once a week, and 17 percent are making impulse buys daily," says Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and financial advocate at Credit Karma. In order to reap the full benefits of shopping to treat yourself and boost your mood—but not let it become an unhealthy habit and cause added stress—it's important to practice moderation and set boundaries beforehand, she advises. Here are her top ways for doing so.

5 healthy retail therapy tips from a financial expert

1. Create a standalone account for spending on "nice-to-have items"

As you’re mapping out your budget, create separate savings or checking accounts for specific purposes. You can put money in the one designated for retail therapy, and once that money is gone, you know it’s time to stop spending.

2. Track when you spend based on how you feel and reflect on your triggers and habits

There are some purchases we make out of necessity, on things like groceries, utilities, rent, and more. And then there are some purchases we make to improve our mood, which can be a great method of self-care, so long as there is some thought put behind the spending.

3. Make sure you keep a budget for yourself

Keep track of anything you buy to boost your mood to make sure you aren’t spending too much, too often.

4. Avoid impulse buying by enacting the "24-hour rule"

If you wake up the next day and still feel strongly about buying it, and it won’t cause you to overspend, go for it. But, sometimes giving it some time helps you avoid getting caught up in the moment and spending beyond your means.

5. Remove shopping resources that make it too easy to spend

Have any shopping apps on your phone? Delete them. If you have your credit card information stored on your favorite sites for ease of use, delete that information, too. Hopefully, out of sight will make it out of mind, and just needing to take the extra step to get up and get your credit card may cause you to think twice.

All that being said, retail therapy looks different from person to person and doesn't mean that you need to spend heaps of money to do it. There are many ways to engage in retail therapy and experience the mental benefits of the practice while still balling on a budget. "Start with smaller purchases. Sometimes, smaller purchases can still act as a great pick-me-up," McCreary says. "Think: a book from your local bookstore, or a mid-day croissant from the bakery. You shouldn’t feel ashamed to spend if that will truly help your mood—but know that it’s always most ideal to spend within your means. There’s a chance the $5 purchase will feel just as great as the $500 purchase."

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