Money·2 min read

Why Retail Therapy Can Actually Be a Good Thing

accessibility, two women window shopping
Design:theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Jul 29, 2022

If shopping is your go-to when you’re feeling down, you aren’t the only one. And experts say you can do it guilt-free. Just add retail therapy to your budget.

What is the meaning of retail therapy?

It’s when you go shopping to improve your mood or reduce stress. Which a TNS Global study found that 52% of Americans do. And ICYMI: The pandemic didn’t slow down spending. Shoppers just shifted to browsing online retailers for a mood boost. P.S. E-commerce sales increased by $244.2 billion in 2020, which brought total sales to $815.5 billion.

Why is retail therapy a thing?

“People may be hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, and spending money changes how they feel,” Carrie Friedberg told us. She’s a certified financial behavior specialist — aka the $F Money Coach. She says we do it for the rush. And, based on a 2014 Journal of Consumer Psychology study, there’s some science behind retail therapy, too. “Literally, their brain chemistry gets altered and there’s a dopamine high,” Friedberg says.

Is there a realistic way to fit retail therapy into my budget?

Not only is it possible, but many experts —including Friedberg — recommend it. Otherwise, you’re at risk of overspending. When it comes to budgeting, retail therapy should be listed under “wants.” And, yes it’s a good idea to include wants in your budget. Read: 50/20/30. Because balance. 

How do I know if I’m going overboard on retail therapy?

Friedberg says there are a few signs you’ve let your retail therapy get out of hand. One major sign is if you can’t afford to pay your entire credit card balance each month. Or if you have lots of items you never use. Think: Is your closet filled with shirts that still have the tags on them? If so, Friedberg suggests creating a retail therapy support team with friends and family. And if that doesn’t help, it might be time to hire a money coach. Because curbing your spending can be tough to do alone.


Retail therapy isn’t all bad. Take it from the $F Money Coach. But it has to be done right — aka in moderation. And it isn’t easy. So don’t feel bad about building a retail therapy support team.

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