Outfit Post: Why my insurance company needs to cover retail therapy.

Life is stressful. There's pressure from jobs, with a constant influx of projects and deadlines and uncooperative coworkers and really, really bad food in the cafeteria. There's stress from spouses or boyfriends, niggling us with arguments about whose turn it is to fold the laundry and who forgot to pick up milk and good God, did you really forget the date of our anniversary? There's stress from raising children, from nagging mothers and sibling rivalries and wearing a swimsuit in public and cooking a healthy balanced low-fat 'clean' meal that's also edible and keeping the house clean and OH MY LORD,* STRESSY TIME* I AM GOING TO LOSE IT, LIKE PULL A BRITNEY AND SHAVE MY HEAD LOSE IT whine whine whine AARRRGGGHHHHH.

When I get stressed out, I typically engage in one of the following activities: 
  • I hop on the treadmill and pound out three miles, 
  • or I gather my friends and bond over snarky sarcastic quips and self-depreciating jokes (which I prefer over weepy conversations about my feeeeeeeelings),
  • or I dissolve into a sniveling hot mess dry heaving in the bathroom,
  • or I climb into my car and escape to a thrift store.
Truthfully, going thrifting is my preferred manage-the-stressy-time technique. There are few things that replicate the mind-zonk which shopping gives me. The outside world fades away until all that's left is me, the store I'm in, and that amazeballs beaded vintage purse, don't even look at it because I totes saw it first.

Stores don't care that my almost-teenage daughter insists on including an eye-roll with every conversation. Stores don't care that I'm riding the PMS roller coaster. Stores don't care that some anonymous coward left a nasty comment on my blog. Stores don't care that I'm turning 37 on Friday and the mere thought of another birthday makes me stabby. The purchase of a (insert item here) makes me feel, well, better. Even if that item is a $2 skirt from Texas Thrift.

A study published in Psychology and Marketing, entitled "Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood," officially establishes what I've known for years.
"Retail therapy" is often applied to the notion of trying to cheer oneself up through the purchase of self-treats. The negative moods that lead to retail therapy, however, have also been associated with greater impulsivity and a lack of behavioral control. Does this lead to mindless shopping when consumers are "down" and regret later? The current work documents that a bad mood does lead to greater purchase and consumption of unplanned treats for the self. However, it also provides evidence that the consumption of self-treats can be strategically motivated. Those individuals who do indulge can also exercise restraint if the goal of restraint also leads to improved mood. Finally, retail therapy has lasting positive impacts on mood. Feelings of regret and guilt are not associated with the unplanned purchases made to repair a bad mood.
The study noted that "respondents bought clothing (26.1%), food (20.3%), electronics (17.4%), entertainment products (17.4%), accessories (e.g., jewelry and shoes) (12%), and other (e.g., household items) (6.8%) as treats," and they spent on average $59.18 to feel better about whatever's going on in their lives and $115.24 to celebrate an achievement.

And all this spending really did improve shoppers' moods: 82% were totally happy post-purchase and almost no one had buyer's remorse.

If you self-medicate through new clothes and shoes and cosmetics and bags, you are not alone. Of course, the high one gets from a new purchase is temporary - once the thrill of the new purchase fades, I'm still left with an obnoxious pre-teen and a middle-age birthday to wring my hands over.

Do you turn to shopping to alleviate stress? How often do you experience buyer's remorse? Do you ever buy yourself something just to feel better?

Urban Outfitters blouse; thrifted vintage silk skirt; H&M sandals; Charming Charlie bracelets; Forever 21 necklace; thrifted Michael Kors gold watch


  1. Of *course* I self medicate with shopping! And now we have the scientific studies to prove that we feel better (82% of us) afterward. Like you, I don't do it *every* time I feel stressed or sad. But it's a proven mood-changer, it's legal, it's pro-social, fairly cheap if you thrift, and doesn't destroy brain or liver cells.

  2. I think you're reading my mind today! Yes, I do retail therapy from time to time. Part of it is escaping by myself just to have some alone time. (I have one high school kid and two college kids, and the two college kids are home for the summer. I live to serve, apparently!) Don't discount thrifting, though - it satisfies the shopping urge, but I also get a charge out of finding a real treasure or two for only a few dollars. That boosts my mood as much as anything else.

  3. Hi Elissa... I'm a new reader (came your way via Already Pretty), and I love your style!

    And even better, I love your writing. The idea of thrifting to alleviate stress has never occurred to me, however what could be better?? You get a new to you something, pay next to nothing, and get to just take a break from the stressfest for awhile.

    Finally your outfit is gorgeous... I love the flowiness balanced by the croppedness of the top.

    And 37 is NOT middle age. It's like quarter age these days! So, quit your whining. Okay, don't. Keep whining. What do I know, being 28 myself, right? But you look amazing, you sound like a fabulous parent/partner/person, and you write like a champ. Booyah!

  4. P.S. Just to be clear, the "quit your whining" line was complete sarcasm. Whining is important sometimes :)

  5. What a cute outfit!

    Yes, of course, don't all females?? ;) Sometimes I just go and try on cute things, and don't buy. Depends on how poor I'm feeling at the moment. Just getting out of work or the house and shopping is a mood lifter for me. I don't get to do it very often. I try to control my spending to things I think I really need to fill a hole in my wardrobe. When I find those lovelies, I definitely buy. Whether the hubby thinks I need them or not. ;)

  6. Fantastic post, yet again! I often keep a list of things I need (really want) when I shop and find myself straying to other things I enjoy instead. I also try hard to associate shopping with positive feelings. I really never paid much attention to how I was feeling prior to shopping. I will have to keep tabs on that now.

    Thank you for this awesome post! When I get my blog running, I can only hope to be half as witty and eloquent at you!

  7. Shopping is a great thing for distraction. I also find that it's a good solitary activity while at the same time you are not alone. So time to be in your head and decompressing without being holed up and isolated. Does that make sense to anyone?

    Great outfit. I'm a farily new reader and I love how you get proportion just right, long volumious skirt and short cropped top. That is a very strong talent that you display again and again I'm seeing. you really do have a great eye for style.

    Great Blog!


  8. Oh yes, I self medicate with shopping! And on really stressful days, I shop just as a little reward to myself! Like notheastchic, I also think it's a great distraction.

    Lovely outfit! You look so pretty. And I really love your hair!

  9. Extremely guilty of shopping to feel better! I have done it more times than I can count - though usually it's pretty sensable. The times I have had buyers remorse have been when I've gone on Ebay and bid on an expensive Coach purse or something and won - only did that once or twice at least!

  10. I definitely shop to feel better, although I don't shop for clothes (which almost never make me feel better). A nice latte, a new book, make-up, that kind of thing is what I use as a pick-me-up. I actually find that reading works better to cure the blahs for me than shopping.

    I only have buyer's remorse when I get something home and end up not wearing it. I try to leave tags on until the last possible minute, just in case.

  11. I get the most bang for the buck by visiting the library when I'm stressed - something about the relative quietness soothes me, and I can check out as many books as I like, free of charge, so I don't have to censor my natural greed as long as I return them on time. I recommend this strategy, which is sadly under practiced.

  12. Actually I turn to food when I'm stressed out, which is worse I think. Because it's not my wallet that suffers but my waist line.

    I turn to shopping when I'm bored and that's when I get buyer's remorse almost 100% of the time.

    I love this blouse, it looks so fresh!

  13. I rely on Law & Order marathons to deal with stress.

    Your outfit is so nice and crisp. I now feel demoralized about my black t-shirt and jeans!

  14. I thrift a lot and sometimes wonder what compels me. I thrifted today...after a busy weekend with plenty of family. I'm back to an empty nest, so perhaps there WAS an emotional undercurrent to the shopping.

    Happy Birthday to you!

  15. I had a tough week last week and then went out and spent way more money than I could afford thrifting... I definitely do this.


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