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Retail Therapy – There Are Better Alternatives

Does stepping inside a mall put a spring in your step? Does shopping help you forget your troubles? If so, you’re not alone. On average, Canadians alone spend $8.8 Billion on impulse purchases a year. When people feel stressed, many turn to retail therapy to make themselves feel better. Sadly, too much of a feel-good thing (like sugar, alcohol and, yes, spending money) causes harm.

The words “retail therapy” might be catchy, but they’re not true. “Therapy” should be helpful. If you feel worried or stressed about debt, shopping won’t help. It can be addictive, increase your debt and make you feel guilty.

Shopping isn’t the only way to improve your mood. There’s a big world out there. If you’re wondering how to spend your time (not your money) you have options.

Alternatives to retail therapy

Love to shop? Go through the motions without spending your hard-earned money. Here’s how:

“Shop” your closet

Would a new outfit make your day? Look through your closet. You might discover clothes you haven’t worn in years. If you have high-waisted pants from the 80s, guess what? They’re back in style. Bell bottoms from the 70s? They’re super trendy in 2022. Not wearing your old jeans? Turn them into jean shorts. It feels great to repurpose old clothes for a fresh new look.

Window shop

Sometimes the experience of shopping will be enough to squash the need for retail therapy, without spending. If you love the look and feel of a real store, go window shopping. Before heading out, put your credit and debit cards safely in a drawer so you won’t be tempted to use them. If you absolutely love or need an item, take a photo of it. Save up for it as a reward later on, or put it on your holiday wish list.

Window shop online

If online shopping gives you a thrill, go ahead and browse. Just be careful not to hit that “checkout” button. If your credit card is already registered with an online store, it’s much too easy to spend. Or, if the temptation is too hard to resist, stay away from stores (including online).

Have fun in other ways     

Getting active, getting outside, and getting creative are all wonderful forms of therapy. You’ve probably never seen someone frosting cupcakes or planting tulips with a frown on their face!

Let nature soothe the need for retail therapy

In nice weather, get on a bicycle. Hike in the woods. Walk your dog. Have you tried gardening? All it takes is a tiny patch of soil or a few pots. Plant some seeds and discover the thrill of growing your own flowers, herbs or vegetables.

Enjoy the indoors

The pandemic taught people to appreciate home. When you don’t feel like being outside, do something cozy indoors. Make soup. Learn to knit. Read a great novel or, better yet, start writing one.

Find a workout you’ll enjoy

Many forms of exercise are free-of-charge. You can find great yoga instructors on Instagram. Learn the latest dance moves on YouTube. Take a stroll in your neighbourhood. Stretch. Do housework. When your body moves, your mind feels better.

Get a hobby

You know that feeling of pride you get from wearing a new outfit? Hobbies feel even better. You don’t have to spend money. If there’s an old guitar in your home, look for free lessons online. Love to sing? Use the Internet as a karaoke machine. Borrow your kids’ watercolours and paint a rock. No need to do it well, just do it. Hobbies are not about being good at something. They’re about producing something nice, just for you.

Do something productive

Instead of shopping, do something that feels productive or important. Make a difference in your life or someone else’s life.

Do a good deed

Being nice will brighten someone’s day, including yours. It’s easy. Call your aunt. Bake muffins for your neighbour. Offer to cat-sit for your sister. Offer someone else the chance to do a little retail therapy by donating items you don’t use anymore. That sense of pride in yourself will feel better than shopping.


If you have free time and are tempted to shop, consider volunteering instead. It’s a great way to help your community, meet people and learn a new skill. Find something you’re passionate about. Are you good with kids? Volunteer at a school. Do you hate pollution? Find a group of people who pick up litter from parks and creeks.

Advance your career

If you’re not satisfied with your job, work towards a better one. LinkedIn offers free training. Or, learn from books at your public library.

Seek actual therapy

If you need professional help, consider seeing a therapist. Millions of Canadians need help with their mental health every year. Ask your employer if they offer free counselling through an Employee Assistance Program. Or, look for free government resources, like this Ontario site.

When you must shop, shop smarter

Know your budget

If your monthly food budget is $100, you might regret indulging in a retail therapy session that resulted in buying a $79 purse. If your budget allows only $50 at a restaurant, spending $95 will put you in debt. Be cautious with your money. When you respect your budget, you respect yourself.

Curb the consequences of retail therapy by buying used

Be flexible. Why buy new rollerblades when you can get a good used pair for much less? If you really need new clothes, visit a thrift store. Find the exact styles and colours you love. You’ll even find great deals on designer clothes that look as good as new.

Delay the purchase

Often we buy something because it feels urgent. Before pulling out your credit card, stop, take a breath and ask yourself:  Do I need to buy this? Could I maybe live without this? If you must have that item, ask yourself:  Do I need it today, or can it wait until next month? People spend less when the urgency is gone.


By now you know that retail therapy isn’t great for your wallet. Try other ways to ease stress besides “stress shopping.” Need more advice on kicking the spending habit and getting out of debt? Please feel free to reach out. Our trained Credit Counsellors can help.

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