To all you die-hard Black Friday shoppers (which apparently starts on Thursday now?!), I wish you well. As for me, I will be sleeping in and cuddling with my boys.
Note: I originally wrote this post one year ago today, but never published it. My wounds from emotional shopping were still healing and I needed to know if this advice would stick before sharing it. Now, one year later, I am happy to share these five perspectives that help me avoid emotional shopping.
The holidays are a particular tough time of year to be an emotional shopper. The shelves are stocked and the hunt for a great deal can be exhilarating. But the threat of over-spending and buyer’s remorse is also heightened. When I need to keep my shopping wits about me, I reflect on these five things.
I am not a Black Friday shopper. I have tried it and I don’t like it. If I go shopping on Black Friday I know three things are inevitable:
- I will be overwhelmed by crowds. (I hate crowds)
- I will spend money on something I don’t need or want just because it is a great deal.
- I will regret spending my time and money on something I did not want or need.
I’d rather sleep in and cuddle with my kids.
I have thought a lot lately about shopping and my relationship with it. I’m a recovering emotional shopper. I used to go shopping when I felt sad, or lonely, or stressed. Inevitably I would buy myself something to “cheer me up”. I used to shop during my “mommy breaks”, which became an expensive way to get a few minutes of quiet.
When I was emotionally shopping, I only bought small things. So I didn’t rack up any debt. But those small purchases still added up over time and robbed us of other things, more important things, we wanted to spend that money on. What I did rack up (big time) was guilt. Retail therapy made me feel good in the moment, but worse afterward.
I’ve worked on changing my shopping habits over the last two years. My recovery started with my home spending hiatus.
Now I feel okay about bringing an empty cart back to the front of the store and walking out with nothing. I don’t need to buy something. More often than not, I don’t even go to the store anymore unless there is something I need.
5 Reasons to Feel Okay About Leaving a Store Empty-Handed
(From least to most important)
5. Is your hobby shopping or spending?
Shopping is a cheap hobby, buying is what gets expensive. I actually cringe when someone cites “shopping” as a hobby, because it usually implies spending. But, I like to window shop and daydream with the best of them.
The problem comes when you say your hobby is shopping, but it’s not just looking, it’s buying…any and everything. Then, shopping becomes an expensive hobby. It is okay to shop and not buy.
4. The hunt continues.
It’s hard to walk out of a second-hand store empty-handed, because you crave that amazing find. You just know if you take another lap around the store you will spot that diamond in the rough. But, if you don’t, it is okay…the hunt continues.
Drawing a parallel to Black Friday, it’s heartbreaking to wait in long lines for amazing deals, only to find nothing you want to spend your money on. It is okay…the hunt for an amazing deal you actually care about continues.
3. A deal isn’t a deal if you would not consider paying full price for the item.
Let me say that another way: how would you feel about the same item at full price? Would you still want it? Would you still neeeeed it? Would you climb over people to get it?
It’s great when you find a good deal on something you already wanted to buy. The trouble is when you start buying things you didn’t want or need, because you can’t pass up an amazing deal. You didn’t just save 50%, the store got you to give them the other 50% you weren’t planning to spend.
2. Just as you have a budget when you walk into a store, the store has a goal for how much they want you to spend.
They stock the end caps with irresistible goodies. They put last-minute add-ons at the register. Their goal is to sell you more…more than you walked in for, more than you probably need. Your job is to ignore all that and stick to your budget. Going in with a list is a good place to start…stick to the list. Don’t wander.
If you do decide to make an impulse buy, do what I do. Buy your impulse item immediately and exit the store. Don’t let it become a snowball effect by continuing to look at more things, causing your one impulse buy to turn into a cart full of things you’ll have buyers remorse about later.
1. You don’t owe the store anything.
It’s okay to browse. You don’t have to buy something, especially if they don’t have what you are looking for.
I used to feel like I had to buy something if I set foot in a store. They make you feel that way by funneling you through the cash registers on the way out.
It is okay to walk out empty-handed. Get more comfortable with it by reminding yourself of the other reasons to walk out empty-handed on this list. If you just want to window shop, if your hunt continues because you didn’t find what you wanted, if you don’t want just anything at an amazing deal, or if you couldn’t find something within your budget, then it is okay to leave without making a purchase.
Find a way to exit the store without going by the cash registers when you’re not making a purchase. Not having to walk by the registers eliminates the feeling that you were supposed to buy something. I love stores with self-checkouts, because they have wide aisles that are easy to walk through and get out. Sometimes it is as simple as walking back out the door you came in…head held high.
The store did not make a sale today…you did nothing wrong.
This is so timely. I have been working on controlling my emotional spending. It is incredibly difficult because I’ve been doing it since I was a child with my mom, but my budget and my home cannot handle it. The expense and the space taken up by all of the “deal crap” is overwhelming. This time of year is incredibly challenging – – every day is a new ad or email with a must by holy cow incredible deal. Delete, delete, delete.
One thing that has helped me:
When I can’t control an impulse to buy, I make a purchase, but don’t take it out of the bag. I tie the bag closed with the item and receipt inside of it and wait a week or two. Usually, in that time, if I’ve purchased something I don’t really love, the high has worn off and I feel okay returning it.
Catherine, Thanks for sharing. Unsubscribing from store email lists can definitely help.
One other idea you might like is using a wish list. Instead of actually buying the item and waiting two weeks to decide whether or not to keep it, put it on a wish list and then revisit the list in two weeks to see if you still want it compared with other things on the list. Jess’s Add to Cart method works for this online – a lot of stores will save what is in your cart. Put it in there, but don’t buy right away. Revisit the cart in a few weeks and use the delete or remove button on all the things you forgot you put in the cart.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
It took me a long time to get there but I completely agree with you. Frankly, I’ve always hated black Friday and avoided shopping like the plague on that day, choosing to avoid the crowds. I hate crowds and I hate lines. Emotional shopping is another issue altogether. I still have to give things thought at times but what a great feeling to just walk out empty handed!
One thing that helps me is, right before I walk through the doors of a store, I ask myself “What do I actually need?” I generally know the types of products a store will be selling. Then, once inside the store, I only go to the aisles where those items will be. This helps me avoid the shoe and purse aisles, for example.
Regarding online shopping, maybe this isn’t the best approach, but I will “add to cart” all of the “contender” items (items that match the description of what I’m looking for). Then, I look at the contenders in my cart all at once (the “shopping bag” view) and ask myself “How much do I want to spend in total?” It is much easier for me to down-select items at the end, once I see the grand total going down, than in the beginning. If I’ve agonized over adding something to the cart ahead of time, then it’s harder for me to remove it. But if I know it only took me 5 seconds to add it to my cart, it’s a lot easier for me to drop that item. As long as I’m careful not to accidentally hit “purchase,” this works for me.
Jess, Love those tips. Aisle avoidance is the only way I survive a trip to Target :). For years my son was convinced they only sold groceries, since I avoided the toy side when the boys were with me.
Love the add to cart idea too. That is one thing I love about online shopping instead of in store…you can see the total before checking out and it’s a lot easier to remove a few items to get back in budget.
I found your post very helpful. Thank you for posting it. I am also an emotional shopper. I, personally, am in an unhappy marriage that financially I can’t leave due to my not making enough on my own to support my daughter and myself and if I were to get divorced I would also lose my job as we were hired as a couple. I work with delinquent youth and the job I do requires for you to be married for the position. When I am unhappy and I have time off I usually go to a thrift store and buy things that I have been looking for. Unfortunately that means I spent a lot less than I would have normally and buy things that I don’t have to have because it is cheap and I can do something with it. As a result I have way too much stuff and no money which only compounds my problems. I have been through therapy (and marriage counseling) and this has helped but not eliminated the problem. Your statement of “is it the item that I love or is it the price” in another posting has helped me so very much. The other thing I try to do is to remember, when I am shopping, the things that would make me very happy such as no debt, and my own savings to fall back on so that I don’t need him and “his” money. With these strategies I have been able to say no to a few purchases. No money set aside yet as this is still fairly new but it is helping me take control of me and not drift through my displeasure by trying to sooth myself with five dollars spent here and ten dollars spent there. The goal is to purchase a car outright and have it be only mine. Remembering this helps also. Thank you again for your posts and blog.