Just say no to “shopping therapy”

Blue Monday provides an opportunity to talk with kids about the ways mood can influence spending — and vice versa.

It’s the third Monday in January — aka Blue Monday — the most depressing day of the year, according to many. Some peg the day as the fourth Monday in January, while others dismiss the entire idea as nonsense. Regardless of whether Blue Monday truly exists, there are a number of factors that can negatively affect mood at this time of year. The winter weather and lack of sunlight, post-holiday letdown, the arrival of credit card bills containing all those Christmas and vacation charges, possible guilt at failing to keep New Year’s resolutions — who can blame you if you’re feeling blue?

When that low feeling hits, it’s natural to try to find something that will lift your mood back up. For many of us, that means turning to a substance or activity that will trigger our brain’s reward centres, such as sugar (I’m a chocolate gal, myself), alcohol or shopping. We may joke about “shopaholics” and “shopping therapy” but brain-imaging scans show that the same parts of the brain that fire when people consume drugs also become active when they think about, get or spend money.

What’s even more surprising, as I learned about a year ago while writing a feature about the effects money has on one’s psyche, is that psychological associations with money emerge in children as young as age three or four.

None of this is a problem, per se, so long as we’re aware of what’s going on in our heads and keep a measure of control about it. So, for example, there’s not much harm if I occasionally eat a Lindt truffle (okay, let’s be honest, two or three truffles) as a quick pick-me-up. Or if my nine-year-old son, Adam, is having a particularly hard day, and decides to spend a dollar or two from his allowance on a fun new app. The trouble comes when small indulgences become unhealthy binges. Instead of feeling good, you feel sick — and that goes just as much for a full credit card as it does for a full stomach.

As parents, we’re all careful to speak with our kids about not overindulging in treats, and we’ve certainly all had some version of the “just say no to drugs” discussion with them. Perhaps we should also consider making them aware of the effect that spending has on their brains, and suggest other feel-good alternatives — like getting outside or spending time with friends — to better prepare them for those Blue Mondays.   

Keep the conversation going

Have you ever tried to lift your spirits though a shopping spree? Did it work, or do you end up feeling worse in the end? Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada).

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.