CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Why Retail Therapy Feels Good, But Won't Make You Happier in the Long Run

iStock
iStock

Hi. My name is Shaunacy, and I have a retail therapy addiction.

I suffer from chronic depression, so when I say I buy things I don't need when I am sad, I'm not talking about a rare occurrence. I feel down enough to engage in shopping as therapy often enough that it probably qualifies as a regular shopping addiction, but it’s usually when my regular doses of medicine and traditional therapy aren’t enough that I turn to the minor joys of consumerism. The highs are fleeting, but they are highs nonetheless, in times when other forms of happiness are hard to muster. This year, as my bank account began to take several devastating hits due to my low moods, I began to wonder: Was it worth it? Was retail therapy actually therapeutic in some slight way, or was I emptying my checking and savings accounts without benefiting in the least?

On a personal level, 2016 wasn’t a particularly great year for me, emotionally or financially. Within hours of a devastating breakup, I dropped $280 on a robot vacuum.

This boyfriend and I didn't live together. We didn't share any accounts, neither bank nor Netflix. By legal and financial standards, we were not attached at all—other than in the sense that I would no longer be able to log on to his Amazon Prime account to watch the latest season of Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (retail: $15). And yet, still, the breakup had the potential to become financially crippling. Within the week, my budget app would be in the red by more than $200, a figure that grew substantially as the weeks went on. And that doesn't even include the money I spent on actual therapy.

I had the savings necessary to cover the costs of my temporary loss of financial sanity, or I would have spent the next month eating canned beans for every meal. I might not have spent quite so much if I hadn't known I had this cushion, but I wasn't thinking clearly, either. It felt like a compulsion. I probably would have overspent no matter what my bank account said, in search of some kind of distraction that could make me feel better. The threat of overspending, in fact, was a little intoxicating. I muttered Tom Haverford's motto from Parks and Recreation over and over: "Treat yo'self." It felt like I deserved it, as silly as that seems. I needed it. It felt like buying all that stuff would help me get my life back.

A compulsive desire to buy things can get serious for some people. Retail therapy, can, in fact, be a sign of a real psychological issue—compulsive buying disorder, an actual shopping addiction, one that typically results in massive debt that sufferers keep secret from friends and family. According to one review of the little research there is on CBD, negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and boredom tend to precede shopping sprees. Once the purchase is made, the shopper tends to feel euphoria and relief.

The symptoms feel frighteningly familiar. April Benson, a New York-based psychologist and the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, says that one of the reasons people over-shop is to exert some sort of control over their lives. “This is a situation you can control—‘I see it, I like it; I buy it; it’s mine,’” she tells mental_floss. Whereas many other parts of our lives are out of control, whether it’s falling ill or being ghosted by someone on Tinder.

For most people, buying something is an enjoyable process. You get the satisfaction of finding something you want and acquiring it. “It can give [people] a feeling of mastery,” Benson explains. That only becomes a problem when you overdo it, just like enjoying food only becomes a problem when it becomes excessive.

Eric Storch, a clinical psychology professor in the pediatrics department at the University of South Florida’s medical school who studies Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in children and adults, says it’s unclear how exactly compulsion works in the brain, whether in OCD or in compulsive shopping, but for over-shoppers, buying something does trigger the brain’s reward response.

“For a lot of people there’s just this kind of need to fulfill the impulse to acquire it, and once one acquires it, there’s this rush of pleasure and release of tension that’s reinforcing,” he tells mental_floss. Because you get a temporary high from buying something, shopping becomes a repetitive act. You feel a little down, you buy something, you feel a little better, and then when that high fades and you’re back to feeling terrible, the cycle starts again. It’s a little therapeutic in the short term, but you’ll never be satisfied, either.

Retail therapy won’t actually solve depression or heartbreak. If anything, it adds yet another layer of stress to a bad situation: You know that you might feel better in the moment, but you won’t feel so good when the credit card bill comes due. To counteract this, consider starting a splurge fund. You certainly shouldn’t spend your life savings trying to buy your way out of unhappiness, but tucking some money away so that you have a bank account buffer for the next particularly dark time in your personal life isn’t a bad idea. I certainly realize now that I need to divert some of my spending money to a future retail therapy fund.

Still, it’s also important to realize that that new t-shirt or record player isn’t what you’re looking for, really. “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need,” as Benson puts it. “When you were very depressed, you probably needed something other than what you bought,” she tells me. “You might have needed love and affection or a sense of belonging.” Unfortunately, emotional security is one of the few things you can’t find on Amazon.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
environment
California Startup Pays Users to Consume Less Energy
iStock
iStock

You may know that turning off the lights when leaving a room or lowering the thermostat before bed are smart habits, but with no way to see their immediate impact, they can be hard to keep. OhmConnect is built around the premise that more people would follow through with these actions if they had a little motivation. As Fast Company reports, the San Francisco-based startup rewards California residents for their green choices with real cash.

The mission of the company is to prevent energy grids from using costly and dirty emergency power plants by encouraging customers to conserve power when demand outweighs supply. During “OhmHours,” users receive a text suggesting energy-saving practices. They can choose to opt out or agree to make an effort to lower their consumption. If their usage in the next hour is lower than the average for their home on that type of day (weekdays are compared to the weekday average; weekends to the weekend average) they receive points which can be redeemed for money. The more people participate on a regular basis, the more points they’re able to earn.

Participants in homes equipped with smart devices like a Nest thermostat or Belkin smart switches can program them to automatically consume less during those times. Nearly a fifth of the user base chooses some type of automatic response.

Someone living in a small apartment participating once a week has the potential to make $40 to $50 a year, while a family living in a larger home can earn up to $200. The California energy grid has also reaped the benefits: Since launching in 2014, OhmConnect has saved the state a total of 100 megawatts (the equivalent of not running two emergency power plants at high-demand times). California residents who get their energy through Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, or San Diego Gas & Electric can sign up to participate online. If you don’t live in the state but are interested in the service, you may get a chance to try it out soon: OhmConnect plans to expand to Texas, Toronto, and potentially the East Coast.

[h/t Fast Company]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
job secrets
11 Secrets of Financial Planners
iStock
iStock

You share your darkest money secrets with your financial planner. You even tell him about the time you spent your last pennies at Starbucks, because without caffeine, how could you work? This is the person who is supposed to sort out your life so that you can buy everything your heart desires, after all—or so we want to believe. We found out whether financial planners judge your shoe-buying habit, whether they get mad if they have to repeat themselves time and time again (we hear what we want to hear), and why they don’t always follow their own advice.

1. SOMETIMES, THEY GET A LITTLE ANNOYED WITH YOU.

“I grimace when friends or clients get involved with multi-level marketing endeavors, thinking it’s a quick way to make money,” says Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner in Massachusetts. These MLMs, including LuLaRoe, Matilda Jane, and others, rarely last more than a year, but according to Costa, the outlay of funds and time you pour into developing and understanding the product could have been better spent pursuing other means of career development. “While well-intentioned, it’s my least favorite method of supplementing income because it can take years to develop business and trust within the community, as with any business venture,” he explains.

2. THEY DON’T ALWAYS APPROVE OF YOUR CAR-BUYING WAYS.

sports car
iStock

Meghan Chomut, a certified financial planner in Thunder Bay, Ontario, says she can’t stand it when her clients overspend on vehicles. She even has a golden rule about it: The total value of all your vehicles and motorized toys shouldn’t add up to more than half of your annual income.

3. BUT THEY UNDERSTAND THAT YOU’RE GOING TO FORGET ABOUT SAVING MONEY DURING YOUR VACATIONS.

This is the time when clients tend to go off the rails, says Bill Ryon, co-founder and managing partner of the Dover, Delaware-based Compass Investment Advisors. Whenever Ryon sees clients taking distributions that are larger than what’s called for within their financial savings plan, he knows that they’re going on an international trip. “It can be a little bit of a sensitive conversation, since it is their money and I want them to enjoy themselves," he says, "however not at the expense of derailing their plan or jeopardizing their lifestyle in the future."

4. THEY BLAME YOLO.

credit cards
iStock

“If you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t do it,” Chomut says. “But then #YOLO, and all of a sudden, you’ve booked a trip to Florida. Or #FOMO you are going out to eat at a fancy restaurant with friends and putting it on a credit card," she says. "The struggle is real.”

5. THEY TOTALLY EXPECT TO REPEAT THEIR ADVICE OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Warren Ward, senior planner with WWA Planning and Investments in Indiana, says that many years ago, his doctor told him that about half the medical issues he dealt with in his practice were optional: people overate, refused to exercise, or smoked. But they still wanted their doctor to keep them healthy. “He responded by repeating his good advice, and making medical interventions when appropriate,” Ward says. “Just like that physician, we care about our clients, and will patiently repeat our advice at every visit, knowing from experience that people can change over time and become more financially healthy.”

6. EVERY FINANCIAL PLANNER HAS THEIR OWN FINANCIAL TRICKS TO PASS ON.

cash in an envelope
iStock

Ward is a huge fan of the “cash envelope system,” he says. Basically, you map out your spending for the week, and put that amount of cash into an envelope. “Mapping out your spending for the week allows you to know where your money goes instead of wondering where it went,” he says.

7. SOME WANT YOU TO FOCUS ON THE BIGGER PICTURE ...

“The secret is that all retirement planning is income planning and everything else is detail,” Ryon says. “I’ll have to repeat that several times, but that’s it. It helps them to focus on what’s really important and what they are planning for.” Essentially, he says, you’re saving and investing to sustain your lifestyle for at least 30 years after you retire. So if you focus on the fact that all of your retirement planning is income planning, then you’ll be able to think of your money as a machine that’ll pay the bills once you stop working.

8. ... OTHERS WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT EVERY DOLLAR YOU SPEND.

Budget and cash on table
iStock

The key is to make a budget every single month, Chomut says. “Every dollar overspent is a dollar you have to either work harder for tomorrow, or a sacrifice you’ll have to make later.”

9. THEY DON’T ALWAYS FOLLOW THEIR OWN ADVICE ...

Ward says that the most difficult part of financial planning is convincing his clients to plan for death. That means setting aside money for the kids’ education and naming a close friend or relative as a potential guardian for those children ... just in case. “Just like my clients, I’m slow to face updating my estate planning documents,” Ward says. We don’t blame him!

10. ... BUT THEY STILL WISH YOU WOULD TRUST THEM ...

businesswoman looking anxiously at her phone
iStock

“In our modern age of 24/7 news coverage, I think people tend to put too much emphasis on interpreting the latest headline, and then trying to act tactically in response,” Ward says. “Whether this involves making an investment decision based on world affairs, or following the weather minute-by-minute prior to a vacation, we prefer that they think strategically, formulate a plan and stick to it—of course allowing for periodic review and adjustment.”

11. ... BECAUSE AT THE END OF THE DAY, THEY’RE THE EXPERTS.

“I struggle watching one of a couple—usually the husband—claiming expertise that’s actually incomplete,” Ward says. After all, he doesn’t brag about medicine when he goes to the doctor, nor does he claim knowledge of the law if he visits a lawyer. “I try not to be judgmental, but this is an area where I struggle,” he says.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios