Black Friday: Is Retail Therapy Effective?

We’ve all been there before where we have a bad day at work or get in a fight and say, “I need some retail therapy.”

So, you go shopping, wondering the whole time whether accumulating material possessions will really help ease the pain, frustration or anger your friend feels. Turns out, science has spoken.  Retail therapy is an effective, though potentially expensive, coping mechanism.

Psychology of Retail Therapy

A study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing revealed that shopping can improve a sour mood. Researchers also looked at the impulsive behaviors caused by having a negative mindset to determine whether people were more impulsive during these times and if they later regretted their purchases.

The study showed that, yes, people who are upset tend to be more impulsive, which could mean they spend more money during a retail therapy experience. However, individuals did not regret spending money on “self-treats” with the goal of improving mood.

Another study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that retail therapy not only makes people happier immediately, but it can also fight lingering sadness or stress.

Researchers noted that many people who are sad or scared feel like they have no control over their environments. For them, shopping is a logical coping mechanism. They are able to control where they go and what they purchase. In a time when they feel they can’t do anything about their circumstances, people turn to shopping to exercise autonomy.

Using Retail Therapy Without Going Broke

While retail therapy is an effective way to improve your mood and exercise control over your environment, it’s not always the best coping mechanism. After all, you don’t have an endless supply of money, even if your problems seem to go on forever.

Many people have gone into debt thanks to retail therapy addiction, so you want to exercise restraint. Fortunately, you can get the mental and emotional benefits of treating yourself without busting your budget. Here are some strategies to try next time you’re feeling down:

Shop For Items You Already Planned to Purchase

Have you budgeted spending for a new dress for an upcoming wedding or a gift for your friend’s birthday? Use your mood to tackle those to-do items and feel better. When you need some retail therapy, limit yourself to buying things you already planned to purchase.

That way, you still get the experience of making a decision and you don’t overspend. This may take a little self-restraint, but it could still help you feel better. For the best results, get something for yourself you planned to buy.

Window Shop Instead

The Journal of Consumer Psychology study indicated that hypothetical shopping was also effective at improving mood. That means you don’t actually have to spend money to get the benefits of retail therapy. Formulate a strategy for window shopping. It could be putting items you’d like to have on your online wish list rather than in the cart.

Or, try on clothing and decide which ones you like, but ultimately put everything back. To help prevent yourself from actually buying things, leave your wallet in the car, or only bring a small amount of cash that you’ve budgeted for.

Put it on Hold

Many stores let you put items on hold for a certain time period (often 24 hours). Use this to your advantage. Shop until you start feeling better, but instead of actually taking the item home, put it on hold.

Then, look at your budget when you’re in better spirits to determine whether you can actually afford the items you put on hold, and if you really need them. In some cases, you may decide to let the hold run out, and in others, you can afford to head back to the store and pick up your items. Either way, you’ll have the benefits of retail therapy.

Retail therapy may have a negative reputation, but it is an effective mood booster.  If you choose to indulge, just be sure to do so carefully so you don’t overspend.

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