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How Does “Retail Therapy” Work?

Recently I read a front-page article on the Washington Post that had the following gems:

  • She [Aba Kwawu] unearthed clothes in her own closet that she had never worn, some with the tags still on. … “I had not shopped in so long I was going through withdrawal,” said Kwawu, 34. “I thought, ‘I have to get something now. I’ve been good long enough.’ “
  • She [Gillian Joseph, 42, of McLean] finally broke her fast, walking into Nordstrom after a long absence and buying a pair of 4 1/2 -inch heels in bright floral colors. The experience was cathartic, she said…. “It was like spring — rebirth, reawakening.”
  • “However, I work all the time….And if you work hard, you like to reward yourself in some capacity.”
  • “It’s almost like I’ve come out of the recession before the market,” he [Paul Wharton] said proudly. “I made a choice! I just refused to be in the recession any longer!”

I don’t get it. Spending even a penny in a store makes my stomach hurt. It takes me months of budgeting and cashflow analysis before I decide to buy laptops, etc. This summer while in the States I spent thousands of dollars on shoes, clothes and a netbook after not having shopped for clothes or shoes for two and a half years, and even then I felt sick to my stomach. I think I returned about half the stuff before leaving the States because I just couldn’t tolerate the idea of spending that much money. (The only thing I don’t mind buying is books – paperbacks, mind you – because they’re like decadent indulgences to me.)

So…how does shopping make someone feel better? What value do people get out of spending thousands of dollars regularly on items they don’t even need or use? Am I missing something?


10 comments to “How Does “Retail Therapy” Work?”

  1. Edie
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    1
    · October 20th, 2009 at 6:14 am · Link

    My retail therapy is books.. lol

    Used to be just a spending spree for stock for the business, bloomin fun and would cheer me up no end.

    These days my retail therapy is ebooks, but the max I spend in a “hit” is about 16 – normally less.
    Does that count?



  2. Jodie
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 7:58 am · Link

    I’m the same. I bought my first handbag (that I wanted one for YEARS) just this year, and felt bad about it immediately after purchase and had to convince myself that it was worth me having. BUUUT, if you were to say books to me, I have no qualms about spending it for ‘therapy’. I guess it’s what we like is our ‘crack’.



  3. Chrissy
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 2:00 pm · Link

    I went without my entire life… and even when I had success in my career, I was frugal. I’m still responsible about money– but yeah, I do retail therapy.

    Because I know I’m responsible, I feel no guilt or hesitation about buying something for myself or somebody I like as a pick-me-up. Today, for instance, I stopped to pick up my favorite undies on sale in cool, fun colors– 4 for $20. Got a set for my mum just to be nice. Found pretty, soft, long sleeved tops for $11 and bought three for the cooler temps… plus one for my mum and another for my friend Ellie.

    I had a crappy morning, but I enjoyed buying nice things for myself and others.

    I just never do anything stupid like purchase things that don’t fit and not return them… or buy high ticket items on impulse without needing them.



  4. Charlotte McClain
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 3:39 pm · Link

    Spending all my money makes me sick too, but I love the thrill of the hunt. My retail therapy was best fulfilled at Dongdaemun Market on Sundays. Dozens of vendors with factory seconds piled on tarps on the street for a buck or two. Lots of hunting.



  5. bettie
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 4:20 pm · Link

    Shopping for the sake of shopping just makes me feel sick and nervous, but buying something that I really like does make me happy. Usually I keep the item around with tags for a few days, and if I am not happy to see it every day, then I just take it back. If I remain happy to have the item, then I consider the money well-spent.



  6. Nadia Lee
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 10:27 pm · Link

    Edie — Yes LOL. I love buying books, too, although maybe I should stop for a while since I have more books than I know what to do with right now.

    Jodie — You deserve the handbag, especially if it’s your first.

    Chrissy — I think your situation’s a little different from the ones from the article since you’re obviously very responsible about how you spend your money. And most importantly you don’t spend hundreds of dollars (or even thousands) on stuff you don’t need or use.

    Charlotte — me too! I love buying something fab for cheap, and I usually hit small markets and/or outlet malls for stuff I want. But at the same time I don’t buy it if I don’t plan to use it.

    Bettie — I love your tag idea. I keep tags on stuff for about 3 weeks before deciding what to do with it. They don’t take stuff back in Japan though, so I have to be extra careful when I buy anything here.

    Dionne — I think you’re right about using food and things to hide / disguise unhappiness. I used to use diet & exercise to exert control when I felt that I had none in my life.

    Emily — I don’t do thousands of dollars myself either. I do tens of dollars. :) Maybe we need a “tens of dollars retail therapy association”. ;)



  7. Dionne
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    · October 20th, 2009 at 6:48 pm · Link

    The only thing I frquently spend money on are books and good food. I can’t eat shoes & clothes and I only shop when needed. Not when I WANT something.

    Most people use shopping/food to help them get through life difficulties. If you have a healthy mind, body & a powerful sense of self = balance, then you don’t need to hide from yourself or lose yourself in needless things.



  8. Emily Ryan-Davis
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    8
    · October 20th, 2009 at 9:59 pm · Link

    I come at it from the same angle Chrissy does. I didn’t SUFFER as a child or youngish adult, but I didn’t have the freedom to make the choice to buy a pink sweater because I was in the mood to wear a pink sweater.

    Now that I do have the freedom of choice, “retail therapy” for me is a change from the hum-drum (tired of looking at the same rotation of sweaters and jeans every 6-8 days for 6-8 weeks), it’s a refreshening. A few new additions to the wardrobe change how I see myself and how others see me – I do believe the same day after day after month after year starts to make a person invisible. (What does that say about my mind, body and sense of self? :P )

    Thousands of dollars, though – that I don’t know about. Tens of dollars is more my speed.



  9. Kate Pearce
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    · October 21st, 2009 at 3:36 pm · Link

    It depends. Sometimes all it takes to cheer me up is a trip to Target, a new lipstick and a bar of chocolate and a $10 T-shirt.

    But sometimes, when I’ve done something special, like get a new book contract, I do like to go and buy myself something, just to have something tangible as a reward for my hard work.

    The purchase itself doesn’t make me happy-its more that I can afford to buy myself or someone else something nice with my own money. :)



  10. Nadia Lee
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    · October 22nd, 2009 at 6:24 am · Link

    The purchase itself doesn’t make me happy-its more that I can afford to buy myself or someone else something nice with my own money.

    This. Brilliant! :)




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