The True Cost of Retail Therapy: Why do we spend money on things we don’t need?

Many of us spend money on things that simply aren’t necessary – and the subject is covered in depth by Jessica Rozen in this eye-opening piece in The Guardian. While the article focuses on the financial outlook in Australia, the picture here in the UK is similar.

Via this piece, we delve into the psychology behind ‘retail therapy’, sharing quotes from those who admit that spending money on small but often unnecessary items can lead to a (short-lived) mood boost.’*

‘Making Exceptions for Little Luxuries’

‘If you’re struggling to afford groceries and basic items, should you really be getting that foot massage?’ The author of the piece states that Australians seem to think so, adding that wellbeing treatments like foot massages aren’t the only example. ‘People forgo big purchases when times are tough. But they seem to make exceptions for little luxuries.’

Indeed, in a recent article here on the Unity Mutual ‘Knowledge Hub’, we ask the question: Payday treats: do you still indulge in them?’. Many of those asked still justified them, even during the cost-of-living crisis.

‘The Lipstick Effect’

What is the ‘lipstick effect’? Surprisingly, sales of lipstick increase during a recession, states The Economist, since the beauty product is seen an ‘affordable luxury’.

This is known, therefore, as ‘the lipstick effect’, writes Jessica in her piece in The Guardian. ‘Small touches of indulgence can make us feel inordinately good – especially when times are tough.’

Lara, 39, from Hull**, agrees. “We’ve had a tough year financially, but I haven’t stopped treating myself here and there. What’s the point in pay day at the end of the month if all your money goes on essentials – and/or in savings?! I don’t go overboard on treats for myself, but I do like to get my nails done, rather than paint them myself, or treat myself to a lippie I’ve had my eye on.”

It could be argued that such investments in your physical appearance could even improve your prospects financially, with studies suggesting that women may invest in their appearance in the hope it will improve their chances of professional advancement.

‘It’s okay in moderation, but could be slippery slope’

While some may achieve that mood boost, albeit short-lived, for many such a boost could later lead to more spending.

Philip, 36, from Great Yarmouth, says while he enjoys the odd treat here and there, he’d never spend money on unnecessary items when he can’t afford to.

“I suppose it could [spending on things you don’t need] be seen as a kind of ‘high’, like anything else that’s no good for you. But it could also be a slippery slope – a fast track to getting in debt, really. As long as I can afford it, I’ll treat myself; you’re only here once and why not spend a little bit of your hard-earned money on something small that will make you smile?”

‘Rational Economic Decision Making’

Many of us rationalise our purchases, described online, says Jessica in her piece in The Guardian, as ‘girl maths’.

The Standard explains the financial phenomenon – an equation which can justify just about any purchase – in greater detail.

In one example via the site, ‘…Girl Maths works by taking the price of an outfit and then dividing it by the number of times it is worn.’

Grazia magazine has published a piece which says the trend promotes a ‘dangerous idea that women can’t be trusted with money.

‘We need to approach the idea that women can't be trusted with their money with caution.’ states the piece. ‘These tropes can be used to justify financial abuse in relationships, a worrying practice that involves limiting someone's access to money or exploiting their financial situation.’

What do you think about the notion of ‘girl maths’ – and what do you think of the concept of ‘retail therapy’? Join the conversation over on Facebook.

Made a savings goal or two ahead of 2024? View our range of financial products*** or do not hesitate to contact our team if you have any questions.

Until next time…

*The views expressed in this piece are those of the people we interviewed for the piece; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Unity Mutual or its team members.

**Some names and locations have been changed.

***Terms and conditions apply


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