When happiness is at the bottom of a Louis Vuitton bag: Dangers of retail therapy

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I get depressed when I shop – and that’s aside from the big crowds, the lack of parking, my tendency to get lost in big malls, and my inability to find my car when I am so ready to leave. I am not into designer stuff, but there’s lots of things I’d buy if I could: Paintings, a juicer, a king size mattress, a Panini press, and a melon baller (because who doesn’t love melon balls? Fools, that’s who.). But shopping when I need a boost, otherwise known as Retail Therapy, isn’t my thing. I’d rather watch Ghost Adventures and eat French fries. Not that emotional eating is any better, but that’s for another blog.

My point is, some people use shopping as treatment for depression. Although not an official diagnosis, “Oniomania” refers to an obsessive need to shop, often because of the adrenaline rush it offers as well as the ensuing emotional bliss, albeit temporary. But just like shopping when you’re hungry will result in a bulk purchase of 48 packs of Mac n’ Cheese, shopping when you’re depressed has its repercussions. Here’s what data from our Shopaholic Test reveals about people who engage in retail therapy:

  • 75% struggle to control their urge to shop.
  • 80% will still shop even if they can’t afford to; 59% will buy luxuries that they know they don’t have the funds for.
  • 93% end up spending more than they had intended.
  • 57% ending up feeling guilty about their purchases.
  • 70% have bought things they never used or wore.
  • 43% have maxed out their credit cards in a single spree of retail therapy.
  • 16% have difficulty holding down a stable relationship because of their shopping behavior.
  • 38% own 3 or more credit cards.
  • 17% have gone as far as to steal money or credit cards from loved ones in order to get their shopping fix.

Sadly, only 4% have sought professional help for their compulsive shopping – but as you’ve likely come to understand, the problem isn’t so much the shopping as it is the emotional triggers. So as much as I enjoy the blissful taste of fries, I realize that the solution to my difficulties is not at the bottom of those greasy paper bags, and certainly not at the bottom of a pristine shopping bag with fluffy tissue paper. Even if you dice up your credit cards in your newly purchased Cuisinart food processor, the underlying issue still remains unresolved: the depression. And those who don’t deal with that emotional trigger will only find themselves replacing one addiction with another…like fries.

Having dealt with my own tendency to impulse buy (hello, 2014 vacation in Vegas), here are some of my best tips to curb the shopping itch:

  • Break the vicious cycle. Research on impulse behavior like excessive shopping has shown that individuals who engage in these actions know they have a problem. This is why they are lying to friends and family and hiding purchases and credit card bills. Their depression triggers the need to shop. Shopping leads to a temporary high, followed by an emotional drop – which is then medicated with more shopping. You need to break that cycle. If you’re feeling down, phone a friend, take a jog around the block, play with your pet or take a walk in nature. Don’t use retail as your therapy.
  • Get a meaningful hobby. Instead of spending all your time shopping, occupy yourself with another interest. It doesn’t matter if it’s golf, gardening or go-carting – if your time is spent elsewhere, your mind will likely be too. You never know, you might find something you enjoy doing even more. You may also find that activities that involve helping others (e.g. volunteering, fostering pets) will lift your spirits. Research has shown that volunteering improves mood and increases life satisfaction.
  • Remember that there’s strength in numbers. Try shopping with a friend or family member – preferably someone who doesn’t like to shop. If you find your fingers itching to spend money, ask for their opinion. Their objective insight (“Do you really need it? Are you making your decision on impulse?”) will compel you to think twice about your purchase.
  • Consult a professional. If you find that you’re so far into debt (and into depression) that you don’t even know where to begin, don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals like therapists and financial advisers. The former will help you get to the root of your troubles and impulse behavior, and the latter will get you on the path of managing your money and organizing your priorities.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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