3 Strategies I Use to Curb My Online Retail Therapy Habit

  • I’ve always had a term for shopping when I’m sad, which is “buying myself happiness”.
  • It spun out of control at the start of the pandemic when online shopping seemed like the only thing to do.
  • I’ve unsubscribed from mailing lists, pause before buying, and explore my feelings when I feel like it now.
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Online Shopping: What else was there to do during the early days of the pandemic, while sitting home alone and feeling trapped, alone and scared?

It all started small – I ordered beer from a local craft brewery, justifying the expense by supporting a small business during a tough time. When the delivery guy stopped asking me for my ID because he knew me by name and recognized me – even with my mask on – I knew things had gone too far.

I also ordered masks online. I needed it in this brave new world, didn’t I? I ordered natural beauty products because self-care was essential if I wanted to take care of myself.

They delivered everything to me: groceries, face cream, wine, clothes, decor, ad nauseam. Some of the things I bought I really needed, but most were an impulsive way to deal with my sadness.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. My best friend in high school and I called it “buying fun” and it’s a behavior I’ve been fighting for years.

The pandemic gave me the best excuse – I was doing my part by staying home, keeping the economy going, [insert other empty justification here]. As I shopped through boredom, sadness, loneliness, distraction, and fear, my “treat yourself” spending at the start of the pandemic got a little out of control.

However, since then, I’ve been using 3 techniques to help me take a more realistic, compassionate, and balanced approach to my online shopping habits.

1. Press pause before checking

We have so many impulses in a day, but we can choose which ones we follow and which we ignore, even though we don’t always feel like we have a choice.

On a bad day, I might have several impulses to fill the void. I could reach for the chocolate in my fridge or my phone to scroll through Instagram, then quickly find myself reaching for my credit card to buy myself some treat.

At this point I don’t even need the physical map, as I saved the details in memory. Sometimes a simple pause before reaching, grabbing, clicking does the trick.

On a good day, I can just look away from the screen, close my eyes, and take a few deep conscious breaths and diffuse the urge. Sometimes I go for a walk instead.

If there’s something I really want to buy — like the new rug that now adorns my living room floor — I’ll sleep on it. If the feeling is just as strong 24 hours later, then it’s not just an impulse anymore and I can go for it.

2. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe

When I noticed my spending spiraling out of control, it was the first summer of the pandemic and I was in the middle of a house hunt, looking to buy my first home.

I couldn’t afford to waste money on impulse purchases with a down payment, mortgage, and possible impending home repairs. I turned to a trusted resource to help me control my spending: Worry-Free Money, by Shannon Lee Simmons.

Shannon writes candidly about the emotional nature of


money management

, and sharing tools to heal past financial wounds. One of the most accessible techniques is to unsubscribe from retailers’ mailing lists and newsletters.

It’s kind of out of sight, out of mind strategy, but it works! I was thrilled to click “unsubscribe” on countless promotional emails in my overflowing inbox and felt lighter after this mental decluttering process.

I admit I’ve kept a few subscriptions for things I need and buy regularly, so it’s helpful to get an alert for price drops when they happen. I limited myself to just three of them, though.

3. Address the root of my expenses

Money is inherently emotional, and it’s also a taboo subject for many. It’s a perfect storm for secret spending, buyer’s remorse, and shame.

The effects of the brief high I get from anticipating an item to arrive, looking forward to it, and the package arriving at my door wears off pretty quickly, and the more I buy online, the more the feeling is fleeting.

Getting to the core of why I spend this way and looking underneath the craving has become the key to freeing myself from it. This is by far the most difficult technique I have implemented to control my spending, but it is worth it because its effects are long lasting.

When I feel the lingering urge to spend, I pause and get curious. I try not to berate myself for reaching a coping mechanism, but rather to ask what I really need or what I’m leaning towards.

What is it doing in my body? Does it feel like a tightness or flutter in my chest? If so, what is really causing the anxiety? Does it look like an inability to concentrate, scattered thoughts and restlessness?

I try to identify the sentiment and notice what’s missing instead of looking for a quick fix, like buying a candle, a blanket, or a new book.

If I need something to look forward to, I might schedule a phone call with a friend. If I need to fill a void, I can cook a nourishing meal. If I’m bored, I might explore a new learning opportunity or interest. If I feel a deep need for change, I might rearrange the art on my walls.

I always try to redirect my energy with compassion. However, there are times when I really want this candle. In this case, I will buy the candle.

Anne G. Cash