How To Stop Stress Shopping: 7 Effective Tips

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: July 14, 2023

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There’s no doubt about it, stress shopping can be incredibly harmful to your financial health.

One impulsive shopping trip can easily wreck your ability to pay your bills or invest the money that you planned for the month.

The good news is that there are quite a few simple and effective steps you can take to stop this harmful cycle and deal with the stress in a way that doesn’t hurt your net worth.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Stress Shopping?

Stress shopping is the act of spending money in an attempt to improve one’s mood or eliminate stress. This behavior has become so common that it is often referred to as “retail therapy.” Unfortunately, stress shopping can easily derail your budget, or worse, lead you to incur massive amounts of debt.

Even periodic lapses in judgment due to stress can add up to significant financial impacts over your lifetime.

How To Identify A Problem With Stress Shopping

Now that you understand what stress shopping is and why it’s harmful, you should evaluate your own situation to assess whether it is a problem in your financial life.

There are some very common signs to indicate if someone is relying upon stress shopping to improve their mood or mental state.

If any of the following situations apply to you or a loved one, you might have a stress shopper on your hands.

  • You lie about spending or hide your purchases – Think about the last time that you came home with a new handbag or set of power tools. Did you tell your significant other about the purchase? If they asked you how much the item cost and you lied about the price, this is a sign that you might have been stress shopping. You know deep down that your spouse wouldn’t approve of your actions.
  • You feel guilty after shopping – In many cases, stress shopping only provides benefits for a short period of time. After the excitement wears off, you may feel guilt for making an unwise decision. Look out for feelings of guilt after you make a purchase.
  • You use shopping as a way to make you feel better or improve your mood – Retail therapy has become so common that many people engage in it willingly and openly. Some people may even joke about it with their friends. In this case, you are already aware of this problem, but you might not know how to stop.
How To Stop Stress Shopping | Be The Budget

7 Tips To Help You Stop Stress Shopping

Giving up stress shopping may be more difficult than you think. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy things that you can do to limit or prevent yourself from engaging in stress shopping.

While these might not work for everyone, they should give you an idea of where to start.

1. Understand Your Spending Triggers

Stress shopping is usually triggered by some event that causes you stress, anxiety, or sadness.

If you can identify what it is that causes you to feel bad, you can avoid the actions that result from this stress.

For example, if your job is stressing you out, you will be more likely to go on a spending spree right after work. First, try to deal with the underlying issue. If your job is causing you stress, it might be in your best interest to find a new one.

If you are unable to change or remove the trigger that is causing you stress, you might have to change something else.

For instance, if you had a rough day at the office, you might have to take a different route home from work to avoid driving by your favorite retail store.

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2. Plan Your Shopping Trips Ahead Of Time

Planning ahead of time is a great way to avoid stress shopping.

For example, before you go to the store, make a list of the items that you need. Then, only buy what is on your list. If you see something else that you would like to purchase, write it down to consider for your next trip. This will give you time to evaluate if you really need the item.

3. Set Cooling Off Periods For Yourself

Having strict guidelines for yourself can be a way to avoid making rash decisions on purchases.

One strategy is to have a cooling-off period to make a decision for more expensive items.

For example, you can make a rule to wait at least 24 hours before purchasing something that costs $100 or more. You can have several layers to this rule as well (two weeks for purchases over $500, a month for purchases over $1000, etc.)

These limits are just guidelines. So you can choose to set them higher or lower depending on your individual budget or financial situation.

Changing the daily spending limit on your debit card is an automatic way to “cut you off” if your spending gets out of control for the day. 

4. Have An Accountability Partner

It’s easy to make poor decisions in private when no one is watching. It’s more difficult when you have another person that you need to answer to for your actions.

So, if you’re struggling with stress shopping, an accountability partner might be just what you need.

You can ask a friend to be available for you to confide in and offer advice when you get the urge to make a stress purchase. This can be a great outlet if you just need to talk through what is troubling you.

5. Unsubscribe From Spending Apps Or Sales Emails

If you are like most people, you likely get dozens of emails every week from retailers advertising various products, promotions, and sales. If you receive one of these emails when you are feeling stressed, it could result in you making an impulse purchase.

Unsubscribing from these distribution lists can help reduce the exposure to temptation.

You can also remove any shopping or discount apps from your phone.

Since our phones are usually the first thing we grab when you are looking for entertainment, you will be less likely to go to one of those apps.

6. Stick to Your Budget

Having a budget is hands-down the best way to keep your finances in check.

If you consistently find yourself stress shopping, a budget can help you limit the amount of money that you have to spend on certain items.

Of course, a budget is just a guide. You still need to control your urges and avoid deviating from your budget.

This is where zero-based budgeting comes in handy. By assigning a specific purpose to every single dollar of your income, you’ll be less likely to spend money impulsively.

7. Find Another Healthy Outlet

Sometimes you just need to let out some stress and steam.

If your normal outlet is usually logging on to Amazon or making a trip to the store, try finding another activity to do instead.

For example, you might head to the gym with a friend. This helps relieve stress and is good for your overall health. Other activities could include getting outside in nature, spending time with your family, or reading a book.

The key is to find something that works well for you.

Stress Shopping: Bottom Line

Stress shopping is a nasty cycle–you get stressed out, buy things you don’t need, and then stress more about being able to pay your bills.

This can continue over and over.

By putting a stop to the habit of stress spending, you can eliminate a lot of stress and pressure in your life. You’ll be happier and worry less.

We hope that these tips will help you. However, if you feel like your stress shopping addiction is severe, you may want to seek help from a licensed professional that deals with addictive behaviors.

There is nothing wrong with getting help. At the end of the day, you’ll be much happier, and your financial situation will likely improve significantly.

Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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