6 Ways to Avoid the Temptation of Retail Therapy

A woman looks exhausted as she sits in a chair at the mall with numerous shopping bags in her hands.
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Maybe you have too much downtime. Maybe you don’t have nearly enough.

Maybe working from home makes it a little too easy to open emails about sales at your favorite stores and spend a few minutes browsing — and buying.

Whatever your particular trigger, it’s easy to indulge in retail therapy. That’s when you use shopping to cheer yourself up or stave off boredom. The euphoria of scoring a sweet deal on a purchase can be short lived, though, when you open next month’s credit card bill.

We’re here with some strategies for stopping the credit card creep before it starts.

6 Tips to Stop Yourself from Indulging in Retail Therapy

There are healthy, helpful ways to use your downtime. Spending yourself into debt is not one of them.

1. Create a Routine

Retail therapy often fills a void when there’s space in your day. So keep yourself too busy to need mindless browsing, advised Todd Christensen, an Accredited Financial Counselor with MoneyFit.org.

“Keep your morning routine of breakfast, exercise — learn a new skill,” he said. “Give yourself something to do for every half hour of the day, including some down time to have some fun or nap.”

That’s good advice for lazy afternoons on weekends or breaks between Zooms during the week.

2. Make a Budget

Nothing kills the thrill of shopping indiscriminately like seeing your credit card balance.

Keep that number — or your bank balance — on a sticky note attached to the top of your tablet, or set a reminder with that number in your calendar for the times you’re most likely to start perusing. I’m looking at you midnight shoppers.

And if your budget can accommodate a little fun money (and be realistic — could your emergency fund use extra cash right now?), write that amount on the sticky note so you know your monthly limit.

3. Stick to Your Necessities List

Retail therapy rarely involves stocking up on paper towels or buying a new air conditioning filter. We’re tempted by wants, not needs.

So make a list of necessary items, and then stick to it.

Keep your list next to your computer (right next to the budget sticky!) so you can refer back to it when that pop-up ad tempts you into buying yet another pair of sunglasses. I don’t care that those aviators are never on sale — you don’t need them.

4. Limit FOMO Bait

Decluttering always feels good, so why not spruce up your email inbox by unsubscribing from retailers’ email lists?

Not only do you save yourself from waking up to an inbox with 60 unread emails, you’ll avoid the avalanche of advertisements that scream you have but one day left to save on matching Christmas pajamas. You don’t really need those. Sorry.

Pro Tip

Reduce targeted ads in your feed by using a private browsing mode. It won’t totally eliminate advertising, but it can cut down on the amount of info a retailer can gather about your shopping habits.

Another trap to avoid: the envy-inducing Instagram feed featuring fabulous living room makeovers and that must-have jacket.

“Stay off social media — It’s a breeding ground for discontent,” Christensen said.

5. Make It Tougher to Buy

For those sites that you regularly browse — just browse, you swear! — make it harder to complete the purchase by deleting the credit cards from your online wallet.

“Even better, cut up [your credit cards] if you’re really struggling,” Christensen said.

If your favorite retailer won’t let you delete your payment info from your account, log out so at least you put up one additional barrier to buying.

6. Fill Up Your Cart! Then Abandon It.

Let yourself enjoy a little retail therapy window shopping.

Stay off social media — It’s a breeding ground for discontent.

Spend an hour (or two) filling up your online cart with everything frivolous. Then, when you reach the checkout, abandon your cart. Dump all the items if you think there’s any chance you’ll return to complete the purchase.

And if there’s something that you simply can’t live without, enforce a 24-hour waiting period on every purchase. When you come back to your cart, you can decide if yesterday’s must-have item remains as urgently necessary today.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.