Need an Alternative to Retail Therapy? 18 Low or No-Cost Ways to Treat Yourself

When I joined Tweetdeck, I set it up to search for tweets on the topic of retail. Now I’m bombarded with tweets about retail every few seconds. A huge proportion of these tweets consist of either ‘I need retail therapy’ or ‘I love retail therapy’.

There is often a hidden logic in our reasons for seeking retail therapy. Perhaps we feel we deserve a treat, or something bad has happened that we need to process. Yet we don’t usually get what we really need when we use shopping to mediate our emotions. On the contrary, the short-term high from the hit of dopamine when we buy can lead to long-term buyer’s remorse and a serious debt problem.

It’s still important to reward and treat ourselves sometimes. Perhaps you’ve done a solid stretch of work and need time out. Perhaps you’re a bit down and need a pick-me-up. Perhaps you’re just feeling needy or bored.

Below are some tips for ‘rewards’ and treats that are either cheap or free. Some of them are absurdly simple, but they may be hard to put into practice. Society not only gives us permission to shop, but presents it as a virtue. Governments panic when consumers stop buying. After 9/11, George Bush told Americans that shopping was a patriotic act! Self-care and nurturing don’t make the big corporations any money. It can feel a bit self-indulgent to look after yourself, while hitting the streets and scoring a bargain feels more like an achievement. Giving yourself permission for non-retail treats and rewards is the first step in combating the need for retail therapy. Here are some options.

* If it’s a nice day, grab a rug, a water bottle, a hat and a good book or newspaper and head down to the nearest park. Sit yourself under a friendly oak and wile away an hour communing with nature and your favourite author. Or simply set yourself up in the backyard on a sun lounge with your iPod and a good book.

* Schedule some serious down time. (This will be hard if you’re a workaholic or have kids, but if you can arrange it with your spouse it’s a great way to regenerate your batteries.) Allot yourself a set amount of time on the couch. Set up your supplies (hot drink, healthy snack, books and newspapers) or simply have a nap. Alternatively, retreat to bed with said supplies. A ‘doona day’ (or half a day) may sound lazy but can be incredibly replenishing.

* Stake out a public art gallery holding a free exhibition in a neighbouring or rural town, pack a lunch and head on down – make a day of it.

* Find out from the internet or your local paper if there are free or very cheap architectural/historical tours in your area. Profit-making tours are expensive but sometimes local history societies hold walking tours for as little as a $2 donation.

* Enjoy a relaxing bath, complete with bath salts, essential oils and gentle music.

* Give yourself a pedicure, including a foot soak, in front of your favourite TV program.

* Plan a low-cost ‘date’ with your spouse or partner. Plan a frugal meal, buy some cleanskin wine and candles and choose some romantic music. Or simply go for a stroll along the beach or a river followed by a coffee.

* Visit a flea market and allocate yourself a small amount of spending money. Tramp around and soak up the atmosphere.

* If you’re into gardening or just like viewing gorgeous gardens, visit a garden show – these vary in price but can often be quite cheap. Find out if your local area has any open garden schemes, with owners of beautiful gardens opening them to the public for a small entry fee.

* Arrange to stay with a friend in another state, town or region.

* Arrange to have a Skype or phone chat with an out-of-town pal that you haven’t heard from for a while.

* Take advantage of any free summer concerts held by your local council.

* Schedule some laughter time. Hire a stack of comedy DVDs or Blu-rays. Choose shows and movies that you can rely on to make you laugh. Alternatively, borrow comedy DVDs from your friends. (Note: you don’t have to wait to the weekend to do this; it's often cheaper to hire DVDs during the week anyway.)

* Schedule some crying time. Borrow DVDs or Blu-rays that you know will give you the chance for a good bawl.

* Schedule some time to bake one of your favourite dishes. When I was a kid we didn’t make biscuits (cookies) much, we made slices – hedgehog, brownies, coconut ice, and my personal favourite, the three-layered caramel slice. If you’re trying to steer clear of sugar, bake a favourite savoury dish or experiment with Italian, Thai, Indian or Mexican food.

* Get some pet therapy. If you don’t have your own dog, borrow a friend or relative’s dog and take them to the local dog park. Not only will you get lots of doggie energy and probably enjoy some friendly chats, but you’ll earn the unconditional love of a faithful friend. Or connect with the local wildlife: a friend of mine lives opposite a park with a pond, and on most days he finds time to check in with the duck family who live there.

* Put some music on and dance around your lounge room.

* Plan a cheap beauty therapy afternoon with your pals. Make beauty masks from common ingredients, and/or dye your hair and paint your nails.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Are Any of These Negative Beliefs about Money Holding You Back?

Until next time!

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