You had a bad day. You’re takin’ one down. You sing a sad song just to turn it around…
… and so you go buy something.
The sweet release of “retail therapy” can feel like an injection of dopamine straight into the pleasure centers of your brain. Some even count it as self-care. For what can be more self-caring than to treat yo’self?
I know people who stress-spend like
others I stress-eat cheese. The problem is that the euphoria that comes from buying something new—even if it’s fancy cheese and you really fucking deserve it because work sucked today—is short-lived, but the money you spent is gone forever.
That brief high of retail therapy or impulse spending can waylay your larger financial goals and damage the delicate equilibrium of your savings, generating far more stress than you relieved with the purchase.
Yet being upset about a bad day doesn’t mean you have to throw your financial goals to the wind. And losing that money while trying to make yourself feel momentarily better is going to feel worse in the long run.
I’m sympathetic to the plight of the emotional impulse-spender. Which is why I want to help you find another way of making yourself feel better. One that doesn’t involve your meager paycheck.
What causes impulse spending?
Understanding the root causes of impulse spending can help with combating it. Knowledge is power, after all!
According to Psychology Today, a lot of impulse purchases result from feelings of anxiety, unhappiness, or jealous comparison. It’s “the idea that by purchasing that product you’ll be happier, better respected, or more complete.” Either you swipe your credit card to make yourself feel better, or because you think other people will think better of you. (Spoiler alert: nobody cares. At all. Ever.)
It therefore follows that the best way to avoid emotional impulse spending is to attack the root cause: those anxious feelings of inadequacy or discontent.
Psychologist Ian Zimmerman (who I’m going to trust because he’s got that fancy PhD after his name) also writes about how being exposed to a product you think will help your unhappiness or raise your status can actually influence you to buy it.
So the last thing you should do when you’re feeling shitty is to go to a store (in person or online) “just to browse.” It’s a lot easier to pull the trigger on a purchase when you can see it, touch it, or visualize it in your possession.
And these days it’s easier than ever to spend money: online retailers like Amazon.com have their patented one-click buying technology, making impulse buys as easy as clicking a single button. Want to save your credit card information for future purchases? Holy ease and convenience, Batman! How about getting emails when we have sales? Yes puh-leeze!
And all of that “added convenience” is intentional! Retailers want your hard-earned money, and their advertising schemes play off of the insecurities that cause impulse spending. They’re constantly finding new ways to manipulate you into making a purchase, and removing barriers to spending your money is all part of their nefarious plot.
Here’s the thing though: it doesn’t work. The emotions you’re trying to quell won’t go away with retail therapy. At least not for long.
Ok, so you feel like shit, shopping looks like a quick emotional pick-me-up, it’s absurdly easy to buy a thing, but you know you need to save your money. What do?
Instead of giving in to temptation because of your current mood, or because you’re comparing yourself to others, find something that will truly achieve the mood-boost you need without costing a dime!
Physical activity makes you feel better. Science says so! The endorphins that come from working your muscles even a little bit can really lift your mood.
Wait! Get back here! It doesn’t need to be particularly strenuous physical activity!
Go for a walk
When you’re feeling shitty, rather than reaching for your wallet, go for a long walk. Bring a dog or a human you love and tell them all about what’s bothering you. I hear you can also walk some cats, but I’ve never met a perambulatory member of the species, despite my lengthy tenure as the secondary under-butler to Kitty’s old cat when we were roommates.
Introverted? Just listen to a podcast or an audiobook while you stroll along instead. It’ll keep you from dwelling on your own thoughts and keep you edutained at the same time. I hear the Bitches Get Riches podcast is pretty good if you like that sort of thing…
Sweat out your feelings with SPORTS
For the more physically ambitious, more strenuous exercise may be in order.
I used to use running to help manage my anxiety and stay in shape. Then a hip injury landed me in physical therapy (yes, I am a brittle-boned hag). For the record, running is still a great way to sweat out your feelings, and I still do it, just not as much. Due to my recovery process, I had to find an exercise to replace it in my daily workout.
That exercise has become rock climbing. As a stress-reliever, it’s remarkably effective. I want all of you to find the sport or exercise that allows you to physically work through your emotions like you’re exorcising demons. For some people that’s lifting weights. For others it’s competitive Quidditch. And for some people it might even be (shudders)… yoga.
Whether it’s swimming laps, climbing big rocks, lifting weights, riding horses, beating your fellow LARPers with a foam sword, or running long distances, find your thing and sweat out your feelings like the Amazon warrior you are.
Let me be crystal clear: I fucking suck at dancing. My husband texted a video of me learning to floss to our three-year-old nephew and apparently he laughed so hard he nearly choked. (Related: you’re written out of the will, kid.)
Yet I appreciate a good solo dance party as much as anyone. Crank up the music and have a fucking dance party in your bedroom. Dance like the judges of America’s Got Talent are watching! Or not!
You don’t have to be a good dancer to enjoy moving to the music (I should know). Just crank your tunes of choice and… get jiggy wit’ it? Get down with your bad self? Insert your generation-appropriate dance idiom here.
Rereading a favorite book, listening to the album that solidified your personal musical taste, watching your favorite movie yet again… it’s like mac and cheese for your brain.
Absorbing comfort media you already have free access to can be enormously more effective than retail therapy.
Rewatch your favorite show. Not Firefly, though. The knowledge of its premature demise will just make you feel worse.
Go to the library and check out a bunch of books. Read ‘em.
Listen to Lemonade,
or your favorite album.
Scream into the void
Write an angry, cathartic email to whatever or whoever is bothering you. Send it to yourself and archive it so you can read it next time this thing pisses you off again. (True fact: this is how I deal with my dad’s political opinions. Still have an unsent email written during the era of the Hobby Lobby court decision.)
Or journal it out. You don’t need to have a fancy tome and ostentatious plumed quill to journal—just open a word processor and start barfing your feelings out through the keyboard.
Or you can actually scream. I suggest going out into the woods before howling out your frustrations, or just shrieking into a pillow. Don’t want to disturb the neighbors, after all. But you’ll find it’s wonderfully cathartic!
Treat yourself like the queen you are
Treat yourself to a spa night in. Take a bath, exfoliate, use the ~*~*fancy*~*~ lotion, paint your nails, blow dry your hair, use that weird mask your aunt gave you.
There’s something truly decadent and permissive about pampering yourself. Emerging from the bathroom after an hour or two, lotioned to within an inch of my life, my unibrow plucked and my toenails painted… well, it always makes me feel like I was just waited on by magical servants trained to compliment and accentuate my natural awesomeness.
Self-care now should not be synonymous with future self-destruction. Feeling better now doesn’t have to be at the expense of feeling broker and worse later.
Shop if you must—but do not buy
It’s probably not a great idea to perpetuate consumption as a coping tactic. But if shopping really does feel relaxing, then shop!
Just don’t buy anything.
There are so many ways to do this.
- Curate all the Pinterest boards you want.
- Feast your eyes upon the amazing things artisans make on Etsy.
- Fill electronic shopping carts, then capriciously abandon them, knowing that no store employees will be stuck restocking them.
- Volunteer to find needed items for your friend who hates shopping.
- Stroll through a mall window-shopping—and leave your wallet behind if you don’t trust yourself.
Shit, son, you can probably scratch the itch by playing The Sims for a couple of hours. The Sims exists to give young women an escapist fantasy of perfect control over their lives. So stop deleting their pool ladders, turn that frown upside down, and bedeck those fake people in all the finery the internet can offer!
If going cold turkey just ain’t happening, you could give yourself a tiny shopping budget, and spend all month researching and agonizing over what your special purchase(s) will be. Waiting and considering will prolong your satisfaction and increase the odds you’ll choose an item you truly want.
Enjoy what you already have
I don’t know about you, but… I have so much shit. And I feel like I live a pretty minimalist, frugal lifestyle!
I have a dog I can play with, books I can read, a garden I can tend, games I can play with my friends. I have a whole calendar of local, free events curated by my local library! I have friends I can talk to about my stupid feelings, a husband who somehow always knows exactly what to do to make me laugh.
It’s worth reminding yourself that you have what you need to make yourself feel better. The tools are at your disposal, no need to buy them anew.
YOU CAN DO THIS, KID. I FUCKING BELIEVE IN YOU.
What’s your favorite method of avoiding emotional impulse spending? Share it in a comment below, Bitch Nation!