The holidays are notoriously known as one of the most stressful times of the year. Running through the list of people you would like to buy gifts for can be extremely overwhelming. However, stress spending happens at other times of the year, too. With any kind of stress, unnecessary or excessive spending can happen as a coping mechanism. More than half of United States citizens say they have bought something impulsively to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
It is often referred to, laughingly, as “retail therapy.”
Stress spending can take many forms. For example, buying three gifts for family members, and buying two for yourself is a typical scenario. The feeling of relief and self-indulgence can help temporarily reduce your stress. However, soon after, the feeling of worry sets in when you look at how much you spent. Changing your impulse buying behavior is not easy, but there are simple behaviors you can implement in your daily life to ensure it slows down, so when holidays roll around you are in control. Use this article to find ways to avoid stress spending.
A Socially Acceptable Coping Mechanism
The phrase is “retail therapy.” You know it, you use it, you love it. Retail therapy is a socially acceptable term used to justify a purchase for yourself. Justifying an indulgent purchase for yourself is a part of stress spending. This phenomenon is particularly observable during the holidays. The logic is, spending money on other people makes it easier to spend on yourself. This type of stress spending often leads to harboring negative feelings of worry, guilt, shame and regret. Below are five simple ways to stay strong against the retail therapy mindset and develop better spending habits.
- A list of what you need to cope – instead of making a list of what you need to buy, test making a list of what you need to cope. Ask yourself questions like “What type of experience do I want to have while I’m out?” “How do I want to feel after this excursion?” “What actions can I take to ensure I am responsibly spending?”
- Ask a friend to review what is in your cart – this works well for online shopping, as well as shopping in person. However, when you are shopping online, it can be riskier. With online shopping, you are not physically handing over cash or a credit card in person. A friend can support you and offer any feedback based on what is in your virtual cart. There is a good chance you reveal what is emotionally charging you to engage in retail therapy tendencies.
- Gym before shop – exercise is perhaps your greatest weapon against excessive shopping. Exercise is a powerful tool to reduce any stress you might be feeling before going shopping online or in person. Enhancing your overall well-being can help combat stress.
- Retail ploys – one of the hardest aspects of responsible spending, particularly during the holiday season, are retail ploys. Retailers target shoppers who are feeling stressed and encourage purchasing additional gifts for themselves. Emotional shoppers are triggered by campaigns like “one day only,” “buy one, get one,” or “get it before it is gone.” This urgency pushes shoppers to act quickly and based on emotion. Retailers are working to get customers to cave based on discounts designed to make you buy more and spend more. It is important to be mindful of this moving forward.
- Off times – dealing with long lines and large crowds can be a source of frustration and agitation. Your agitation with the amount of people can push you to make impulse decisions you may not be comfortable with otherwise. To avoid this, shop at times when there are less people. This means prioritizing time for shopping on a weekday, while children are in school or later at night. The quieter atmosphere can help for a clearer mind resulting in better decision making.
Advance Purchase Scoping
Scoping out possible purchases in advance can help to avoid excessive spending, particularly around the holidays or family members’ birthdays. Using an online shopping cart is a proven way to help with this. Keeping items in your online shopping cart can allow you to step away and think about your purchase before moving forward. There are many retailers who email a discount coupon to push you to check out quicker. Any discount could help make a difference in the amount of your future purchase. It is helpful to test leaving your credit cards at home and looking in the store, knowing you cannot make a purchase. This works against the notion that allows you to buy something impulsively and then find something you like better at a later date. If you find something that is perfect, take a picture of it with your phone, and then look for a discounted version of it later if you find you still want it.
One of the best ways to combat stress spending is setting a budget for yourself and tracking how much you spend. This budget helps to guide your decision-making and targets specifically who you need to purchase for. It is recommended you make two budgets, one outlining your overall budget and a second outlining your per-person budget for the year (including birthdays, anniversaries and holidays). The more organized and detailed you can be in these budgets, the better. This allows you to name a specific amount you are comfortable with for each person in your life. It is important to stop spending when you have hit the allotted amount for each person, which requires self-restraint. There are many apps on the market these days that can also assist you with staying on track.
Credit Usage Plan
Once you create a budget, you can determine the money you have access to spend. Many people may create a budget, but not have access to the money upfront, creating the need for credit. If you do not think you will have access to all the money you require up front, you can look into a personal loan, credit card or other lines of credit. However, you should not spend more than you can afford. To combat this, you can create a plan to ensure you can pay back the credit card company within a reasonable amount of time. If you cannot, then avoid it.
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