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Retail Therapy is Not Real Therapy

When I was in middle school, one of my favourite movies was Confessions of a Shopaholic. For those unfamiliar with the film, Isla Fisher’s character, Rebecca Bloomwood, is an aspiring journalist with a shopping addiction which leaves her in tremendous debt. This leads to her combining both facets of her life – shopping and writing – to write a financial advice column, dragging herself out of her financial crisis.

I must have watched it 50 times as a preteen girl. I thought Rebecca had the coolest wardrobe and was so fun and aloof that it didn’t matter that she was shopping impulsively. I rewatched the movie this past weekend and realized that among the brand names and hundreds of shoes, her deep-seated issues (as deep as a 2000s era rom-com can get) manifested in needless shopping. This tied in exactly with what I wanted to write about for this edition of Meg’s Corner: retail therapy.

“Retail therapy” is a colloquial term for an emotional coping behaviour that generates instant gratification through shopping. You may also have referred to this as diversion buying or stress shopping, but it all refers to the same band-aid method on which we subsist when facing external pressures in life. Impulse shopping provides immediate, but unsustainable, relief from tension.

There is a wealth of literature on the signs and impact of stress shopping. The Japanese Psychological Association cites a study classifying impulse spending as being either “goods oriented” or “people oriented,” the former meaning purchases based on the good itself and the latter referring to buying goods based on the influence of others. It may appear irrational on the outset, yet studies show that the number of people turning to retail therapy is increasing. More and more individuals are diversion buying to cope with stress only to suffer from subsequent regret once the initial thrill wears off. when selecting a card.

Coupled with the negative psychological side effects of engaging in retail therapy are the tangible impacts it can have on your bank account. Instinctively heading to your favourite store or opening up your browser to online shop when you’re stressed can put a strain on your savings. Even little things, such as buying a coffee or your favourite treat, can add up. That’s why it’s important to determine the line between treating yourself and reactionary spending – signs of which can include shopping to escape, shopping to create a new persona, and shopping for relief from stress.

The concept of retail therapy relates back to the first lesson of our high school program; one that I would argue is the most consequential out of our entire curriculum: mindful spending. Having a sound grasp on how and why you are spending your money is the foundation for overall financial health. How you use your money is personal, but it’s also important, and can impact your mental and financial state alike.

All of that being said, nobody’s perfect. I, myself, have a tendency to shop when I’m stressed. Last finals season, I spent $67 on notebooks from my local bookstore that I tricked myself into thinking I’d need for notes. I already had a drawer of journals at home… I went back the next day to return everything I bought, which only chewed up more of my study time and stressed me out further. I make a conscious effort now to identify when I’m purchasing necessities and when my habits resemble Rebecca’s in Confessions of a Shopaholic.

So-called “retail therapy” will not address the true root of stressors in your life. It is, however, exceedingly common and potentially harmful. You can find some external links below that talk more about the signs and types of stress shopping, as well as what you can do if you suffer from it. In short, be aware of your purchases and keep that key PennyDrops value in mind: spend money mindfully.


7 Signs You Might Be Emotional Spending

Retail Therapy: Does It Help?

How Retail Therapy is Used for Stress Management

6 Danger Signs of Emotional Shopping