Gina Richardson July 9, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Stressed out? Shopping will only make it worse

SAFE Financial Education Specialist Gina Richardson talks with people about how to improve their relationship with money. She shares here about how to put a stop to stress shopping.


Why do we go stress shopping?

We go stress shopping because there are triggers that make us feel stressed out. We may feel guilty, sad, jealous, fearful, lonely. Those are all triggers that stress us out and make us feel scared.

But when you stress shop, you’re taking money away from those things you need to pay for. That’s always bad.

I never understood how I had the money to stress shop when I was complaining I didn’t have the money in the first place. But I realized, because I didn’t have a pile of money divvied up and a GPS telling my money where to go, that I took away from taking care of my needs and necessities just to do what I wanted.

Why do we think shopping will cure our stress?

We go stress stopping because we want to feel good about ourselves. Something made us feel that we aren’t good enough. When we purchase a shiny new object, it makes us feel good for a second. Then you go back to where you were. It’s an adrenaline rush, like a roller coaster. Once you hit that peak, you go down, and that’s it. That’s why you continue to stress shop.

My remedy is to know what your stress triggers are. Recognize it, and find a way to combat it. During one challenging time in my life I felt loneliness. I would go to the store so I would be out with people and I didn’t feel alone.

If I’m buying something, I feel in control, because I’m using money -- sometimes money I didn’t have -- to buy something that made me feel good just for the moment.

What should we do instead?

My cousin told me I should work out. Now I go to writing. I take it out on my pen. Or I go outside and get some air. Other people say to meditate.

I’ll tell people who feel they really need to stress shop to create a cart on Amazon and don’t use your card. Go shopping galore. You’ll put so much stuff in your cart that you’ll say “Ah, let me get rid of this.” And eventually you’ll get rid of the whole cart. Go virtual shopping, then get rid of that cart.

Because, what I’ve found, is that the adrenaline rush in shopping comes from picking items out. “I’ll wear this with this. I’ll do this thing with this item.” And then immediately that good feeling is gone. You get home and throw that bag across the room, that’s it. It’s over. Some people tell me they take stuff back because that happy moment is in the actual purchase. It’s about the journey, not the item.

Sometimes people tell me they only buy things on sale when they stress shop. But something is only a sale if you’ve planned and budgeted for it and find it’s less than what you expected to pay for it. If you didn’t intentionally come to the store to buy that item, then it’s not a sale.

Share your own stress shop story

At one difficult time in my life, I did so much shopping at New York & Company. I wasn’t feeling worthy. I felt I needed new outfits to make me feel good. I would just go buy clothes after clothes after clothes, charging it. I didn’t have enough money for it. When the balance would get to the limit, I’d take things back. It got to the point where I told myself, “You can’t pay this back. Why are you doing this?”


Gina Richardson

Senior Financial Wellness Educator