The countdown to Black Friday, the country’s most prolific shopping day, is both tantalizing and terrifying for someone like me. I’m not worried about the massive crowds, limited inventories or possible shootings. What I’m most worried about is going into credit card debt (again) after a year of being good and actually being on top of my finances.
Traditionally, Black Friday to Cyber Monday is when I try to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping. During these three days, I spend money with the same type of reckless abandon that I did when I was a dumb college freshman and racked up a $700 bill on my first credit card, buying snowboarding gear that I could neither afford nor use. On some vague level, I knew this money wasn’t free, but the transaction felt free, since all the money in my wallet and checking account stayed put. It was only when my dad discovered the bill and the ensuing lecture occurred that I realized that credit cards were to become my sworn enemy.
That’s not to say that I am impervious to their charm—particularly when I put an entire two-week vacation on credit or buy holiday gifts for people I barely know, simply because I can get a good deal.
These behaviors are not rational—and worse—they aren’t budgeted. My accounting system typically consists of me breathing heavily into a paper bag and buying lottery tickets whenever my credit card statement comes in. I clearly admit, this is not what I learned in Accounting Principles 101.
But this Black Friday, I’ve decided I’m finally going to be smart with my money. Seriously. I’m going to be responsible with my precious cash and buy only the essentials, and science is going to help me do it. Here’s how:
1) Cut up all but one of my credit cards. You’d be shocked to know how many credit cards I have —I counted them once, and I was shocked too. Let’s just say that the total number is a multiple of 12.
According to a recent study in the Journal of Economic Psychology, most compulsive shoppers shop because they just don’t pay attention to their bills.
“The researchers' analysis found that lack of money management predicted individuals' compulsive spending, regardless of their personality, gender, age and income. In particular, out-of-control-shopping was primarily driven by poor credit management, such as not paying attention to credit card statements, not paying credit card bills on time and exceeding credit limits.”
Imagine the kind of trouble someone can get into by suddenly having balances on dozens of credit cards each month. This is the kind of situation that might compel me to go on eBay to purchase a new identity and flee to South America.
So the best thing to do is prevent myself from being in that situation, which is why having just one credit card will help me keep track of my bills and force me to curb my spending.
The reason I have to cut the remaining cards in half and throw them away is because I know myself really well—and like any addict—I’ll eventually need a quick fix here and there -- and well, you know the story: addicts will always be addicts.
2) Shop when I’m in a good mood. If you’re bummed out, you’re more likely to spend money, thinking that it’s going to make you feel better. In the same study, researchers discovered that “individuals who kept on buying [were] looking for that ‘buy high,’ hoping their purchases [would] lift their mood and transform them as a person.”
I’ve seen this played out in real life with costly consequences: a friend of mine lost her job and bought a $3000 Chanel purse the next day. As far as I know, she is still the same person—well, that’s not true. She is $3000 poorer.
Furthermore, another study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that wanting something might be more important than having it. Too often, people will go into debt buying things they think will make them feel better, when in reality:
"Thinking about acquisition provides momentary happiness boosts to materialistic people, and because they tend to think about acquisition a lot, such thoughts have the potential to provide frequent mood boosts. But the positive emotions associated with acquisition are short-lived. Although materialists still experience positive emotions after making a purchase, these emotions are less intense than before they actually acquire a product."
These are the thoughts that I will keep in mind while searching for my next miracle skin cure at Sephora.
3) Unsubscribe from getting store emails. As someone who has worked in email marketing, I’m going to tell you a big secret: Every email is designed to make you spend money. Every. Single. One.
This is why I put all of my shopping-related emails in a nifty junk email organizer like Unroll.me, Instead of my inbox trying to seduce me with the latest sales, deals and discounts from my favorite stores, they are all hidden away in another folder and sent to me once a day in a condensed email. Oftentimes, I can just promptly delete or archive this email so I’m not tempted to shop at all. But on those rare occasions where I actually do have some money to spend, I can go into that one email to figure out if there is anything worth buying.
For most of us, if we don’t know that the thing we want exists (or is on sale), then we won’t be tempted to buy it.
4) Shop somewhere new. Why? Because a new report in Scientific Reports suggests that you’re more likely to spend at places you regularly frequent.
The research, which was designed to figure out people’s shopping habits and patterns, does just that:
"[t]he main conclusion we have drawn is that people's behavior is repetitive when it comes to visiting and spending in shops, and as such it is possible to have some success in predicting where we are going to buy in the future."
Still, this tip is a bit dangerous, however, because you may end up falling in love with a new shop, which is what happened when I visited Top Shop for the first time.
5) Shop alone. Marketing research tells us that the more people we shop with, the more likely we are to splurge.
This happened once when I bought a pair of gladiator sandals about five years after the trend had officially died. My friend encouraged me to buy them, so I did, not wanting her to feel bad. Much like Russell Crowe’s character from Gladiator, those shoes did not survive three hours. They were promptly donated to the local Goodwill. $50 down the drain.
Sometimes, however, I do take my sister shopping with me, because she is brutally honest and hates just about everything I like, which can be helpful when I don’t want to overspend.
You just have to be thoughtful about the company you bring along and consider whether they will help you make wise purchases.
Wish me luck! Hopefully, the next time I blog—it won’t be from an internet cafe in Bogotá.
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