Shopping is something a lot of us enjoy — especially this time of year. The malls are colorfully decorated, with cheerful holiday tunes drifting out over the loudspeakers. And people go from store to store, picking up gifts along the way. The problem is the sneaky little shopping ninjas that lay traps (psychological ones) for you to fall into when you’re not paying attention. These traps catch many unwitting shoppers every year, so you can’t let your guard down for even a second or else you could be in big trouble — and even bigger debt. No matter what season it is or what daily deals are available, we all need to be on the lookout for these traps so we can try to avoid them:
1. Peer Pressure
This is probably the biggest and most difficult trap to avoid. It drives us to buy things we don’t need or even want, just to impress other people. Whether it’s pressure from friends, family members, commercials, or ads, the constant need to buy can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but if you stop and think for a second you realize that the purchases usually don’t live up to all the hype and they will not make you happy in the long run.
2. Emotional Spending
Shopping to fill an emotional void, to give yourself a pick me up, or to reward yourself for accomplishing something can be really dangerous. If you’re spending money to feel (or not feel) certain emotions, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Shopping should only be for getting things you need, not for giving you a temporary high or allowing you to ignore other things going on in your life. Because in the end, it won’t help you — it may feel good while you’re doing it, but after the initial sensation the things you bought will make you feel no better and you’ll wish you could take it all back (literally).
3. Shopping without a purpose
Say you’ve got an extra $100 in your pocket that you can spend on anything you want. Sounds like a fun scenario, right? But it could quickly turn into a painful memory if you decide to wander aimlessly around the mall. Most likely, you’d end up spending it all on things you don’t really need. That’s what happens when you shop without having a specific goal in mind. For that reason, having extra spending money is dangerous if it’s burning a hole in your pocket.
Have you ever fallen into any of these traps? If so, don’t worry — here are some tips for how you can avoid them in the future:
Shop with smart spenders
Instead of letting big spenders add peer pressure to your shopping trip, let smart spenders pressure you into NOT buying unnecessary items. If you have some friends that are frugal shoppers, you should definitely take them along when you have to make a shopping trip. You can bounce ideas off of them while being sure that they share the same goal as you do: saving money.
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Find cheaper alternatives
If you find that you often engage in emotional spending, look for ways you can satisfy yourself with smaller indulgences like a coffee, or a few accessories. I absolutely love buying chapstick and lip gloss in any and all flavors available. So when I shop for these, I limit myself to the amount I know I will use, and that’s the most I will purchase if I’m in an emotional state — whether happy or sad. This lets me curb my addiction while not blowing my budget or leaving me with buyer’s remorse.
Learn to be a hunter
I used to go hunting every year with my dad, and he taught me techniques that are really similar to shopping. Hunters spend a lot of time researching their prey, stalking them, and avoiding falling into traps. Shopping is very much the same. You need to have a game plan, set your sights on the target and think about your purchases carefully. Make a list of what you’re ‘hunting for’ and do your best to keep your browsing to a minimum (unless of course you have great self-control).
What about you — what are your tips for avoiding spending traps?
This is a guest post by Carrie Smith, the genius behind the Careful Cents personal finance blog. She’s a Certified Bookkeeper and Financial writer. She’s also a career junkie, social media addict, debt hater and food lover. Follow her on Twitter @applecsmith.