Bored? Anxious? 6 Ways to Save Yourself From a Retail Therapy Trap

A woman with blue short hair shops online.
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You’re bored. You’re anxious. You’re about to go out of your mind.

Were you reading my last journal entry? No, it’s what all of us may experience amid the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’re thinking about spending some of your many suddenly free hours to search for a cool shirt for your next conference call or maybe a little wall decor to dress up that drab corner you now call your home office, you’re engaging in what’s known as retail therapy.

Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.

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.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not like we as Americans were great at holding back the plastic — credit card debt increased $57 billion in 2019 to nearly a trillion dollars.

We’re here with some strategies for stopping the credit card creep before it starts so we can all emerge from this crisis with a little less debt.

6 Ways to Avoid the Temptation of Retail Therapy

There are healthy, helpful ways to spend the extra hours inside. Spending yourself into debt is not one of them. Here’s how to avoid using retail therapy to get you through your quarantine.

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.”

Need some ideas? We have free things to do to keep boredom at bay when you’re quarantining.

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.

We also have tips if you need help adjusting to a bare bones budget due to the coronavirus.

Even if you’re anticipating a stimulus check, ask yourself these four questions before you spend your stimulus check. (Spoiler alert: None of the questions include “Do you think I’d look good in this hat?”)

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. Do Not Deviate From the Necessities List

It’s unlikely you’ll live through the whole pandemic period without needing to buy something. The important word here is “need.”

Food and cleaning supplies may be a must, but chances are you have enough clothes in your closet to survive the quarantine.

Once you make your list of necessary items, 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

You’ve already finished your spring cleaning around the house, 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 Easter outfits. 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.

We get it — sometimes these long hours in isolation can really get to you. And the dog is now hiding from you to avoid yet another walk around the block.

So 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 on yourself 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.

You’ll thank yourself for saving on today’s boredom-induced purchase when you’re back at your favorite restaurant celebrating the end of this quarantine.  

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.