Retail Therapy: Do, or Don’t?

Most of us participate in retail therapy even if you aren’t familiar with the term. It refers to any purchases made with the intention of improving your mood (think comfort food). Considering the prevalence of depression and anxiety among students (severe depression in the college student body has more than doubled over less than a decade– that’s before 2020), it’s likely that most of us have relied on retail therapy to feel better. Purchases that you justify by saying, “I’ve had a hard week,” or “today has really sucked.” 

We think  that retail therapy works because it offers a sense of control over something. Generally, sadness is a result of a lack of control over whatever situation a person is in. But, when you shop it is something you can (usually) control; “Oh wow, look at this jacket. I love this jacket. I’m going to buy it and nobody can stop me.” I’ve definitely had this thought process with more than a few of my purchases over the years. It’s a uniquely satisfying feeling, to be able to look at something, decide you have the funds, and embrace your inner Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation: Treat yo’self!

The unfortunate paradox of retail therapy is that overindulgence, by spending beyond your means, can be a dangerous hole to fall into. Particularly when every company ever offers  a credit card, it can be easy to fall into a tragic spending spiral. If the main mechanism behind retail therapy is a lack of control over one’s life, having debt will only exacerbate that feeling, ,considering it’s already associated with increased feelings of depression. The average college student is especially vulnerable to the struggles of debt — tuition is damn expensive nowadays; as a result the majority of college students start life with an immediate boatload of debt hanging over their head, just for an education. But you can’t dig yourself into more debt just to cope with the fact that you’re already in debt, or you can fall into a dangerously deep hole. 

Having established the dangers associated, is it even worth indulging in retail therapy? The answer, like most, seems to be that it depends on the situation. One important thing to note is that unplanned purchases one makes in an effort to lighten your mood are not associated with feelings of guilt or regret. Additionally, impulsive consumers are able to practice restraint, if the goal of restraint is conducive to further happiness. Of course, this is a general rule that does not apply to every purchase, especially if the product purchased does not match the buyer’s expectations. One takeaway is that, when making impulsive purchases, guilt is less likely to play a contributing factor than you’d think. Furthermore, it has been established that participating in retail therapy is successful in treating sadness. Studies seem to suggest that retail therapy can effectively and reliably improve a person’s mood; therefore, it is a valid tool to rely on to keep yourself emotionally healthy– if you can also keep a cap on your impulses. 

It’s important to view retail therapy as a short term solution — buying things will not resolve the underlying issues that cause you to want to buy. Furthermore, you will want to balance yourself; too much buying will wind up making you feel worse, but investing in yourself is an important element of self-care and self-love. Here are some tips on how to make sure you’re keeping yourself financially balanced.

Try to stay in tune with your emotions. Retail therapy is really good at one thing: resolving sadness. Since sadness is associated with a lack of control over your environment, buying something will introduce something in your environment that you do feel control over. If you feel angry or guilty, however, buying something is ineffective because these emotions have less to do with your environment, and more to do with other people. It is important to know how to differentiate between these feelings, because they all fall under that general “not good” category, but retail therapy works best against sadness alone. 

Download a budgeting app. One popular way to stave off financial ruin is by running your financial information through an app like Cleo, which will then record all your spending and report the findings back to you. With budgeting apps you can visualize how much you can and are spending, and they will stop you from breaking beyond the rules you’ve set yourself. 

Get up and do something else.  This one can be harder in the pandemic, when we’re all cooped up indoors, but something as mundane as reorganizing your bedroom will instill in you a similar sense of control over your environment. So, when you feel yourself wanting to buy something without reason, instead get up and try to do some chores around the house, then see if you still want to buy that thing.

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By Sebastian Ortega

Sebastian is a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he majors in Fashion Business Management. He’s worked behind the scenes of New York Fashion Week with the company Nolcha Shows, and in the office of Elrene Home Fashions. Some day, he hopes to be able to make his own claim in the fashion industry by starting his own business.

For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourages them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing, and services.  

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