Healthy Retail Therapy: How to Shop Guilt-Free During Holiday Season

young woman shocking after checking over the receipt in her hands and spending too much

‘Tis the season. Black Friday is looming,  to be followed by a slew of holiday-shopping-crazed weeks. This means retail therapy can easily beckon. So too can the anxiety that comes along with financial strain, overspending, and impulse purchasing. On the one hand, research shows that spending money on others brings more happiness than spending on ourselves. However, spending more than you can afford on anything can yield distress. Impulse buying accounts for the majority of buyer’s remorse cases. Here are some top tips on avoiding buyer’s remorse this holiday season.

1) Plan before you purchase. Purchasing based on emotions – not based on thought – is one the major causes of impulse buying. A great way to combat this is to do your thinking ahead of time so that you can allow yourself to be inspired and emotional when you shop. Think about a budget for each purchase, and make a list of things that you need. Then put your list somewhere where you will always have it, like in your smart phone, or on a diary that you carry with you. This way when you see something you love, you can quickly consult your budget and list of needed items to see if said piece fits. Not sure about an item you really want to buy? Think through how you might use an item and how much use you will get out of it for the money you will spend. Also consider comparing its value to other things you may want to spend on. These are all examples of turning on your critical judgment alongside of your emotional desire.

2) Tune into your mood and beware of triggers for overspending. Be cognizant of your emotional makeup, and the triggers that might lead you to want to overspend. Is it when you are in a group? Alone? Spot a sale? Or just feel like a pick-me-up? Just like it’s a bad idea to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry and trying to diet, so to can it be risky to hit the mall when you are feeling down and vulnerable, and trying to stay on a budget. Retail therapy has its place and can deliver a needed dopamine burst at times. After all, it can feel great to be able to simply buy something you really want, stimulating your brain’s reward centers. The trick is to make sure that we don’t literally overpay for this.

3) If all else fails, take a firm stand. If it simply feels too hard to control your impulsive purchasing, think about setting some firmer limits with yourself. Consider setting a firm spending limit, or simply taking cash. Controlled gamblers have learned to take a certain amount of cash to casinos. When they spend the money, it’s gone. The same principle can apply to impulse shoppers. Another similar strategy is to take no money, and enlist the help of time to take control. Leave your credit card or wallet at home, and shop for possibilities. Put items in an online cart without checking out, or put something on hold. Many retail stores will hold merchandise for customers. Then let time and distance work some magic on you. Only consider purchasing an item that you keep thinking about, and know you can afford.

These steps may take some time and effort to become habit, but it’s worth it because they help avoid the strain of buyer’s remorse, while preserving the joy of purchasing. After all, sometimes nothing feels quite as good as finding that special something for yourself or a loved one that you can afford! That’s healthy retail therapy. Happy, guilt-free shopping!

Interested in more on buyer’s remorse? Check out this post on MSNMoney to which I contributed, or this citation in ShopTilYouDrop on avoiding buyers remorse.

Looking for more help in understanding anxiety during the holidays? Learn more about my book Hack Your Anxiety and access free tools to help you manage the fear and anxiety going around the world today.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD