Shopping Pitfalls

Stress Buying: The Original Retail Therapy

Stress buying:

Where the rate of money you spend rises in direct correlation to your stress levels. They’re always impulse purchases, usually with reckless disregard for your bank balance, and you justify it to yourself a little along these lines:

I hate my housemate/job/wardrobe/lack of dishwasher, f*ck it, I’m getting that really expensive pointless thing I’ve been eyeing for ages. It will make my life better.

People use the words ‘Retail Therapy’ now to describe almost any kind of shopping behaviour and often with a positive spin. Again, that idea of a treat, backed up with wilful enabling from retailers: “You’re worth it.” “Instant reward.” “Loyalty bonus.” “Treat yourself to a little retail therapy.” We’ve embraced our shopping compulsion as ‘consumer spending that stimulates economic growth.’ We’re actually helping, right? Right?

When Retail Therapy was first coined it was used to describe a much bleaker point of view:

“We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”[1]
– Schmich, Mary (24 December 1986). “A Stopwatch On Shopping”Chicago Tribune.

When you Stress Buy, what you’re really chasing is the dopamine hit (aka Retail High) that the instant gratification of purchasing provides. Online shopping just delays the gratification for an even greater high. The anticipation of your delivery buoys your mood until its arrival where you can enjoy the experience of purchasing it all over again. Almost like receiving presents on Christmas morning. Except you bought them yourself. My God, its addictive!

Shopping like this temporarily lifts you out of whatever emotional funk you are in. And theres the kicker: its temporary. Just like any other addict you will soon need another hit.

(Jeez, Natalie, you’re such a downer…)

So what do you do?

Well, my friends, its time to confess: I may not be the best person to answer this. Normally, I’m all about buying better, and buying less. But lately, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to blog, work, renovate and squeeze all the other normal life stuff in. Skincare and makeup are my weaknesses. I’ve been hauling them like you wouldn’t believe, with little thought of my credit card balance. I have a problem.

Exhibit A

This was the result of a weekend that involved :

  • driving 4.5 hours south to visit my parents for the weekend
  • scattering my Nanna’s ashes on the family farm
  • navigating family politics while my Mum’s neurotic Dachshund x Kelpie rescue dog tried to eat me (yes, its as odd-looking as it sounds)
  • all the while a team of tree surgeons were at my place cutting down a 15m tree that overhung the house
  • driving 4.5 hours back through end-of-public-holiday traffic to what shall now be known as ‘treemageddon’

Naturally, when I needed to repurchase my beloved DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, a few ‘extras’ hopped into my cart. About $160AUD worth of extras. ?

But wait, there’s more…

I know. I know. More issues than Vogue.

Clockwise from top left:

  1. AdoreBeauty mini haul  – the aftermath of sourcing all my new bathroom fittings including sinks, cabinets, taps, mirror, vanity, shower head… in one afternoon.
  2. Korean sheet mask haul – the result of stumbling upon a korean beauty store while hoofing-it from my hotel to my first appointment on an Adelaide business. It was 40ºC, I was power walking in full sun wearing zero sunscreen, the plane had landed late and I didn’t have enough time for lunch. It was a weak (and stressful) moment.
  3. Priceline 40% off skincare haul – I had finally emerged from a mountain of paperwork, had’t been outside all day, checked my emails and saw the offer. I thought, f*ck it, I need more LPR Effaclar Duo, I’m going to Priceline. (Twice. see below)
  4. YSL Vernis À Lèvres Vinyl Cream in 403 Rose Happening – Firstly, I’ve called it by its French name, because frankly, the English name ‘Creamy Stain’ is on-another-level gross. Secondly, my thinking here was “I’d rather paint by lips than my house. But since I can’t not paint my house, I’ll just have to do both.” Logical right?
  5. Priceline again. Same day, different store. Because I hadn’t done enough damage in the first store. (Sigh)

Ideally, to combat compulsive stress buying, you’d eliminate the source of stress. That seems obvious. Now I’m aware of my spending patterns I’m much more aware of my stress levels and I can do things to manage them. But my stress sources are my home renovation and my family. They’re not going away any time soon.

So I’ve come up with a plan. Its a complete experiment, but do come along for the ride. The more people keeping tabs on my spending the less likely I am to relapse.

The Plan: spend consciously, not mindlessly

That means planning my purchases. Part of my recent urge to spend is the feel-good factor of a treat. But I get the exact same ‘mood lift’ from the anticipation of purchasing as I do from actual purchasing. My theory is, if I can hold off to a future date where I have already nominated the thing I want (or better, need) to buy, it will stop me buying copious amounts of random useless crap. The planning and anticipation should get me through whatever trauma I think I’m suffering and give me control of the spending situation. No more impulse purchases. This way stress buying blow-outs become regular consciously planned treats to look forward to.

The $100 Cashmere Crew – Everlane

I have decided to add a layer of mindfulness to my experiment. I’m limiting myself to Treat Spending once a month. I get paid by the month, budget by the month, pay my bills by the month, it just made sense.

At the beginning of the pay month I’ll put money aside and nominate exactly what I’m going to spend it on. I’m giving myself two options this month as to what I’m going to buy. I have a CosRX wishlist at RoseRoseShop I’ve been adding to and culling back for weeks. I also have my eye on another cashmere sweater from Everyone.

Then, I have to wait. Until the end of the month. I can buy my korean skincare or cashmere sweater guilt-free, but not until the day before payday.

Why? Because then I have to choose. Do I want to buy the Thing? Or keep the Money?

Was I motivated by stress and now that the stress is gone, do I still have a need to spend?  If I don’t spend it, I can roll it over to the next month and plan a bigger purchase. Or I can roll it into my savings for Stage II of the renovations: Subdividing, or, you know, this Gucci handbag. ?

The thought of that Gucci handbag is de-stressing me right now…

Like I said, its an experiment. As I progress I will keep this post updated, but for now, tell me your thoughts:

Do you Stress Buy? How do you manage it?

And are you interested in a completely unrelated-to-retail home renovation post?

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2 Amazing Comments

  • Reply Katherine March 17, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Love the concept of considered purchases. I’ve been (trying) to exercise this for a while, and it’s actually very freeing. I keep a small “want” list on my phone and can add/edit it as I like. Also helps if I feel I NEED to shop, I’ll get something from my want list, rather than make some random purchase. I feel good long after the spending buzz has worn off knowing that I’ve picked up something I’d wanted for ages.

    Also I’d love renovation posts! You’re still spending money on it right?!

    • Reply Natalie March 17, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      I am indeed still spending money on it ? but not in a fun way. Went it comes to the reno, I have no experience so I’m hesitant to offer any advice regarding spending money. It would be more of a nosey as what I’ve been up to while I’ve been neglecting Betty.

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