Mental Mishaps

Errors in perceiving, remembering, and thinking.

Shopping Procrastination on Christmas Eve

Why waiting to get a good bargain feels so good

I am a shopping procrastinator. I tend to wait and wait before I buy. Maybe I should check one more website or one more store. Maybe I can find a better deal. So when Christmas Eve appears, I will still be shopping for gifts. Santa and I will race to get our gifts under the tree.

I have shopped on Christmas Eve for years. I suppose I could blame my father because we always went shopping together on Christmas Eve. Now I take my sons shopping on Christmas Eve. Last minute shopping has become a father-son tradition.

But I won't blame my father because I simply enjoy waiting to shop. I don't procrastinate on all my shopping and I have bought some gifts ahead of time this year. But even if I have finished my shopping, I'll probably be out on Christmas Eve. Maybe I can find one more really cool gift at an amazing last minute bargain price.

Bargain shopping is the real reason I am a shopping procrastinator. As Christmas approaches, the prices start dropping. I have been rewarded for my shopping procrastination. This year, for example, we waited to buy and decorate our tree. When we went to our local garden shop last weekend, there were still plenty of beautiful trees and the prices were nicely discounted. We then stopped to buy some additional decorations and wrapping paper. All Christmas items at that store were discounted 60%. Wow. We really saved a lot of money by spending money.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

I get a really nice feeling every time I save money by spending money. Generally speaking, spending money hurts. I like money and I dislike losing money (or even spending it). So when I spend $39.99, I generally don't feel so great. Sometimes the loss of money is balanced by the thing I purchase. I decide the purchase was worth the money and like what I received in exchange. So even though I lost money, I can feel ok.

But bargain prices are a different situation completely. The discounted prices give me a feeling of being rewarded. Even though I just spent money, I feel good, I feel like I came out ahead, and I feel like I won. The joy I feel occurs because of a phenomenon called anchoring and adjustment.

The original price, according to Kahneman and Tversky, serves as an anchor. Because of anchors, some $39.99 purchases feel better than others. If the original price was more, then $39.99 can feel really good. The purchased item can feel more valuable than the money I spent. Maybe the original price was $100.00. This anchor sets the value of the item - that thing is worth 100 dollars. When the price is adjusted down, the value remains high and the new price seems like a real bargain. This is why stores leave the original price on a discounted item - now you can see that this is worth more than you will be asked to pay for it. A price discount can improve the feelings that accompany spending money. It isn't how much you spent, but rather how you evaluate the entire situation.

A $39.99 price can be fine for an item valued at $39.99. But if the item was originally sold for $100.00, the $39.99 is wonderful. I feel like I have gotten something for less than I should have. I feel like a smart and savvy shopper. I feel like I saved money and I really like money. Of course, in actuality, I just spent money. Anchoring and adjustment can make you feel really good. Of course, it works the opposite direction too. If I thought I would be able to buy something for around $20.00 and end up having to pay $39.99, this is an ugly situation. This time my anchor was low and was adjusted upwards. Bummer. Now I don't feel so good. I feel sick to my stomach if I spend more than I thought I should have to spend.

Since so many things are on sale in these last days before Christmas, shopping can feel really rewarding. So I will be shopping on Christmas Eve, looking for deep discounts. I will also be shopping on Christmas Eve as a way of remembering shopping with my dad.

 

Ira E. Hyman, Jr., Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University.

more...

Subscribe to Mental Mishaps

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.