What Is Emotional Shopping? And How to Control It?

Mariam Youssef
4/1/23, 12:00 PM

Have you ever been on a huge shopping spree while being depressed, anxious, or angry? If so, you're not the only one. Spending money emotionally, commonly referred to as "retail therapy," is relatively common. When we go overboard because things are difficult at home or work, we might easily go into debt. That said, we’ll talk about what emotional shopping is and why people do it.

What is emotional shopping?

Shopping, according to research, releases pleasant hormones like dopamine that improve our happiness. For many people, the entire shopping process—from searching for things or browsing through options to making a purchase, unpacking the product, and waiting for delivery—is enjoyable.

Although emotional spending isn't always a bad thing, it may become a habit for many of us and put a strain on our finances. Furthermore, the pleasure we get from shopping doesn't last, and whatever negative emotions we may be trying to escape may still be present.

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What triggers emotional shopping?

Buying something you don't need or even particularly want to satisfy an emotional need is the essence of emotional shopping. Shopping could be used as a coping mechanism for unpleasant feelings like stress, depression, or loneliness. It could also be done out of boredom. Yet, these advantages might not last long. You might, at best, find yourself blowing your leisure budget on things that didn't really make you happy. If emotional buying causes you to make purchases you can't afford, you could, at worst, jeopardize your financial stability and possibly increase your stress levels. The first step in kicking the habit is raising your awareness of your triggers. Spending that is motivated by emotions is what is meant by the term "emotional spending." Some of the feelings that could lead someone to make emotional purchases include:

  • Sadness
  • Jealousy
  • Having the impression that life is out of control
  • Low regard for oneself
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Financial stress
  • Social exclusion
  • Boredom

What are the consequences of emotional shopping?

Although emotional spending is not a disorder, it can occasionally cross the line and become one. A person with compulsive buying is regarded as having a psychological problem in which they are unable to control their urges and repeatedly and obsessively buy things they don't need. Compulsive buying is an addictive behavior that can have negative consequences on one’s life and health, such as problems at school and work, as well as financial distress.

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How to control emotional shopping?

Understand your triggers

Ask yourself how you are feeling the next time you are going to make a purchase that seems to lean towards the impulsive end of things. Try to figure out the feeling. If you are feeling a bad emotion like fear, resentment, or despair, consider what getting this thing will accomplish for you. Are you trying to make these negative emotions disappear? It is simpler to control your spending once you identify the factors that trigger it. Then, consider other approaches to overcoming a challenging emotional issue.

Find alternatives to emotional spending

When you spend money emotionally, you frequently start to focus on the good sentiments that accompany purchases. When we shop at stores, "feel good" hormones like dopamine are released, which might feel like an instant reward. Yet, there are more advantageous—and less expensive—ways to express your joy. The following are some things to think about the next time you want to buy something to make yourself feel better:

  • Taking a jog or a walk
  • Participating in your favorite sport
  • Getting together for coffee with a friend
  • Having a hot bath
  • Watching a favorite film or Television show

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Make shopping less accessible

Because it's so accessible, retail therapy is one of the reasons people use it when they're sad. With the popularity of internet shopping growing, purchasing that new pair of shoes only takes a click. It can be useful to make spending money less accessible to prevent unnecessary splurging during times of heightened emotions. Saving credit card data to computers is one of the most popular methods for people to speed up their online shopping. So, make sure not to save your card information to control your shopping urge. Moreover, if you like to pay with cash, try to keep the quantity of cash you have on hand at any given time to a minimum. People frequently think twice about heading out to shop if they have to stop at an ATM first.

Create an emotional shopping budget

While it’s okay to treat yourself when sad or overwhelmed, when we frequently act on our emotions, we run the risk of overspending or making decisions without using good judgment. Making an "emotional spending" budget will allow you to occasionally indulge in emotional spending, but you will have to make a more calculated decision to do so. This will help you control your impulse buying. Choose a monthly or weekly spending limit that you can afford, and abide by it.

Follow the “Out of sight, out of mind” strategy

Whether you like it or not, advertising is all around us. Unsurprisingly, these commercials encourage pointless emotional spending. Unsubscribe from email blasts to reduce the effects of advertising. Receiving daily emails about discounts and promotions won't help you stop overspending. To reduce the number of adverts you view online, you may even try using an ad blocker. Last but not least, if online buying is an issue, switch to another browser to work. Instead of shopping online, read the news, locate an interesting blog, or consider learning a language.

It's okay to occasionally indulge in a little emotional spending. It's okay to pursue the thrill of shopping because you deserve to enjoy items you love. But, it makes sense to address your emotional spending if you realize that it is becoming an issue or is putting a strain on your budget.


Mariam Youssef

Growing up, I've always wanted to become so many things: a fashion designer, painter, singer, actress, and anything that revolves around art. It wasn't until I watched "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" t...

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