Chapter 4: Retail Therapy

Have you ever felt down and decided to cheer yourself up by going shopping? Many people engage in “retail therapy”. In fact, research shows that shopping increases the level of chemicals in the brain that regulate happiness. However, the happiness that buying provides is usually short-lived, and the problems that result from overspending only cause guilt and stress.

Resist the urge to shop when you are feeling depressed. Remind yourself of the consequences of spending – will you not be able to pay your car loan because you bought $500 worth of clothing? – and engage in mood-boosting activities that are free, such as exercising, taking a bubble bath, or talking to a friend. If you are unable to control your shopping on your own and feel that it has a negative impact on your life, you may want to seek professional help.

Money as Love
A parent buys a toy for his child because he had to work and missed her recital. A husband spends $500 on a diamond necklace for his wife’s birthday because he is worried about what she will think if he only spends $50. A woman gives $200 to her younger sister who claims she is strapped for cash, even though she is struggling with her own bills.

These are all examples of how money gets intermingled with love. We feel guilty about what we have done or cannot do and worried that we will not be loved if we don’t spend. Money, we hope, will make everything okay.

Periodically buying gifts or spending money on loved ones is perfectly normal. However, avoid draining your wallet trying to buy love. Not only does trying to buy love not work from a relationship point of view, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your financial health for others. If you are feeling guilty about not spending enough time with someone or another infraction, address it head on. Instead of buying a box of candy, carve out more time in the future. Need to buy a gift for a birthday or another occasion? Keep in mind that most people prefer a thoughtful gift to an expensive one. In fact, there are many ways to show appreciation and do something nice for someone that don’t cost a dime, like cooking dinner or writing a letter. If you are a giver who always feels the need to outstretch your hand to friends and family members, recognize that giving them money often does more harm than good. Why should they learn to budget and save if you are always there with your wallet? That doesn’t mean you should let them be homeless, but you may not want to give unless it is a true emergency (and you have money to spare).