Retail therapy (“I’m feeling empty inside, I deserve to go out and spend some money”) feels great, one of the most immediate ways to shake whatever unsavory thing you’re dealing with in the moment. It’s a popular method, requiring no skill or experience, and in most cases no money. If you have a credit card, even better. You get to spend money you can’t really pay back, but you don’t have to think about all of that – just make your minimum payment each month and you’re good to go.
Most purchases I’ve made really did change my life, especially the big ones. A few years ago my wife and I made the decision to buy a house. Our third adoption had just gone through and we were feeling the need to expand our territory a bit. There was a new house being built a block away from Elaine’s work that she had frequently passed while walking on her breaks. We looked into it, got really excited, and made our first spontaneous purchase together. It would be the biggest and nicest house I’ve ever lived in.
Moving is hell for me – the details, the physical labor, everything’s a mess and unsettled, the kids don’t know what’s going on – I couldn’t wait to get the old house sold and everything in place in the new. Once we settled in, I felt like I was living in paradise. I remember thinking on multiple occasions that it felt like staying in a luxury hotel – like we were on some kind of vacation. My life had truly been changed – for about six months.
Sadly, that feeling ended and life returned to normal, except for the fact that our house was a bit larger and we had geographically shifted. The life we had before our life changing purchase had returned, like an old tired dog that you just can’t get rid of. It’s been like that for all my purchases, although I still struggle to believe it. These things do change our lives, for a very short period, then life returns, unaffected. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with buying things, but plenty wrong with the belief that they’ll significantly alter our lives.
But that’s what we believe. We’re up to our ears in debt due in large part to our faith in things and experiences – and we owe it all to our little plastic collaborators, waiting anxiously in our wallets. Credit cards, when they first came out, were popular because of their convenience, and the tech was cool. But back then everyone approached debt with some caution, even with open lines of credit.
Things have changed.
Now, our credit cards allow us to secretly borrow at point of purchase, without anyone truly knowing how bad our situation is – with the exception of our credit card company – they’re cheering us on – that’s how they make big $$$.
For most of us, Retail Therapy is really Debt Therapy. We feel empty, or useless, shamed, angry, lonely – or some combination of sadness – and we salve it all by spending money we don’t have, adding to the mountain of $$ we’ll be hard-pressed to pay back. We add a stressor to our lives that will be with us for a very long time, and we forfeit a significant chunk of our freedom.
Ultimately, Retail therapy will bring change to your life. Most would agree however that it’s not the kind of change you’re looking for. Like most things that make us miserable, it’s a quick fix for a bigger problem, one that requires some deeper thinking. But when we’re worried about our revolving-debt-related-money stress, we usually don’t have head space for much else.
Digging out of stupid debt is really hard. I had to marry someone who would have none of it – Elaine sees most debt as completely inexcusable. I quickly said goodbye to my “whip-out-the-credit-card-at-every-turn” addiction, and changed my beliefs about the power of things and experiences. I’m not sure I could’ve done it without someone close, someone who really cared, helping me to understand how bad things had gotten.
But to be honest, in the back of my mind, I still struggle to understand what truly matters in this life. I’m surrounded by things I don’t have, and constantly fighting the urge to better my life with them.