“Retail Therapy”

Even though Hulu frontloaded 3 episodes of Handmaid’s Tale, I’m going to put off chatting about them to get started on another, recurring segment: Finance Fridays! Let’s talk about money.

By way of introduction to this segment, let’s talk about “retail therapy.”

Y’all know what that is, and I suspect most of you have done it at one point or another. Akin to “eating your feelings” (my preferred default for days when I’m frustrated—hello, m&ms), “retail therapy” is when we take to the mall to deal with our anger, frustration, a long week, a bad meeting, a rough paper, you name it. We buy ourselves a few things to ease that pain, and then many of us feel a different pain when the credit card bill comes in. Sound familiar?

“Retail therapy” is a phrase I’ve primarily heard women use, and this makes sense: we live in a culture in which women do a great deal of the shopping and have for decades. We also live in a culture in which we celebrate shopping as a women’s activity. Dealing with our feelings by spending money is, by logical extension, a feminized activity. Shopping aimlessly is a routine choice for women’s outings together–it’s also a cultural norm. As an aside, when I took students to a new state—a new city—for a conference recently, the first night they wanted to go to the mall. They were both broke. This shit is pervasive.

shopping lady, money
I mean, just look at this ridiculous stock photo.

Longer-term Repercussions

The consequence of this feminization of shopping—combined with other issues, like the pay gap, the generally lower pay in feminized industries in which women predominantly work, and women’s periodic departure from the work force in order to give birth, all despite their higher numbers in colleges and universities—is that women carry far more consumer debt than men. US News reported in 2015 that,

“63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.” (Abby Hayes, 6.25.15, http://bit.ly/1JoZLok)

Consumer debt is arguably far worse than other kinds, as the interest rates are much higher, meaning that what you owe increases dramatically over time. Needing to pay that debt off, particularly when combined with other bills such as student loans and the like, yields another troublesome picture. According to a 2014 Forbes article,

“A new LearnVest.com survey found that an American woman’s retirement nest egg totals approximately $150,000, on average, while a man’s comes in at roughly $235,000. That’s a 57% difference!” (Jane Bianchi, 2.12.14, http://bit.ly/2qen0k7)

All of this is gendered; make no mistake. We’ll come back to these various categories in the weeks to come, but for now, try to keep yourself out of the shops this weekend. The weather in much of the country is gorgeous this time of year, so get outside with your friends rather than head to the mall. I’ll leave the m&ms alone, too.

Next week, we’ll discuss budgeting: knowing where your cash is going so as to better give it direction.

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