Retail therapy will send you broke

PicsArt_10-15-03.36.14Buying more stuff is not going to fix things. If you’re not happy, then a new jacket, or pair of shoes, or collectable figurine is probably not going to improve your life. So when you feel unhappy, and you think “stuff it, I’m going to cheer myself up by buying everything on my Amazon list”, you are really not doing yourself any favours.

Having said that, I’m a firm believer in improving how you look as a way of improving how you feel about yourself. But that does not mean you should add yet another fitted skirt to the twenty that you already have, or buy another shirt to join the ten at the bottom of your closet. If you think carefully about the statement “I deserve something new”, it’s actually a strange thing to think. Newness doesn’t make an item useful or enjoyable. You literally just want to go spend your money.

If you’re generally buying useful things, and are consistently happy with your purchases then you’re probably fine. If (like me), you come home and realise that the dress you bought is too long, constantly needs ironing (nope) and makes you look like a loaf of bread, then you may have an issue. There’s an initial thrill when you find something you like, and make the purchase. It’s almost as if, for a tiny period of time, the sensible part of you goes on a vacation, and the dreamer in you decides to buy a little bit of hope – in the form of earrings. Those earrings go along with a narrative, that most likely resides in the very back of your mind. So far back that you don’t even think about it. “A successful person would wear these”, “Someone who is capable and responsible would look like this.” The purchase is part of the life you wish you had, rather than the life you currently have.

Once, after a rather devastating break up, I bought a banjo. Who knows what kind of life I wished I had at the time. It was easily the stupidest and most indulgent buy I’ve ever made. I didn’t need retail therapy – I needed real therapy. I still don’t know how to play it.

It’s all well and good to talk about the pitfalls of impulse buying. It’s harder to work out how to stop it. Here are some of the things that worked for me:

  1. Don’t make big financial decisions without sleeping on it. What counts as a big financial decision? For me it’s $200. That doesn’t sound like much to the average compulsive shopper, but if you don’t have an emergency account and additional savings, then $200 is a lot.
  2. Before you buy it, think of how many hours work it costs. Does it cost a day? Half a day? Is it worth it?
  3. If you don’t buy it, will you regret it in a year? Will you even remember it?
  4. Are you just buying this because you’re unhappy?

If you go to a market, or make a special trip to an event, do you feel obliged to buy something? A souvenir, or a hand crafted item? How would you feel if you came home empty handed? Do you buy things compulsively? If you see something that is kind-of related to a friend’s hobby, do you buy it for them?

Gambling is taken seriously, compulsive shopping is not. Covering up spending and purchases is a huge red flag, but even if you are just finding yourself surrounded by ‘stuff’ that you don’t really need or want, it’s worth doing some soul-searching. There are a lot of ways to numb your pain. Shopping is one that looks innocuous, but can have devastating consequences. There’s a cycle of: feel sad > go shopping > buy something > feel elated/satisfied > hit reality > buyers remorse > feel sad.

It can be awfully difficult to stop self-soothing behaviour. It doesn’t matter if you’re wanting to eat a giant donut or buy shoes. If you are about to do something indulgent because you’re angry or upset then you’re just trying to soothe yourself. If you aren’t angry or upset, but you have a rock of dissatisfaction in your belly, then you would be better off actually dealing with what it is that is making you restless.

The trick is to try and find a way of calming yourself that isn’t self destructive, and boosting your self esteem so that you’re not always on the lookout for the mysterious better version of yourself. Much easier said than done.

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