Stress Spending and How to Avoid It

Does anyone else cure a bad day with a little retail therapy? Anyone? Anyone….

I’ll be the first to admit that I am definitely guilty of spending my stress away. Bad week at work? How about a trip to the mall. I’m sure that new blouse will make me feel better, right?

Wrong! I don’t know what it is about buying new things, but it definitely gives me a short-term jolt of happiness and energy. Ever experienced a “shopper’s high”? I have. I’m sure there is science behind it, but that really isn’t the point of this blog. Recognizing that there is some cultural or biological reason why shopping makes us feel good, I’d like to look past that and acknowledge that we need to find a work around. While shopping often makes me feel good in the short term, I don’t like it so much the next day when I check my account balances online.

After many years trying to overcome my addiction to retail therapy, I’d like to share a few techniques for managing stress without breaking out the credit cards.

Bad day retail therapy 3

Find somewhere else to “give”

Life is tough and sometimes something has to give. Maybe that something is your budget, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your priorities, you may be able to give a little in another aspect of your life to help relieve stress instead of over spending. The important thing here is recognizing that you can give yourself a break. A little splurge often helps me feel better by making me feel less hemmed in by the constraints of life, both real and self-imposed. If you don’t want to splurge with a spend, splurge somewhere else.

Two areas where I have found success in relieving stress without spending a lot of money are food and drink. At the end of a tough day, a glass of wine can go a loooong way to help me relax. I like the cheap stuff, so for $5 – $7 a bottle I’m a happy camper. Similarly, eating something that I don’t normally allow myself to have can be a good way of letting go. I have an unexplainable love of Cheetos. Yes, I know they are gross. At about $1.50 for a single serving bag (don’t buy the big bag – high stress = no willpower – you will eat it all!), that is a pretty frugal way to splurge.

Find your comfort blanket

Remember that baby blanket that you would snuggle as a kid when you were scared or nervous? Try to find your adult version of a comfort blanket. It should be something that is at least moderately socially acceptable. More importantly, it should be something that instantly helps you relax and unwind.

For me, this thing is Gilmore Girls, a popular TV show from the 2000s that I grew up watching. I own all 7 seasons on DVD (not really a frugal choice, but given how many times I’ve watched them I’d say I got my money’s worth). If you don’t want to make that investment, Gilmore Girls and many other shows are available on Netflix. I find that watching an episode or two of Gilmore Girls is therapeutic. I haven’t really analyzed the “why” yet, but I suspect it has something to do with knowing exactly what will happen in each episode. Life is uncertain, but I always know how Gilmore Girls will end.

Adult comfort blanket

Shake it off

As Elle Woods once said “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”

Whether or not you are stressed out enough to contemplate killing your husband, we all know that exercise is a great stress reliever. My favorite stress relieving exercises are long walks and yoga. I often go for a walk along the river near my house after work, with a podcast as my only company. I find that the alone time, fresh air and sunlight go a long way to help me relax. Similarly, yoga’s focus on breathing and being present in the moment is very helpful in letting things go.

Keep yourself busy

Now that shopping no longer has to happen in a physical store, the dangers of stress shopping cannot be avoided at home. I often find myself browsing as I watch Gilmore Girls and sip a glass of three buck chuck after a long week. I’ve become so wired that it is actually quite challenging for me to simply sit and watch television. My hands must be doing something, and all too often that something is online shopping.

My work around for this is to keep myself busy while I’m relaxing, especially while watching television. For me, this takes two key forms. When I am feeling productive and creative, I will often do a craft to keep my hands busy while I de-stress. Other times, when any level of thought feels daunting, I revert to my ultimate mindless activity: I paint my nails. Maybe this is a sign of my general stress level, but I have been known to paint my nails 3 or 4 times per week. Something about the methodical and precise application of paint is very satisfying for me and honestly helps me to feel more relaxed.

If all else fails, try a thrift store

We’re all human and sometimes we just really. need. to. shop. If you find yourself in that situation, I would suggest exploring a local thrift store. This offers two benefits over more traditional shopping options. First, it takes more work to shop at a thrift store. You can’t ask for something in the next size up; the clothes are not neatly displayed to show everything that is available. You have to sift through the racks and try on lots of failures before finding a gem. This will help you think through things more and thus avoid a rash and regrettable decision.

Second, shopping at a thrift store is typically less expensive than shopping at other stores, so at least if you engage in stress shopping you’re not likely to do too much damage to your budget.

The moral of the story

Everyone gets stressed. Stress has a way of wearing down willpower, allowing people to make decisions they would not normally make. Recognizing this, there are many ways to relieve stress without breaking the bank. You just have to find the strategies that work best for you.

How do you relieve stress without spending too much money?

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4 thoughts on “Stress Spending and How to Avoid It

  1. Great post. This is something that I struggled with in the past. If I had a big test or something else stressful coming up I would typically go out and buy something new to give me confidence and make myself feel better. It sounds funny to write that, but it was definitely true for me. I took the GMAT last weekend and to deal with that stress I decided to take a night “off” from working on things and instead had a really long workout planned followed by watching netflix. No spending necessary and I was relaxed as possible the next day.


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