Besides the obvious consequences to our bank account, there’s a deeper heart issue going on when we decide to shop away our stress. What are we really hiding from—and what are we really running toward?
When I hear the phrase “retail therapy,” I automatically envision a brightly colored pile of shopping bags tucked on the arm of a beautiful woman, sunglasses pushed up into her perfectly styled hair, and a big smile glossing her ruby red lips.
Retail therapy looks and feels good in the moment, but in reality, the act of retail therapy can get us into a lot of trouble. Besides the obvious consequences to our bank account, there’s a deeper heart issue going on when we decide to shop away our stress. What are we really hiding from—and what are we really running toward?
There’s nothing innately wrong with buying ourselves a treat when we’ve had a hard day. We do that for our children, such as offering an ice cream cone after they got teased on the playground or picking up a new coloring book when they’re sick. We send flowers to someone walking through a season of grief because we want them to have a moment of joy. Retail therapy, however, is defined as “shopping to make oneself feel happier.” There’s a selfish element to retail therapy that doesn’t come into play when purchasing things for someone else.
Again, shopping and being appreciative of our purchases or even finding joy in them isn’t wrong. But there are several things to consider first. Can I afford this? Am I attempting to avoid my life with this purchase? Am I slipping into denial by going shopping? Am I creating an idol out of my purchases?
With the advance in recent years of online shipping, it’s easier than ever to spend money to drown out our troubles. Before, we had to physically grab our purse, put on shoes, get in the car, and drive intentionally to a store. Now, happiness (allegedly) is only a click away. It’s a dangerous time to be prone to these types of survival mechanisms. The mishandling of both stress and money can mix into a dangerous cocktail.
Here are seven signs your retail therapy is out of control:
1. You Can’t Stop
When you’re having a rough time and decide to go shopping, do you make a single purchase and then head home? Or are you hopping from store to store, adding more and more bags to your arms or to your online cart even though you know in your gut you shouldn’t have bought so much? Proverbs 25:28 (ESV) says, "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."
Don’t be like that man. If you struggle with self-control, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. He will!
2. You’re Addicted
It’s one thing to take the occasional bad day and go shopping to distract yourself or cheer yourself up. It’s another thing to do it on a consistent, habitual basis. Just like a super sweet cupcake or a steaming slice of pizza is a joy and a gift in moderation, it can cause issues with severe consequences when abused. Shopping isn’t wrong, but being addicted to the rush of purchasing new things or being impulsive in stores can lead to other problems faster than you can say “charge it.”
Scripture tells us not to be like the world. When we fall prey to the lies the world has to offer as to what sustains us, we’re not being very different. Be sustained by the Lord and His Word—not by the unfulfilling, temporary pleasure of buying unnecessary products.
Romans 12:2 (ESV) "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
3. You Turn to Consumerism Instead of the Creator
When we go on a retail therapy binge or a shopping spree, we’re essentially looking to consumerism to fulfill us rather than our Creator.
Philippians 4:19 (ESV) reminds us: "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Scripture tells us God will supply our every need—which means physical, spiritual, and emotional. When we’ve had a rough time, are in a season of grief, or experiencing other retail therapy-inducing triggers, we can go to Him first. Maybe we can go get that donut too, but our first effort should be toward the Lord and prayer.
Hebrews 13:5 (ESV) "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"
If we take the time to remind ourselves of Gospel truths like that found in Hebrews 13:5, we gain a new perspective and can safely keep the credit card tucked away for a true emergency.
4. You’re Keeping Your Family in Debt
As Christians, we’re called to be good stewards of the money God has provided us. But becoming obsessed with shopping or making ourselves feel better through the act of shopping begins to fall under the dangerous category warned about in the Bible:
1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."
Money itself is not evil—the love of it is. And when we love money more than the Lord, or trust in money more than in God, we’ve created an idol that must be torn down. (And at times, the Lord tears it down for us!)
And remember—debt is not a goal for the believer. Some debt can be inevitable, such as having a mortgage, but running up credit card debt because of poor self-control and poor management of funds is downright sinful.
Proverbs 22:7 (ESV) "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender."
5. You Lie or Hide Your Purchases
One major red flag you’re out of control is if you find yourself having to lie or hide your purchases from your spouse or other family members.
Proverbs 12:22 (ESV) "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight."
If you go on a retail therapy spree and have to deny it later when questioned by a family member, or quickly break down the Amazon boxes and stash them in the trash bin outside so your husband doesn’t see the packages, you have a problem. If you can’t be honest with what you’ve bought, deep down, you know you shouldn’t have. Thankfully, today, we have a lot of options to return items that we don’t really need. If you get the opportunity to amend your bad decision, do so and then learn from it for next time. Lying is never the right thing to do—not even when we’ve had a bad day.
6. You’re Becoming Selfish
As women, we work hard. Whether that’s in our career or for our families or both; we are busy, multi-tasking, easily-stressed-out creatures who absolutely need the occasional break or reward for our work. The difference comes in where we are treating ourselves so much, and if our family or those in our charge suffer for it. Don’t let self-care morph into selfishness.
Acts 20:35 (ESV) "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
The next time you’re in the throes of retail therapy and tempted to throw down some cash to buy happiness, consider buying something for someone else instead. Or, if money is tight that month, perform an act of service for someone. Nothing cheers us up more naturally and immediately than doing a good deed. Complimenting a stranger, writing a letter to a homebound member of your church congregation, and volunteering for a cause will bring much deeper and lasting joy than buying a new sweater you’ll inevitably tire of or a new purse that you can’t afford. Better yet, those options are free!
7. You Feel Guilty
As a believer, we have the Holy Spirit who guides us and nudges us into conviction and into truth. If you have a gut feeling that your retail therapy is out of control, it probably is. Listen to that voice. Pray about it. Ask the Lord to help you honor Him with your stress, your finances, and your shopping habits. And here’s the good news—if you’ve failed in the past in this area, all you have to do is start fresh today.
Romans 8:1 (ESV) reminds us that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
Move forward, trusting the Holy Spirit to work in your heart, and if necessary, find accountability partners who can serve as gentle reminders for you the next time you’re tempted to swipe that card.
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