Tips to keep spending and shopping under control this season

It’s the most wonderful – and expensive – time of the year! If you made it through Black Friday and Cyber Monday without breaking the bank and/or got all of your holiday shopping done, congratulations! Tell me your secret, I want to be like you. I bought a gift for my parents, an Echo Dot for my son, and a few things, including those Apple AirTags, for myself lol. According to research from Finder, approximately 132 million Americans were estimated to take advantage of holiday sales events this year, spending an average of $708 in total.

Meanwhile, other studies have found that a fair amount of Black Friday sale items are not exclusive to just that day. I actually noticed this when showing my mom the webpage for a Kate Spade bag I bought on clearance back a month or so ago. That same bag was a part of their Black Friday sale for $30 more than what I bought it for! So why are we more receptive to shopping these deals during specific days that are designated for them? Yahoo Life spoke to some experts to break down the psychology of scoring a deal.

Purchase first, justify later: “Shopping is not a rational process. If it were, we’d buy strictly what we need,” Pauline Wallin, a licensed psychologist based in Camp Hill, Penn., tells Yahoo Life. “Instead, we generally purchase what we want, and justify it afterwards.”

It’s all about that dopamine, baby: In that case, a good deal is defined more by emotion than by actual numbers, Wallin adds. It all depends on what you value. You’ve heard of “retail therapy” — the act of shopping to feel better — this really is no different, Dr. Chris Pagnani, psychiatrist and medical director of Rittenhouse Psychiatric Associates, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s all about dopamine,” he says.

Scratching an itch: Dopamine is the lead singer in your brain’s band of feel-good neurotransmitters, which also includes serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, Pagnani explains. Dopamine’s job is to reward you with a rush of pleasure after doing something that heeds human survival — eating, drinking, reproducing. And although shopping certainly doesn’t keep you alive, something about the hunt and score scratches an innate itch and keeps dopamine flowing, LaNail R. Plummer, a licensed therapist and chief executive officer of Onyx Therapy Group, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s like playing a game and winning,” she explains.

With the highs, come the lows: All of these factors explain why hitting the mall or pressing “add to cart” can be addicting, and why those who have participated in previous Black Friday events are more likely to return, Wallin and Plummer add. “Feeling that one has ‘earned’ or ‘found’ a good deal is a natural high,” Plummer says. “But, with all highs, there are some unexpected drawbacks — like crashing, which can look like feeling bad after exceeding a budget, shame for overshopping or forgetting what was bought and why.”

[From Yahoo]

Okay, I admit that it did feel good to grab some beauty products and running shoes at a discount. I felt like I was being strategic! To help avoid buying sale items that you may not actually need, Yahoo Life also called in some experts to share some tips on how to avoid those empty calorie purchases:

Ask yourself if you really need it: As humans, “we are more motivated to avoid loss than to pursue gain,” explains Wallin. “Thus, if something is on sale for only a limited time, and if we anticipate that it might enhance our lives in some way, we feel a sense of urgency to get it now, rather than ‘lose money’ by paying more for it later.” The catch here is, not buying The Thing at all is the most efficient, money-saving tactic — especially if it doesn’t serve an immediate need. A good question to ask yourself to avoid this conundrum: “Would I still like it or buy it if it wasn’t on sale?” If the answer is no, skip it and relish in your freedom from remorse.

Don’t be tricked by the word “free” Buy one, get one free deals are one of the oldest sale tactics in the book. But if you think about it, Wallin says, the same offer could be written as, “Buy two, get 50% off of each.” Of course, that doesn’t sound as catchy, though. “The idea of getting something for free is more compelling,” Wallin explains. So again, if you’re faced with BOGO sales – which you likely will be on Black Friday – ask yourself: “Would I pay for it if it weren’t ‘free’?”

Double check original prices: Wallin advises going into any sale event with a healthy sense of skepticism, especially when comparing sale and list prices. “There are laws against merchants posting misleading reference pricing, such as listing the regular price of an item as $100, when it was never sold at that price,” she explains. “However, this practice continues despite the laws.”

Karla Dennis, a personal finance expert and tax professional in La Palma, Calif., adds that many retailers may increase prices prior to Black Friday and then drop the price, giving the illusion of a discount. Wallin recommends using cost-verifying apps like Honey to scan price history before sealing the deal. “Be prudent and do your online research,” Dennis adds.

Keep a list and a budget — and stick to them: Retailers’ Black Friday game plan is to offer discounts on specific items in hopes to lure you into buying more, once you’re in the door. Making a list and setting a budget will, hopefully, keep you from getting too far off-track. If you know you’re prone to impulse buys, Pagnani recommends creating a separate budget for them because: “Let’s be honest, they’re going to happen,” he says.

Gift experiences instead of items: Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas, is a researcher whose work focuses on the study of happiness and its intersection with consumerism, among other things. And what years of research, performed by him and many others, have deduced is that “people tend to derive more satisfaction from their experiential purchases” such as travel, restaurant dinners and live performance tickets than they do from material ones, such as those made on Black Friday, he tells Yahoo Life.

I had no idea that apps existed to scan price histories, so that’s something new I just learned. I love the tip about making lists because I do that often and find it helpful. I’m also really into gifting experiences instead of giving physical items. I’m turning 40 in less than three months, and when Mr. Rosie asked me about a gift, I said that I wanted to take a trip somewhere that I’ve never been. I’m big on adventures! But honestly, I’m actually pretty thrifty throughout the year. However, there is something about these deal days that does make me tend to click “buy.” I’ll admit that it does feel good to “splurge” once in a while.

Photos credit: Heidi Fin on Unsplash and Andrea Piacquadio and Cottonbro Studios on Pexels

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26 Responses to “Tips to keep spending and shopping under control this season”

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  1. nutella toast says:

    I “Target Shop” everything and get it out of my system. I put EVERYTHING in the cart that I impulsively want to buy, and then I circle back through the store and put things back one by one (“I already have a pretty good mixing bowl – I don’t really need this”, “I have a pair of green earrings similar to this – these aren’t that different”, etc.). By the time I circle back through, I usually have only soap refills, some pet food, and maybe a large bag of peanuts. I feel like I bought it all though because I had the satisfaction of putting it in the cart. I do a lot of online shopping for the holidays, but I don’t let myself cruise the website. I google a specific item, purchase that, and then not only close the site but clear the history and cookies so I don’t get sent pics of cute things I could have bought.

    • Shells_Bells says:

      I online shop similarly. I add a lot to my shopping cart, but let it sit for a day (even a few hours) before going back to purchase. Most times I remove items from my cart and often don’t check out at all.

      I was able to get through both Black Friday and Cyber Monday without making any purchases, but the deals last so long these days that I don’t feel the sense of urgency.

      • lucy2 says:

        A lot of times companies will send an email with a coupon, if you leave something in your cart for a bit!

    • AnneL says:

      Yes, same here! And I also sometimes buy at thrift stores to re-sell on line. You have to grab things fast or other people get them, so I just load up my cart and sort through it later to see which items I actually think will sell.

      • Nikki says:

        UGH: I SO dislike what you do, AnneL! Thrift shops were meant so low income people could afford to get some nice things. We really DEPEND on thrift shops; literally every piece of clothing I have are from THRIFT SHOPS (except a few bras). . So when you grab a bunch of stuff in order to resell it at higher prices and make a profit, it’s bottom feeding and greedy. And for you to throw everything in your cart to decide on later is especially annoying, since you monopolize it and keep others who were in the store from having a chance. UGH!!

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      Absolutely same. If I simply checked out before “checking,” I’d be living in a lean-to,

    • BeanieBean says:

      Impressive. I, on the other hand, started reading this post & remembered I wanted some new coasters then went to the website where I had bought placements & saw they had 30% off and spent 15 minutes browsing through everything (not just coasters). Sigh. Checked my bank balance, reminded myself when my next payday was, and came back to read this. I’ve got some stress shopping happening right now. 🙇‍♀️

  2. sevenblue says:

    In my country, there are two websites that are very good at showing most of the products’ price history together with the most affordable online places to buy. One of them even shows the estimated future price based on the price history data! I have been using them since Covid started and the prices started to lose any meaning to my mind because of the increases.

  3. Shiera_S says:

    Thanks for the tips !! I live in France and our stores started Black Friday sales a few years ago. But, they are not that interesting specially as we have our traditional sales starting in January.

    When I grew up, TV shows made me believe having a TV for 100$ on Black Friday was possible. Either that change or french people don’t know how to do a proper black Friday 😀

  4. Ariel says:

    I’m struggling with budget this season.
    I can live with the travel expenses – (taking a short trip to colonial Williamsburg)
    And I’m good with my charity spending and will probably overspend on the nice man I live with. But I’m okay with all that – money well spent,
    It’s the $450 I’ve already spent on decorations, and dumb stuff for me that I am annoyed by.
    Bought a Scooby foo wallet, cookies, a cat food advent calendar…. Yep. For the cats 🤣.
    Like many people,Christmas was a big holiday for my mom- and it was always wonderful. And since she’s been gone I miss her more at Christmas – but I also hear my late father saying – do you really need that crap?
    My Amazon trigger finger it itchy.

  5. LadyMTL says:

    What works for me is to start shopping for Christmas on the earlier side, and not necessarily wait for Black Friday (I live in Canada and it’s definitely a thing here now.) If I see something that I think my mom would like but it happens to be the end of October, who cares? It’s easier on my wallet to pay for one or two items at a time instead of a whole whack of stuff all at once.

    That said, if there is something specific that I want to buy for myself and I know it’ll be a lot cheaper at this time of year – like a mattress, for example – then I’ll definitely wait. But yeah, otherwise try to spread things out, and for sure make a budget.

  6. North of Boston says:

    I like the target shop idea above… like the impulse take control as you’re browsing and put stuff in your cart. But then go back later and review each thing in your cart, and keep only what you need.

    I did that a couple of times in the last few days, I “saved hundreds” by just removing stuff from my cart – an expensive sweater, new knifes, a Dutch oven, a tv sound system. Wound up only buying some Christmas presents I couldn’t get locally, and at great prices, a pair of warm gloves for $20, some moisturizer I use all the time and a set of sheets for my guest bed to replace the really old ones on it now.

    I also tried to avoid buying stuff at Amazon, because lately I’ve found them really difficult to shop through due to their manipulation search results, plus half the times things are only available in bulk, or I’m not confident what I’m buying is what they’ll deliver. (Like at work, we bought a 100 pack of green tea for the coffee station and they sent a 100 pack of single serve coffee. People want their green tea Amazon! Plus then we’re spending time messaging them, taking pictures to prove their error, repackaging stuff to return it or getting stuck with it when they’re all “never mind”

    I’d rather just buy directly from the manufacturer’s site (like I did with the Smartwool socks for a present)

    • Flowerlake says:

      Great! I think Amazon is about the worst when it comes to ethical shopping.

      I know people who just keep buying from them and most of the stuff they dump somewhere in a corner and never use (or never after the first day).

  7. Twin Falls says:

    I don’t know if any of it was truly on sale or not but I did all of my shopping Thanksgiving weekend online.

    I used to be a shop the week before Christmas person but that only works if you’re willing to go into a store.

    My Achilles heal are the returns. They pile up and sometimes I end up stuck with things I don’t want because I’ve gone past the return window.

  8. Shawna says:

    “Empty calorie purchases” is a really helpful way to put it!

  9. Flowerlake says:

    A gift tip for all of you: propagate your plants. It’s a nice and environmentally friendly gift. I love getting them from friends too.

    I got a playstation game I wanted anyway for a cheaper price from their downloadable store.
    That is all the Black Friday shopping I did 😉

    Black Friday is not that big a thing here yet anyway, like it is in the US or even the UK.

    As for shopping, I buy Christmas cards and some handmade Christmas decorations from charities.

    We don’t really do Christmas presents in my family anymore. Most of the time, it’s stuff we don’t really want anyway, so better to save it and do fun things with it instead. I guess I agree with Amit Kumar from the article that it’s experiences above items.

  10. lucy2 says:

    I did not buy a single thing Black Friday, and I barely even looked at the deals. I don’t go out in the craziness anymore but I used to buy everything online Black Friday, and would end up buying stuff for myself too that I just don’t need. I didn’t buy anything until Monday, and that was a few gift card deals for local places I frequent.
    I pretty much only exchange with immediate family and we all agreed to scale back this year because none of us need anything. I’ve been trying to clear out clutter and clothes and stuff so I don’t want more.
    With my friends we do the Icelandic book exchange with chocolate.

  11. Cate says:

    If I see something I want but don’t urgently need during the year, I put it on a list and note the current price. Then if I still want it during Black Friday or some other sale event, I’ll see what kind of discount they’re offering and make my decision then. I have a few retailers/brands I buy from semi-regularly and so I have a good sense by now of whether the Black Friday deal is just an ordinary discount vs a really good one. Also, as others have said, leave it in your cart for a bit and ask yourself when you’re actually going to use this new thing. Lots of stuff will probably go back on the shelf!

    • Dara says:

      I did something similar for the first time this year. I had a few things that I didn’t really need, but I told myself that if I saw a screaming deal I would snag one or two. I was very specific – it had to be the exact brand and model I wanted, not something that was just similar. Not only did the prices not go down for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, one thing I particularly wanted actually went up in price. Bah Humbug! Guess I’m giving myself a low credit card bill this year, which isn’t bad all things considered.

  12. SIde Eye says:

    I have a little small fake tree that stays up all year round. I start Christmas shopping in January, and I buy online one gift a month until I am done. This helps me make the season all about baking, cooking, music, and once those damn Christmas cards are done, I can relax. Luckily for me, his dad handles gift cards for coaches. My teacher gift is always a gift card, I buy those during the year and hide them from myself. It’s a lot $100 gift card for 6 teachers that is $600! I have to spread it out throughout the year. I buy one gift card a month until June. Then I put them up and I can’t tell you what a relief it is come December to remember those gift cards are in my drawer and it’s done.

    For my friends that are huge Only Murders in the Building fans, I bought things on Etsy – a blanket of Mabel’s mural, a Brazzos mug, etc. I can do those things in January/Feb/March. I love personalized gifts. I love Etsy for anything unique.

    I know my kid is going to want an Oilers sweatshirt and the Montreal Canadiens (those are his two teams)- I wait till July 4th when those things are on sale. My kid always wants the same PS5 games: NHL, golf, and NBA 2k. those come out in October, so I buy them then. In April May I buy his Christmas pajamas – I get them custom with our dog and his face on them. The only thing I buy in December is his shoes – his feet keep growing, so I want to wait to see what size he is.

    Usually I buy a bottle of wine for the neighbors (there are 5 in my building)- but I think I am going to save some money and just bake them something this year.

    I swear since I implemented this system 4 years ago the holidays went from super stressful to completely zen. I strongly recommend it because Christmas doesn’t hit you all at once. Right now there are 11 gifts under the tree for my kid and 5 for my dog. They range from little things: socks pajamas, to bigger gifts like the video games or a signed pic of his favorite hockey player. It’s weird spending an extra $100 in January for a gift card – I sort of hate it at the time. But then I remember how happy I will be in December and I do it.

  13. wildwaffles says:

    My daughter commented that a lot of the sales were actually not that great. Most were around 30% off which did not compel us to buy anything. I have used Honey for years and I have saved a ton through them. Their best feature imo is at checkout they run through all the available coupon codes for that retailer to see if your order qualifies. I did most of my holiday shopping at one online retailer on Black Friday who had a great deal, 50-70% off with free shipping and ship to multiple addresses in one checkout. Our Amazon purchases were all things we normally buy from them (beauty products, etc) but were on sale that day/week.

  14. Little Red says:

    My Black Friday/Cyber Monday purchases were: 1) table lamp from and 2) bottle of perfume, Memo Paris Madurai eau de parfum, from Bloomingdale’s.

    The only person I exchange gifts with is my BFF and I got her stuff while travelling in Seattle and Vancouver back in September.

  15. AnneL says:

    I start my holiday shopping early. I look for bargains all year anyway. This year we are going on a very big family trip over the holidays, so I won’t be getting gifts for anyone really. I just needed to get two gifts for the white elephant exchange we do every year with our supper club group, and my husband needs to give things to his secretary and a few other people at work.

    I can’t stand crowded, frenzied stores so Black Friday sales aren’t for me. But on line shopping has been really useful! I scored some items from Madewell at half price last Friday, and a few pair of shoes. I tried to get a couple of pieces from Anthropologie during the sale too, but they were sold out of everything in my size.

  16. ML says:

    We’ve sort of changed how we celebrate a bit: less relatives and smaller presents during Christmas. Our big gifts are now travel and/ or theater. What we do is figure out when during the coming year we’re all Like to want to go somewhere and we have a plan. After the holiday season is over and the year has changed is when we put that plan into action.
    We still watch movies, play games, bake, play music, have stockings and small gifts, but it’s not as gift-oriented as it was.

  17. Anonymous says:

    But Celebitchy, most of my impulse purchases are stuff YOU’VE featured!! (Especially skin care!).