The woman in front of me complained about Christmas shopping. Or rather, she complained about how she kept blowing her holiday gift budget. She had no problem sticking to buying exactly what was on her planned gift list for others. It was just that every time she went out to the stores, she couldn’t help buying a little something extra for herself.
“I try to stick to a budget, but it’s like I have no self-control,” she said. She wasn’t alone. I polled the other people in line. They each admitted to having bought a gift for themselves while Christmas shopping. One said, “During the holidays, we all need a little retail therapy.” Everyone agreed.
Buying a gift for ourselves is almost a holiday tradition, where once it might have been seen as the height of indulgent. Today, advertisers tell us, “Reward yourself!” And around the holidays, the messages just get more intense.
You’ve probably seen the recent Target ad. A man and woman wearing Target bull’s eye scarves sing enthusiastically about gift buying: “One for you and one for meeee. You, you, you, you, you, and one for me.”
Why not make the holidays a little less stressful by rewarding yourself? A recent study in the Journal of Psychology and Marketing reported retail therapy has lasting effects on mood. In the study, respondents bought clothing (26.1%), food (20.3%), electronics (17.4%), entertainment products (17.4%), accessories (e.g., jewelry and shoes) (12%), and other (e.g., household items) (6.8%) as treats. On average, they spent on average $59.18. The result? 82% reported feeling happy post-purchase and, interestingly, none had buyer’s remorse.
In short, retail therapy works.
But it’s a fine line between the occasional pick-me-up and addiction. According to a 2006 Stanford University study, nearly 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are compulsive buyers (no, this is not just a women’s issue). The study stated, “Compared with other respondents, compulsive buyers were younger and more likely to have reported incomes under $50,000. In addition, more of their credit cards were within a few hundred dollars of the credit limit, and compulsive buyers were more than four times as likely as other respondents to make only the minimum payment on credit card balances.”
We might complain about our personal “spend, spend, spend” holiday habits, but compulsive buying disorder (CBD) is a serious problem. While not officially recognized as a mental illness, it falls under impulse control disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Therapists treat it like they would any addiction problem.
The good news is that most of us don’t have CBD, but many of us struggle to keep to our budgets over the holidays. Here are some tips on how to keep the regret to a minimum:
- Add yourself to the holiday gift list. Rather than impulse buy, shop for something you know you want. You could even wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree. No reason you shouldn’t get exactly what you want.
- Shop with a friend. If you know you can’t control yourself, ask a friend to help you.
- Avoid the stores all together. Impulse buying is less likely to happen online where we typically have very specific items in mind to purchase. As much as online retailers would like it to be different, the browsing experience is just not the same.
- Pay with cash. Using cash rather than a credit card will help you limit your spending to what is available in your account.
- Return it. If you really didn’t get the retail therapy you had hoped from the item you bought, return it. The material good isn’t really good if you don’t feel good about it.
Do you gift yourself during the holidays? If yes, how do you stick to your budget?