Retail therapy seems to be the type of thing we like to talk about in the context of internet memes. It’s a bit of a wink, wink, isn’t-that-funny sort of thing.
And on the face of it, it is funny. After all, how ridiculous to think a hole in our lives could be filled by a new pair of shoes.
Yet, at the same time, it’s not ridiculous. It’s real. It’s compulsive. Worst of all, it has the potential to lead to financial ruin if you’re not careful.
Down the Rabbit Hole
The set-up for my own foray into retail therapy happened shortly before my husband died. I was invited to a Miche purse party, and I gamely made an order to support the hostess. I should point out here that I have never been interested in purses before. I don’t even think I had ever even purchased a purse for myself before. I would get gifts or hand-me-downs and then use them until they fell apart.
So my order arrived, and I think it probably hung out in a box for a few weeks before I even took it out. My husband died and then I was suddenly, inexplicitly obsessed with this purse and its various options.
For those who don’t know, Miche made shells (later called faces) for its base bags to make it simple to change the look of your purse. The company stopped selling in the U.S. earlier this year, but you can still find them on Amazon. I discovered a website that listed every single shell the company ever made, and I made it my mission to own them all.
Every night for about three months, I would spend hours on eBay searching and bidding for shells. It wasn’t unusual for 5-6 boxes to be delivered every day, and the really odd thing was I rarely opened them when they arrived. Apparently, the hunt, not the purses themselves, was what filled whatever need I had.
The armchair psychologist in me says I was drawn to Miche because it was a collection with a limited number. It felt like something I could complete. I could no longer have a complete family, but I could have a complete purse collection.
Ridiculous? Yes! But it was oh so comforting and distracting at the time.
The obsession finally wore off when Miche ramped up their production, and I realized I would never be able to collect them all. At the same time, I used the last big chunk of life insurance money to put a down payment on a new house so I no longer had a stash of disposable income to dip into. That sobered up my spending in a hurry.
Want to see the damage?
Then we move to the other side where the entire rod is filled with these hanging shell organizers. There are three more bins on the bottom full of shells too, but the floor is littered with wrapping paper so I opted not to take a photo. I’ll let you imagine it instead.
There, doesn’t that make you feel so much better about any overspending you might have done? Seriously, it’s crazy. And embarrassing. And humbling. But it is what it is, and I share so others know they are no alone.
Note, these were not super expensive buys. I often bought big lots, and I probably averaged somewhere around $5-$10 for most of the shells although I spent significantly more on a few. However, all combined, I’m sure this represents a staggering amount of wasted money. (Please, no one do the math.)
Surprisingly, I don’t regret it. It was wasted money, but the purses served their purpose. They kept me sane and a gave me a mission when my life was out of control.
How to Say No to Retail Therapy
Not everyone can spend without abandon and not have it affect their financial well-being. I am certainly in a place now where a purse obsession would lead to some serious money problems.
Fortunately, the purses don’t speak to me anymore, and I am getting ready to eBay them and recoup some of my money. However, I do still find myself pulled to the idea that if I just buy this certain something (like this journal or another Stitch Fix order), I’ll finally be able to put my life in order.
To say no to these lingering retail therapy impulses, I’m trying the following tactics.
- Unsubscribing to sales notifications: I get a lot of emails about fabulous sales, but I’m banishing them from my inbox so I don’t feel tempted.
2. Ignoring deal blogs: Along the same lines, I’ve stopped reading blog posts about the latest amazing Amazon deals or other steals to be found in stores or on the web. For a while, I thought it was smart to bargain hunt year round for Christmas and birthday gifts. But I have since faced up to the reality that I always forget I have them until after the holiday has passed. Plus, that strategy led me to overspend – both on myself and on gifts.
3. Skipping window shopping: Whether it’s a local store or a catalog, I’ve decided I will no longer look unless I have a reason to buy. Otherwise, I always find something I can’t live without.
4. Keeping a list of what I need: In the past, a big sale would have been a reason for me to aimlessly browse what was available and then convince myself I should buy X because it was such an incredible deal. Now, I keep a running list of things I actually need and only buy something if it’s on the list.
5. Allowing myself a purchase a month: In my opinion, moderation is better than excess. Rather than cutting off my retail therapy completely, I’m budgeting for one purchase a month for an item on my list. This month, I’m searching for a great deal on a grill. Next month, it will be a bedspread. This approach lets me have the satisfaction of shopping without the collateral damage of unfettered buying.
Do you have any personal experience with retail therapy? And if you broke the habit, let us know what worked for you in the comments below or on The Mighty Widow Facebook page.
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