The practice of shopping in order to make oneself feel more cheerful.
The act of shopping as an outlet for frustration and a reliever of stress.
Not so long ago, shopping was one of my favourite leisure activities. I would go shopping for any reason but particularly enjoyed bargain hunting for clothes, shoes, personal and household items. While I could happily spend hours going from store-to-store, I especially enjoyed making the 90-minute trek to the mecca of discount shopping, the Lewiston, New York factory outlet mall just across the border. It was irresistible. It offered many possibilities of finding treasures at 50%, 60%, 70%+ off. Even now, I feel a bit of a thrill thinking about it.
I had an epiphany after I retired. I did an initial purge and quickly lined up eight garbage bags full of “stuff” including kiddie toys, books, household items, clothes, and shoes. What was particularly horrifying was the fact that many of these things were barely used. A few still had their price tags. I tried to tally the $$ that had been spent on all these things; it had to be at least a couple of thousand. I was appalled. I had worked so hard during my career, stressed myself silly, sacrificed time with my family. For what? To buy stuff that I would barely use? And this was only my first go at purging, there was lots more to go
Why We Shop
There is an obvious “need” to shop. I have to buy groceries and other household basics. I am talking about the “want” element of shopping. Retail therapy and buying items, especially on sale, always made me feel good. At least temporarily. I guess it satisfied some sort of “hunter/gatherer” instinct in me. The bigger the discount, the better I felt.
It’s no surprise that I’m not alone.
Do you know what “neuromarketing” is? It is the scientific research of the effectiveness of product marketing on the brain. Large marketing firms have spent over USD $117 billion to find out the best ways of influencing our shopping behaviours. They examine what advertising characteristics are most effective at maximizing the emotional and reward areas of the brain that trigger excitement and impulsive buying decisions.
For many people, retail therapy offers short-term gratification especially when they are stressed, bored or procrastinating. It releases dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. But the effects of dopamine are short-lived and are often replaced by guilt or shame.
In a Consumer Reports survey of 1021 women, 83% of the respondents identified themselves as bargain-hunters. Some of the responses to the survey questions are below.
- 23% buy things they don’t need just because they’re on sale
- 36% feel guilty when they pay full price.
- 47% tell their family and close friends and 35 percent tell anyone who will listen
- 59% wait for sales
- 80 % say they’d look for a sale even if money were no object.
I say “yes” to all of these bullets. And I loved bragging when I scored incredible deals. It made me feel special.
Breaking the Retail Therapy Trap
I stopped shopping as frequently once I retired. I didn’t need to buy work clothes anymore. And I was more relaxed. Plus, with less disposable income, I had to be more careful. But it was really the purging of thousand of dollars of barely used “stuff” that broke the camels back for me. That’s when I really lost my shopping mojo.
Some ways that I cope with impulse when I do shop:
- Make a list. Making a list requires examination of what we already have whether it’s groceries, clothes or anything else.
- Be intentional. Shopping is no longer a leisure activity in itself. When I go shopping, I intend to buy what is on my list. Not to say that I only buy what’s on the list because sometimes I do. But I tend to be less impulsive when I have objectives.
- Walk Away. If I want to buy something I know I don’t need, I will often carry that item around. If I am still undecided by the end of my trip, I put the item back. After 3-4 days, I will go back and buy it if I still want it. But often as not, the desire to buy that item has gone away. This method cuts down on impulse buys.
- Monthly Credit Card Threshold. I don’t have a budget per se but I do have a monthly spending target. Because I collect points, I put groceries, gas, clothes, car service, dentist, etc. on one credit card and pay it off in full every month. I always have a rough tally in my head of where I stand on a monthly basis. I target a certain $$ threshold for regular and incidental purchases. And, when I come under that number, I get that familiar happy rush.
I also like the fact that I can download the credit card data and examine where I have spent money.
- Purge Away. There is nothing like seeing what you are not using anymore to stop you from buying anything new. Your pantry, your closet, your basement. Sell what you can. Give the rest away to good causes.
- Create Buying Goals. Maybe it’s a new purse. Or, a fitness membership. Or, a family vacation. I tally what I don’t spend impulsively and add it to the budget for a bigger ticket item.
So while I do indulge in retail therapy from time-to-time, the intense desire to shop is no longer there. I have so much already, I don’t need more.