Here's the Retail Therapy to Really Watch Out For

The whole point of retail therapy is that it's irresponsible. Did you fudge that presentation and now you're feeling lousy? Take yourself out to dinner and get dessert, why not. Feeling depressed about your dating life? There's nothing wrong with just browsing at the shoe store. Aren't there already piles of books on your bedside table? Sure, but buying that new hardback felt so good.

While those nonessential purchases can add up quickly if they go unchecked, it turns out that's not actually the kind of impulse buying to worry about. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that feeling like you're not in control of your life means you might actually drop more dough on "responsible" spending than normal. In particular, it may mean you find yourself splurging on cleaning products.

Researchers stopped shoppers at a grocery store and asked them to write about a time when they either felt helpless and frustrated (a child's public tantrum, a layoff) or in control (acing a test, etc.). The shoppers then presented the researchers with their receipts after they'd completed their purchases. The big shocker: "Low-control" shoppers who'd written about loss of control spent nearly twice as much on functional items (a screwdriver, dish detergent) as their "high-control" counterparts.

The study concludes that these tendencies have nothing to do with character traits and everything to do with reacting to situational anxieties. Loss of control "refers to the everyday, fundamental experience of being unable to produce a desired outcome in a given environment," the research team writes. Yet it's the first time a study has seen a correlation between coping with stress and acquiring "problem-solving" items.

It doesn't take a psychologist to see that stress-cleaning is a reasonable reaction to overwhelm, whatever its source. And yes, indulging in a really nice vacuum cleaner can definitely count as a hedonic purchase. Just make sure you're not blowing your budget on new-formula spackling paste or limited-edition all-natural hand soap. Making lists of what you actually need before you go shopping is always a great way to control your spending, and using the supplies you've already got will definitely feel better than the clutter of too many half-full bottles.