8 Ways To Overcome Retail Therapy

by Joanne Guidoccio
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Over half of Americans use retail therapy to improve their mood. Ease your way into better habits by employing these concrete strategies to stop trying to shop yourself happy.

It was Christmas Eve 1986 when the the expression “retail therapy” surfaced in a Chicago Tribune. The notion that we could nurse “our psychic ills through retail therapy” struck a chord and continues to resonate with many consumers.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, shopping really does make people happier by providing a release of dopamine along with a sense of control, all while relieving anxiety. No wonder so many of choose to shop ourselves happier.

But for some. all of this retail therapy is bringing a lot of debt and associated financial stress, which in turn drives us right back to shop a bit more.

If you feel like you might be stuck in this retail therapy cycle, consider the following signs to determine if they apply to you, then take some of the steps listed below to overcome it.

5 Signs You’re a Retail Therapy Shopper

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 (needs and wants).
  • 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.

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8 Ways To Overcome Retail Therapy

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.

Have you overspent your way into debt?

Make a plan to get back out. Get How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have and create a debt payoff plan personalized to your budget and lifestyle.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Volunteer in your community.

Local food banks and animal shelters are always in need of extra help.

8. Spend more time supporting social relationships.

In a decade-long study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life, 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 June 2023

About the Author

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 Canadian newspapers and online. She has bachelor's degrees in mathematics and education and a Career Development Practitioner diploma.

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