The R’s of Life -Chapter Thirteen – Retail Therapy – The Real Cost!

The R's of Life

Welcome to the next chapter of my look at life according to the R’s in our everyday language. NB. You will note that I waited until after Christmas to post this chapter!!

The R’s of Life – Retail Therapy – The Real Cost

I will freely admit that shopping makes me feel better or it used to. As I have got older my need to find fulfillment in a shopping expedition to buy shoes, clothes and handbags has diminished somewhat. One of the reasons being our recent downsizing exercise which resulted in my entire hoarded wardrobe, spanning 30 years or so, being redistributed to thrift and charity shops.

It was not until we packed up our house that I realised the enormity of the money I had spent over the years on stuff. (I preclude my husband in this as he can have a pair of shoes for 20 years and keep the cobbler in business for decades)

I packed up boxes of clothes, all of which no longer fitted or were worn only once or twice, shoes that I wore occasionally to a formal event or the jackets that I wore to work as part of my ‘senior executive uniform’. Everything that had been in the wardrobe, drawer, or even worse a suitcase in the cellar, and had not been worn in the last two years was tried on. I did find some clothes that still fitted that had been in hiding and that was like Christmas!

So why did I buy all these clothes.  Part of it was for the packaging of me as a person, to conform, to look the ‘part’ in whatever role I was fulfilling at the time.  It was also to satisfy some need to celebrate or to console myself, and it certainly looks in hindsight as addictive behaviour.  I realised that I was also prey to the advertising fancy footwork, in as much as I believed them, when they persuaded me there was a new season every six weeks!  In fact in the UK and Ireland there are really only three; warm, wet and winter (often all within the same week)

Also I am female, and I do like to look reasonably attractive so buying new clothes gives the illusion that you are donning plumage, and are therefore noticeable… In fact you will find that many women admit that their boyfriends and husbands rarely notice unless you prance in front of them as you serve dinner wearing your new dress and six inch heels. (Or possibly slightly less).

Don’t get me wrong; I still get a huge kick out of buying new clothes, but I do now have a debate with myself as to whether I need it or not. I have to say regrettably that the answer is usually no. The odd item still finds its way home, but I do try to get some decent wear out of it. My prancing days are over however and it is usually girlfriends who will comment on a new outfit!

Nothing that I own would come under the classification of designer… I might have bought the occasional jacket or skirt from a designer outfit like TK Maxx, but I have never paid full price for anything. These days I would be hard pushed to find anything in my size within the Gucci, Armani and other couture ranges, but when I look at some of the prices I am probably well out of it.

Why else do we buy stuff?

Buying stuff is not just restricted to making ourselves feel better; it is also about making a statement of where we are in the pack. The old expression ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ applies to the items that we surround ourselves with. Perhaps a new suite every couple of years, the latest flat screen television or the latest electronic devices such as telephones and tablets. No self-respecting teenager would be seen dead with my old-fashioned Doro with big numbers!  Each year landfills are expanding as we throw out barely used clothing and household effects.

There are sales yards full of second hand cars that are only a couple of years old. Usually they have been part-exchanged at a fraction of their value for a newer model straight off the production line.

Depreciation is simply the difference between the amount you spend when you buy a car and the amount you get back when you sell or trade it in. It’s often overlooked or ignored when buying a new car but for many, depreciation is the single biggest factor affecting running costs adding more to cost per mile than fuel.

Fleet managers talk of forecast future values or residual values – the value a car purchased today is expected to retain by the time it is scheduled for replacement. The average new car will have a residual value of around 40% of its new price after three years (assuming 10,000 miles/year) or in other words will have lost around 60% of its value at an average of 20% per year.


I feel that we have lost the distinction between need and desire to own things and this was reinforced when we first moved into this house last year and managed for several weeks with a suitcase of clothes and two plates, spoons, knives and forks and a microwave…

Later you will see the actual amount of textiles and household goods we throw away annually; and the cost is staggering.

One of the biggest rip off… Children’s shoes and clothes.

Children are as influenced by advertising and peer pressure as much as the rest of us and if someone is wearing £110 Ugg Pink boots or £200 Fendi sneakers, then a child is going to wonder why they cannot too. Of course there are usually cheaper versions on the high street, but those tend to range from £30 to £50 as well. This is very expensive considering, between the ages of 2 to 10 years old, a child will need a new size of shoe two to three times a year!

What irks slightly is that often these shoes are labelled as guaranteed long-lasting; considering they only have to last three to six months that is just a bit over the top.

The same applies to the millions of pounds spent on clothes for babies and children each year in the UK.  How quickly does a child outgrow their everyday clothes, and how often will they wear that special dress or suit bought for an event?  If there are younger family members they usually will get clothes and shoes passed down, but if not, then once a child has outgrown them they are disposed of.

Just a thought. Are we perhaps dressing our children for their needs or for our desire to present them to the world in a certain image rather than being practical?

The difference between men and women.

It is estimated that in our lifetime we girls will spend around £100,000 on our wardrobe (I know, that does not seem near enough!) whereas men only spend around £30,000. Although having visited a men’s clothing department recently, and seen both the ‘must have’ season’s arrivals and the average cost, I think guys may catch up to us at some point.

I have noticed, having been married for 36 years and having surveyed my other friends that men know what they want; go out and get it, and leave the shop.  Whereas we go out for a dress and then see shoes and handbag which match! (and a jacket, necklace and earrings!)

Generally we tend to laugh this off and joke about us girls going to get some ‘retail therapy’, but the money we might spend on our trip is not where the buck stops. The aftermath is costing billions and is impacting the environment.

Of course there is the dark side of retail therapy! When used in revenge and involves maxing out a partner’s credit card!

This is where accumulative retail therapy goes wrong…

The average American throws away about 65 pounds of clothing per year, and along with other textiles that get tossed, like sheets and bedding, the total comes out to 14.3 million tons of textile waste per year. That’s almost 6 percent of all municipal waste. While some of those textiles get recovered, most of it remains in the landfill, posing a variety of problems.

Today almost 50% of the textiles that are destined for the trash could actually be recycled, which means we as consumers simply need to get better about recycling our clothing and textiles.

There’s an economic benefit to reducing textile waste. For example, if all of the textile waste we normally generate in a year didn’t end up at the landfill, we would be looking at a savings of $375 million in fees alone.


In an age of “fast fashion”, (the Primark Effect) 1.5 million tons of clothes and textiles go straight into landfill sites in Britain every year.

Oxfam said that 9,513 garments were thrown into landfill every five minutes, totalling one billion items per year and the equivalent of one in four garments sold. While every other type of landfill waste is reducing; textiles has risen.


What is our responsibility for all of this waste?

I am certainly not going to be preaching on this (being a former smoker I know how welcome that is). However, I know that all the clothes that I recently disposed of, went to a thrift shop, and if not sold then onto the local charity shops. We also disposed of all our excess to requirements electrical and household items. There can be a problem with furniture that does not have a fire resistant label, and also mattresses, but you will be surprised at how many people will still take them off your hands. Charity clothes bins are in car parks of major supermarkets and for baby and children’s clothes you will usually find sites on social media to sell them or to donate them.

I take some comfort from my years of spending money on clothes, that somewhere someone else is getting pleasure from owning them now.

This brings me to the other major area of waste of money in our modern households which is food.

Key facts on food loss and waste you should know!

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
  • Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits and vegetables, 20% for oil seeds, meat and dairy plus 35% for fish.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
  • Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.


One of my bug bears when watching television dramas and films is the number of times people get up from a table having spent five minutes on dialogue, and no time actually eating the food in front of them. The plates are left laden with food or picked at minimally and unfortunately that is played out in reality too.

We as women are quite good at showing our love through feeding our families. After all the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach so I hear!  Our plate sizes have increased and there is instinctive urge to fill them, because a little mound of food in the middle of the plate would look stupid.  Children in particular are always hungry and they can eat six smaller meals during the day, but will run out of steam when faced with an adult’s portion of meat and two veg.

I also blame the trend in supermarkets to package fruit and vegetables in kilo or two kilo bags. They went from lb bags to double the size with glee!  If you are going shopping twice a week, and depending on your family size, you are better off buying the loose produce, sufficient for three or four days. Buy what you need rather than what is so conveniently packaged for you, and you will also benefit from buying better produce than that chosen to go into the packets. And if you are happy to eat mishapen vegetables and fruit, you get all the taste for a fraction of the cost!

What is our responsibility towards food waste?

  1. Shop sensibly for what you need rather than what the supermarket wants you to buy.
  2. Avoid pre-prepared packs of cut vegetables and salads as they have not only lost up to 50% of their nutritional value as soon as they are cut; they lose more in the plastic bag and go off faster once you have opened them.
  3. It might make sense to buy ‘two for one’ for goods that are not perishable, but for fresh produce, meats and fish just buy what you will use or make sure it is suitable for freezing. Be wary of offers for multiple buys on dairy items such as yoghurts that can go off quickly.  This applies to some salad items such as tomatoes that are already many days old by the time you buy them. Buy loose produce and work out in advance the amount you are going to use during the days between shops. A meal planner can help with that.
  4. Make leftovers into soups and again these can be frozen for later use.
  5. Use a food recycle bin or your own compost heap in the garden.
  6. Change the size of your plate and those of your family. Unless the adults are working at very active jobs then they do not require a pile of carbohydrates on the plate. Moderate the size of the portions according to age. The young and the elderly are more likely to eat healthily if they are given six small to moderate meals a day rather than three large ones.
  7. Make sure that you store opened jars, oils, packets of cereals and bread efficiently so that they last longer. This is particularly true in the summer.
  8. For the next month keep a record of what you are throwing out and make a note to buy less of that item next time.
  9. Check the reduced meats and other fresh produce for bargains. You can freeze the meat, fish and poultry and use later and you can cook the vegetables and freeze too.
  10. Sell by dates are a guideline, and whilst I do not suggest that you eat food that has gone off; a day or two is not going to be drastic. Use your nose and that is usually a good indicator of freshness.

This is just two areas where ‘retail therapy’ not only impacts our pockets but the environment as well. There are many other ways to feel good about yourself and if you feel that you do indulge a little too much in retail… then find a different reward system that keeps the money in your pocket. Perhaps what you save, will pay for that holiday in the sunshine once a year or go towards a car or major purchase.  Certainly having the money in your pocket rather than the retailer’s account, (not to mention the goverment that take their percentage of everything you buy in the form of VAT or sales tax), is really rather satsifying.

The other chapters in the R’s of Life can be found here.

©sallycronin The R’s of Life 2016

Thank you for dropping by and I am sure you might have your own opinion about Retail Therapy that I would love to hear… thanks Sally