Retail Therapy

Sunday, December 28, 2008, was a black day. I needed advice from a real person regarding my iPod. My younger son needed software for his iPod. My wife had returns to make at Old Navy and The Gap. My older son needed something to do. Thus the stars were aligned for a family trip to the mall.

As a general rule, I hate shopping malls. I also hate crowds, parking lots, food courts, roaming bands of teens and missing a Sunday afternoon of productivity, relaxation, or both, at home. My wife and I share this aversion to shopping malls and we find every reason imaginable to avoid them. Nevertheless, our needs were pressing so we ventured out.

Our experience at the mall was mixed, at best. On the one hand, it took me a long, long time to find a parking space and the mall itself was packed. I tried to view that as a good sign that our economy was stronger than the news media currently portray. I also tried not to let the experience cause me any undue stress. Sadly, I failed at that and soon found myself both stressed out and miserable.

Never one to miss out on an opportunity to self-assess, I soon realized that as my stress increased, my impulse to spend money unnecessarily increased proportionately. Even more interestingly, when my young son made a purchase, I found that my stress level decreased. Whether that was because we had spent money or because we were leaving the mall, I cannot tell. Be that as it may, that is what happened.

This past Sunday was the complete opposite of my Sunday at the mall. In contrast, today, I spent in the relative tranquility of an empty home. The television stayed off and I enjoyed the quiet background music of my digital classical musical collection. I read (books that I need to read for a test that I shall be taking). I prepped everything that we would be having for dinner. I did the laundry. I went for a walk. It was a completely meditative day and one without stress.

Of course, I spent no money and I had no urge to do so. In my meditations, I realized – perhaps recognized would be a better term – that the more tense I feel, the more likely I am to spend money. Whether the expenditure offers release or validation, I do not know, but I have demonstrated a marked tendency to spend money when I am most tense and to preserve my frugal ways when I am most relaxed.

Meditation and other forms of silent reflection thus seem to be my surest path towards truly enlightened spending. When I look back over the years, the years when I have had the least amount of spending money have been the years that I recall as being the most relaxed of my life.

The summer of 1988, after graduating from college, but before I had found a job. The summer of ’91, when I worked for nearly minimum wage for a law school professor. I did not have cash so I did not feel the need to spend it or the pressure to spend it. I would wander for hours in the woods near my home, pausing sometimes for what may have been minutes or even hours, just to listen to the sounds of nature. These past few months without a job sitting in my living room with the windows open, listening to the birds outside my home and enjoying the gentle breezes or going outside for a walk.

Whatever my current station in life, if I take the time to think and to relax, I know I will spend less than when I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Now, even when I am busy, I still force myself to take breaks before my stress level rises to the point where I need to pursue immediately gratification (usually by spending). If my pulse rate quickens, I will go to a quiet place and just think and listen for even a few minutes, just to set my keel even. And it works. The more time I spent in quiet contemplation, the less I spend.

Do you take time out to relax each day? Do you meditate or do yoga? Do you ride a bicycle or run or pursue other athletic activities that give you time with your thoughts? Have you ever considered the fiscal therapy that reflection offers?

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11 Responses to Retail Therapy

  1. Ann says:

    I actually meditate and do yoga.

    Since I left the stresses of corporate life, my desire to spend has grown less. My meditation has also resulted in a strong, positive realignment of my core beliefs and greater direction to my goals.

    The first couple of years here, I was spending more money than I do now. Part of it was in preparation for my new life — electrical work on the (new) house, some tools to make my creative production easier — but some of it was unnecessary. This past year, I really took a look at why.

    There were a lot of things tangled up together that were influencing my spending habits, my weight problems and my (seeming) inability to stop smoking. What it all boiled down to was that I didn’t value myself, particularly now that I didn’t have my corporate job as an identity. Spending on certain things was a way of saying that I had value. My meditation led me to find that I had a great deal of value that had nothng to do with what I was capable of buying and that I was particularly foolish in not valuing my physical self enough to take care of my body.

    I lost 40 pounds in 2008 and am continuing to build muscle and reduce mass in 2009. I will be breathing free (i.e. a non-smoker) by the end of January and I now question every purchase. When I feel an impulse to buy, I make myself wait for at least 24 hours. If it’s really something I need or want that will get me further in pursuit of my goals, then I go ahead — after carefully searching for the best price and taking into consideration whether there are seasonal sales that I can wait for. Honestly, most of the time I find that I really don’t need orwant what I was considering and drop the whole thing.

    An unexpected bonus of meditating and waiting is a sense of freedom and control. Don’t know why that surprised me, but it did! LOL

  2. Persephone says:

    Congratulations Ann! Your hard work has really paid off. You sound happy and centered. I too left the corporate world and adopted a healthier lifestyle (regular exercise, no-alcohol and an abundance of fruits and vegetables). I now, too, spend less, want less and feel more control over my life.

  3. I agree. Generally, when you have time to breathe and feel a general sense of calm and control, it is easier to be content with all you have. Often when I get busy with work and other obligations and start to feel overwhelmed, it is easier to spend more than normal because I am not as organized (therefore, perhaps, may buy things like groceries or house supplies I already have without realize it or end up buying things I know I have but just can’t find) or just because I am stressed and looking to find contentment in materials things (e.g., cute finds at a boutique, Ross, or Target or sweets from a chocolatier).

    Overall, I think internal peace is great for the soul but also transends to the material world as it gives one the power to think clearly and have a sense of control over their life and their choices.

  4. Ann says:

    Thanks, Persephone! I’ve got a lot more “work” to do but being focused and centered makes a HUGE difference. My ex-boss was talking with an ex-coworker over a year ago and told him that there’s a sign at my exit saying “Happy Ann this way!” LOL That corporate life was killing me.

  5. Texas Girl says:

    That is SO TRUE. I’m a stay-at-home wife of a guy who works on commission, so some weeks are feast and some are famine. I’ve noticed that the months he REALLY brings home the bacon, I always do something completely foolish financially, like bounce several checks, charge more on my CC than I can pay, and end up somehow with lots of new stuff but not enough money to buy a loaf of bread at the end of the month. But the leaner months, we always have more than enough, probably because I’m wise and cautious with my money and not working off a huge ‘wish’ list like I tend to do whenever there’s a surplus in the budget.

  6. Ann says:

    Oh, Texas Girl, in this economy, your (hopefully old) habits don’t sound good!

    In my old corporate days, I used to get annual bonuses. First I used them to pay off all credit card debt and chisel away at my mortgage. Then I just socked it away and viewed it as paying myself for the future I wanted. It paid off ’cause, by the time I left corporate, I had absolutely NO debt of any kind. Talk about freedom! There are so many more options in life when your monthly payments are simply utilities and food and things you need/want.

    Not easy to get there but a nice place to be!

  7. David G. Mitchell says:

    Jules — Thanks for your post. I also thank you for helping me to change my preconceptions about Las Vegas and the people who live there. I won’t be so quick to assume that Las Vegas is merely what we see on TV (the Strip). I also enjoyed reading your Vegas blog!


  8. David ~ I’m glad you liked reading my blog and that doing so helped you broaden your view of Las Vegas.

    Thank you for your great article. I look forward to reading more.

    Happy 2009 to you and your family!

  9. Spicoli says:

    i agree completlely with you.

    congrats on another insightful article Dave.

  10. Ann says:

    With the brutality of winter setting in and doing its worst, I’ve found that there’s a temptation to do a bit of on-line shopping. Being focused on needs vs. wants and in a calm place overall concerning my life in general helps tremendously in resisting the urge!

    I don’t know whether other people find that bad weather has the same effect on them or not, but I do find it an interesting phenomenon. Maybe it’s based on the urge to connect with people when you’re isolated by snow and cold or maybe the snow and cold just makes you feel like you deserve a “treat.”

  11. Bernz says:

    I find meditating with focus on visualization really works for me well especially in times of stress, but I pretty much do it on a daily basis. I find it more effective also to exercise and do positive self talk (affirmation)at the same time.

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