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Coming to terms with pandemic stress shopping

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 02: Symbolic photo on the subject of online shopping. A credit card is held next to the keyboard of a laptop. (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)

While many Canadians are saving while staying home, some are making purchases simply to feel better as they cope with the pandemic and the stresses it has brought.

“Needless to say, my online shopping habits are heightened more when I’m not working than when I am working,” says Razia Kassam. “Now when I’m not working I have time and I’m on Instagram and I’m looking at influencers.”

Markham mom Razia Kassam has lost her job twice during the pandemic. Like many, she’s home a lot more and bored.

“I must have carts full in probably every single store that I shop at, just to fill that void,” she says.

In the early months of the pandemic, a survey by Credit Karma found one in three Americans reported impulse buying because of feelings of anxiety or stress.

Among those who reported stress buying, nearly half said they were stress spending at least once a week.

In Canada, online retail sales nearly doubled from February to May of last year. Statistics Canada says sales reached a record $3.9 billion dollars in May.

Those high numbers are partially due to brick-and-mortar stores being closed for months because of COVID-19, and safety concerns about shopping in person. In that time, buyers and sellers shifted their focus online.

“There has been a major improvement in the digital checkout experience. It’s awesome how retailers really elevated their game during the pandemic,” says financial expert Leslie-Anne Scorgie.

She adds the majority of Canadians are actually spending less during the pandemic. A report by CIBC economics found that by mid-2020, Canadians’ chequing and savings deposits were 12 per cent higher than a year before. Scorgie says while many are saving wisely — some are not.

“When people are impulse buying and overdoing it, it’s usually to try and satisfy a need that will never really be filled by that purchase. But for a temporary period of time they’re going to feel elevated and a little bit better,” she says. “Shortly after the purchase you actually return to that pre-purchase state where you’re not really feeling great.”

Scorgie adds those who are emotional spending should do some self-reflection and try to channel that energy into other aspects of their lives, such as their health.

“Go to the underlying reason for spending in the first place. Is it to make yourself feel a little bit better? Is it to make your kids feel better because you feel guilty they have lost out on a year? Try to figure out the real challenge is there,” she said.

Scorgie says nothing is wrong with making purchases online or even buying yourselves gifts and treats, as long as you have a budget and are spending within your means.

SunLife Financial also suggests making it harder to actually make a purchase, by removing auto-filled credit card information from website forms, and cancelling unneeded credit cards.

Another tip is to remove temptation by using adblockers to mute advertising, and unsubscribing from brand emails. SunLife adds that anyone having difficulty controlling their shopping should consider getting help from a therapist or psychiatrist.

Kassam says she’s making changes because the anxiety of hitting that checkout button was taking a toll on her mental health. She’s prioritizing some of her long-time interests instead, including running.

“I make a point to actually get dressed, do my hair put on my five-minute face, because it makes me feel better,” she says. “Yes I’m staying home and not going anywhere but I need to do it for my own mental self.”