Retail Therapy

Shopping is considered a popular pastime for many people, with the National Retail Federation estimating Americans will spend over $700 billion this holiday season. However, the activity of shopping can have a psychological effect on us, improving our mood through what’s known as “retail therapy.” The question is, why does buying stuff make us feel good?

According to scientists, the practice of purchasing items releases dopamine into the brain, a chemical linked to happiness and contentment. Retail therapy is not just limited to clothes, it includes other items such as kitchenware, books, and cosmetics.

So while retail therapy makes us feel better, what life factors prompt us to go shopping? As Psychology Today states, one factor is a transition in one’s life. It might be a new job or a new apartment, or even a more life-changing event such as getting married or having a baby. The thought of something new coming our way motivates us to prepare for it by purchasing items, such as a new outfit for that new job or supplies for a new house or a new member of the family.

Shopping can serve as an escape from life’s stressors, such as a demanding job, a rough day at school, or just not being in a good mood. Some studies show that an outing to stores can be a mental refresher, giving us something else to focus on at the moment. There’s also a social angle to it- shopping is an activity we can do with both friends and family and form bonds through. And it’s usually helpful to have that second opinion on an outfit.

While shopping can be beneficial and therapeutic, it can also become an addiction. According to Time magazine, signs that you might be spending too much is going shopping nearly every day, (which online stores have made it easier than ever to do), arguing with family or friends over money or having negative feelings after buying something.

If this is the case, here are some suggestions to curb your excess spending.

Only buy something when it is necessary. It’s almost become a cliché that we have more stuff than we can handle, especially clothes. Most of the time, our closets are overflowing with those shirts, shoes and other accessories purchased but never worn. When going to buy something, ask yourself whether you really need it. This can depend on the situation. In need of a new outfit for a fancy dinner or wedding? Go ahead and buy one, as chances are you can use those clothes again. Did an important appliance break? Then by all means, look into fixing or replacing it. But other items like books (which can always be borrowed from friends or the library) don’t always have to be purchased.

Keep track of your spending. Putting your purchases on paper can help you take a good look at what you’ve been buying.  Write down a list of your transactions in a notebook or keep receipts to see your spending history. Or if you prefer an electronic way, apps like Mint can sync to your cards, provide current statements, and help set a budget for different categories (i.e. grocery, rent, entertainment, etc.) They’ll even email you when you overspend on a category.

It’s important to remember that it doesn’t hurt to go shopping in moderation, especially during the holiday season. But being mindful of your purchases can help you save money and time.

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