Skip to content
Home » The Downside of Retail Therapy

The Downside of Retail Therapy

The Downside of Retail Therapy

The Downside of Retail Therapy – Retail therapy is a real thing.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.  Retail therapy is also called “emotional spending”: spending money on impulse to assuage an unpleasant emotion.  In other words, trying to make ourselves feel better (usually) by spending money we hadn’t planned to spend.

Often retail therapy is triggered by an emotional event.

You may justify going to the mall on the way home as something you deserve because of a crappy work week.  Or if you’re feeling stressed about life, it may seem like treating yourself will make you feel better.  And maybe it will (temporarily). But if you are working on becoming financially savvy, then you need to address the behavior. Determine if it is undermining your overall goal.

Maybe you had a fight with your significant other about his spending and you want revenge.  If you’re in a financially abusive relationship, this might feel like a justifiable reaction. But will it help the situation?  Likely not.

Generally speaking, when we try to make ourselves feel better by spending money, we haven’t budgeted the funds in advance.  It’s usually an impulse buy.  Any time we go over budget, there are consequences to pay.  Whether you’re still in a financially abusive relationship or you’ve already left, undermining yourself won’t help you get there.

The questions we need to ask to break this potentially devastating habit are:

  • Why do we do it?
  • Can we control or manage it?

Look at the situations that drove you to indulge in retail therapy in the past; you might identify a pattern.  For example, perhaps it always happens after you and your SO have had a fight.  Look at what you are fighting about. Is it money?  If so, what can be done to fix the fighting?  You need to get to the root cause.  If you’re feeling justified in spending money because he’s gone overboard, spending more money will not help.  

Sussing out the cause of the impulse will help you wrangle it in more easily.  Once you’ve figured out the triggers, then the next step is learning to control or stop it.

The Downside of Retail Therapy
The Downside of Retail Therapy

Finding a replacement activity to relieve the pressure is one alternative.

How about a “dump-your-bucket” session with a good friend? Expressing your frustrations to someone with a sympathetic ear can go a long way to reducing the built-up stress. It can also help to return the favor and listen to her woes. You might forget about your own for a while or perhaps put the situation in a better perspective.

If you can’t find a friend, try exercising. It’s free and will likely lift your mood, not to mention help burn a few calories.

Sometimes, even just delaying the impulse will make it dissipate.  I always suggest you sleep on it before making a purchase that’s not in your budget. If you wait 24 hours before allowing yourself to buy something, then the desire may go away. Put it in your shopping cart if you’re shopping online, and let it sit there for a day. If you are out in the real world, then put it on hold and wait. It’s likely you can resist the impulse once you’ve realigned your equilibrium.

Another way to deal with the need is to build it into your budget. Depending on how much wiggle room you have in your budget, you could build in a bit of play money. Then when the urge strikes, indulge guilt-free!  

We all have to ride the waves of our emotions. But impulsively spending money we don’t have will undermine our long-term financial savvy. Learning to reign it in and figure out a better way to address our emotions helps us become masters of our money much quicker.

Sherry Lutz Herrington is the owner of Sherrington Financial Fitness, a business consulting and accounting firm specializing in strategic business planning and solid financial accounting for businesses. She is also the author of Strong Women Thriving (, a blog which focuses on empowering women to be financially savvy, particularly after experiencing financial abuse. Sherry is currently writing a new book that both shares her personal story and addresses financial abuse. She can be reached at She can be reached at Join our FB group

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *