Enjoy occasionally splurging on yourself, but you’re also tight on cash? New research reveals the best way to shop so you avoid buyer’s remorse while also lifting your spirits.
Check out the book that inspired this podcast, THE HAPPINESS UPGRADE: ONE SMALL STEP UP TO A HAPPIER LIFE (available at Amazon) at HappinessUpgradePress.com.
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Welcome to the Happiness Upgrade Podcast. I’m your host, Gabrielle Lichterman.
Hello listeners, do you want to boost your mood with a little “retail therapy”, but you’re also on a tight budget?
New research shows that you’ll give yourself a Happiness Upgrade, and avoid disappointment, when you think carefully about what you want to buy yourself ahead of time rather than pick something impulsively.
Keep listening to find out the surprising reason why….
Right now, money is tight for many of us. Between inflation, spiking gas prices, high rent and other factors impacting our finances, it’s no surprise that millions of us are stressed about what’s in our wallets.
At the same time, it’s normal to get the urge to want to occasionally buy something to perk up our mood, a behavior that you’ve probably heard called “retail therapy”.
Whether you buy yourself new clothes, purchase tickets to a concert or indulge in a delicious dinner at a favorite restaurant, spending money on yourself feels good.
One reason is because treating yourself prompts the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which gives you a pleasurably rewarding sensation.
Another reason you enjoy splurging on yourself? A 2011 study from the University of Michigan shows that the little decisions you make while shopping, such as which pair of pants to buy or what food to order at a restaurant, gives you a feeling of control in a world where you may feel like you have very little control.
Here’s the problem though: If you’re strapped for cash, you could actually end up being less satisfied with what you purchase. That’s the word from a study out of Duke University that was published in the December 24, 2021 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Gavan Fitzsimons, who co-authored the findings, warns that while a purchase may give you an initial rush of enjoyment, this buzz could soon wear off and lead to regret. In a news release, he explains: “That feeling of financial constraint leads people to revisit their purchase and think about what else they could have done with that money, also known as the opportunity cost.”
Dr. Fitzsimons then adds, “Because of that question in a consumer’s mind about what else they could have used the money for, every time they think about that purchase, they are going to be a little less happy with what they did end up buying.”
What Dr. Fitzsimons and his team mean is that the retail therapy you hoped would lift your mood—for instance, that top you bought or expensive dinner you ate—actually ends up giving you buyer’s remorse. This is a feeling of regret that makes you think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have spent my money on what I did because it’s not as good as I thought it would be. Maybe I should have used what little extra cash I have on something else that would have made me happier instead.”
In fact, researchers discovered that folks who splurge while on a tight budget are more likely to leave negative reviews of their purchase, indicating just how unhappy they were with them.
In one study, they found that folks who live in more financially strapped neighborhoods are more likely to leave bad Yelp reviews of restaurants.
In other experiments, volunteers who were prompted to think about their low funds were more likely to leave negative online reviews of products they purchased for themselves.
Ultimately, it seems that when you’re low on cash, it’s harder for something you buy for yourself to make you happy.
Luckily, there is good news! The authors of the Duke University study say there’s a simple way you can still enjoy a mood boost from treating yourself to a little retail therapy while on a tight budget without ending up disappointed later on.
What’s the method? Carefully plan what you’ll buy for yourself ahead of time rather than shop impulsively. This way, you can make sure you pick the right item that justifies the money you’ve spent.
So, for instance, instead of walking past a bookstore and then impulsively going in and buying the latest hardcover bestseller that’s featured prominently on the display table, go online and read reviews of new books to be sure you’ll enjoy the novel, biography or other type of book you purchase for yourself.
Now, some of my listeners may know that I’m a longtime health journalist. What you may not know is that I’m also a personal finance journalist. For over a decade, I’ve written a weekly column about ways to save money for Woman’s World magazine, which is a popular print publication in the U.S.
So, I have my own suggestion about how to enjoy a little mood-boosting retail therapy while avoiding regret: I recommend that you create a budget before you shop so you don’t feel like you’ve spent more than you can reasonably afford to.
Also smart: Look for ways to save on the retail therapy purchase you want to make. This way, you can feel even better because you’ve scored a bargain.
To help you with this, I’m sharing 7 suggestions for you to try this week that can help you enjoy a little mood-boosting retail therapy while saving cash:
1. Look for ways to shop for free. There are actually lots of ways to find free items that would make your day! For example, you can host a swap party with friends and family where you trade clothing, costume jewelry, home décor, books or furniture. Or look for items being given away for free on websites, such as Freecycle.org, Nextdoor.com and local Facebook groups. You can also download an app that notifies you about freebies being given away in your area, such as the app Freebie Alerts.
2. Splurge at places where the prices are super-low. For instance, head to a dollar store. I know I’ve personally found items there that I’ve loved, such as backyard games and body scrubs. Or visit a flea market or garage sale where they expect you to haggle down the already low prices.
3. Get alerted to free food. Believe it or not, despite the spiking prices of food at restaurants, many eateries are still giving away free meals, drinks, desserts and more in limited promotions to drum up new business and celebrate food-related holidays. And, lucky for you, there’s an easy way to be alerted to these food giveaways quickly and easily: Head to Google.com/alerts and set up an alert for the word “freebie” and your town’s name, for example, I would type in “freebie” and “St. Petersburg, Florida”. You’ll be alerted whenever a local restaurant announces a free food offer so you can treat yourself. Another option: Download a favorite restaurant’s app, where you’ll often get exclusive coupons and money-saving offers.
4. Fill your closet at off-price stores. If you enjoy treating yourself to name brand clothing, shoes or accessories, you probably already know you can get them for a fraction of their original price at off-price stores, such as Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Well, to save even more, visit these stores on a Monday morning. This is when you’ll find additional price markdowns as the store tries to sell more items to make way for new stock. This is also the time when new shipments are put on display to fill empty spaces created by the weekend crush, so you’ll get first dibs on the best deals on name brand items. Another good idea: When you find an item you like at one of these stores, look at the price tag on identical items since it may be lower. This happens due to the way off-price stores purchase merchandise: Sometimes, they get batches of duplicate overstock products from different vendors at different costs—so when they mark down the items, their prices are different, too. Taking a few moments to simply double-check if there’s a difference could mean getting what you want at an even lower price.
5. Looking to buy electronics, such as a TV, laptop or smartphone? Check the refurbished sections of websites, such as Amazon, Apple and Best Buy. You can typically save up to 40% on products that have been discontinued or were returned, then restored and guaranteed to be in like-new condition.
6. Want to attend a concert or theater event? Check for bundled ticket deals. For example, Ticketmaster.com/ticketdeals offers multi-pack deals on all types of entertainment. Then simply split the cost with friends. Or scoop up discounted tickets on Groupon.com. Right now, there are a wide range of reduced-priced tickets to live concerts for popular bands, which have gone unsold due to an abundance of musicians who have resumed touring this year after the pandemic interrupted their shows.
7. Seek out buy-one-get-one offers. These BOGO deals give you two for the price of one (which is equivalent to 50% off). This means you’ll have an extra of whatever you’re buying to keep for yourself. Or you can give it away as a gift to a family member or friend, which would fill you with even more joy because you’d know you’d be making someone else happy, too!
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the Happiness Upgrade Podcast. I hope what you learned today about using retail therapy wisely while on a budget helps you give yourself a Happiness Upgrade.
To learn a simple method that makes this tip and any other self-care methods even more effective at boosting your mood, pick up the book The Happiness Upgrade: One Small Step Up to a Happier Life by me, your host, Gabrielle Lichterman, at Amazon.
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To learn more about The Happiness Upgrade Podcast, visit HappinessUpgrade.com. And follow me on TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by searching @happinessupgrade.
I hope your week is filled with happiness!