By: Allison Martin
During one of my coaching sessions, I was introduced to the idea of retail therapy. The gist of it (or at least what I took from the description) is as follows: if you are in the midst of a stressful or unpleasant situation, take your anger (and or other unstable emotions) out on the stores and purchase clothing or other desired items to lift your spirits. To be quite honest, I was very puzzled by this concept because I couldn’t understand how acquiring more “stuff” that isn’t necessarily needed or affordable (for those with limited resources) can make someone feel better. The client explained to me that the possessions boosted her self-confidence and she felt more empowered.
The bigger issue at hand involves the idea of shopping being therapeutic. The term therapeutic is defined as “of or pertaining to the treating of curing of the disease” (Dictionary.com). However, how can one possibly be taking care of the bigger issue at hand by acquiring more “stuff” while blowing excessive amounts of cash and even racking up more debt in some cases?
In today’s society, the average consumer has some sort of outstanding obligation, whether in the form of a credit card or loan. Sadly, American culture reassures us that it is “normal” to carry outstanding balances (as they may sometimes boost your credit score) or purchase frequently using credit cards to earn rewards. This makes it so easy for consumers with limited cash flow to engage in retail therapy. For the moment, the debtor may feel like a million bucks after that retail therapy session at the mall resulting from a recent break-up (compliments of the “magic plastic”). However, reality will set in once the credit card statement arrives and the debtor is saddened to discover just how high the balance has spiked. As a result, the consumer is left worse-off than before because they are now loaded down with more debt and remain lonely. As you can see, the problem was not solved; it only worsened. Was the retail therapy session really worth it?
Those who have out of control spending habits typically fail miserably at budgeting. A vast majority of individuals who desire a budget want to either learn how to save money, strategically pay off debt, or both. (It’s never just for fun!) Variable expenses are typically hardcore budget busters and the acquiring of endless amounts of material possessions is an area that many struggle with. In order to gain control the individual must be disciplined enough not to engage in retail therapy — a behavior that specially exhibits reckless spending.
The Bigger Picture
If you’re reading this and are guilty (or have been in the past) of engaging in retail therapy at some point, reflect on what triggers the occurrences. I hate to say this, but shopping to fill a void is just a temporary patch. It is not therapeutic whatsoever and almost never rectifies the issue. It actually makes the situation worse by enabling you to rack up more debt (if cash reserves are limited) and spiral out of control with spending habits.
The true solution to the problem lies within. Take control of your financial situation today and you will be thankful in the long-run.
Are you in debt and need more advice? Check out Allison’s article, Debt’s Five Stages, and get your financial life back on track!
Allison Martin is a financial coach who educates individuals from a Christian perspective on financial goal-setting, budgeting, saving, debt management, and wealth building. Make sure to check her out at FinancialCoachingForYou.com.