Although I love the fact that the holiday season is (should be) about giving, this year I made the difficult decision to forgo buying and receiving Christmas presents. I informed my family and friends of this, and luckily, was met with more relief than disappointment – a pleasant surprise. I am simply coming to terms with the reality of the emotional and psychological affects that somehow manage to bewilder even the most level-headed and rational among us when it comes to shopping. Now, with merely a few days left until the big day, I couldn’t be happier with my decision as I witness crazed shoppers flocking to the nearest mall or plaza. I can’t help but wonder how many of them will likely look back at their credit card bills in January and think, “what on Earth was I thinking?!”.
The sad truth is that when it comes to consumer spending, we tend to fall prey to many forces beyond our control that seek to dig deep into our pockets, causing us to overspend. And the worst part is, we happily let them.
Shopping is emotional
I’d like to think that I generally have a pretty decent grasp of control over myself in most situations…until I set foot into Home Sense. Something about the array of plush throws, fluffy cushions, copper kitchenware, and the seemingly endless assortment of scented candles plunges me into an alternative, dreamlike universe wherein I have a bottomless chequing account. Luckily, my husband manages to snap me back into reality, and I somehow manage to leave the store either empty handed, or with the item I actually came to buy.
You may not like it, but as humans, our emotions drive much of our consumption behaviours. Shopping heightens our senses. We get emotional cues from all the sights, colours, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches surrounding us on any given day at the mall. These sensual experiences are what fuels our irrational thinking, known as cognitive biases, when we decide to buy something and come up with absurd rationalizations as to why we “need it”. In fact, we often start shopping in response to some already present emotions, such as anger or frustration after having a fight with your spouse. Or, sadness, after getting rejected from a job. There’s a reason the term “retail therapy” exists, people!
Shopping for a sense of self
Further propelling the problem of emotional shopping is the fact that for majority of us, we use shopping and buying things as a way to define our self worth. In order to be perceived a particular way, of course we need to be seen wearing particular brands, driving particular cars, and working out in particular gyms. One problem (among many) with this is that our concept of self is in a constant flux – always changing with the trends and times in which we find ourselves. Right now, wearing ripped jeans and wide-brimmed hats is the mainstream, popular style, so many of us find ourselves dressed like a photographer from New York City, despite how utterly useless we may be with a camera in hand. Products have a powerful way to alter a consumer’s perception of themselves, contributing to their self-esteem, sense of worth, and feelings of satisfaction, power, and influence. And, let’s be honest, in the age of the ‘Instagram Star’, aren’t we all trying to get a couple more ‘likes’ here and there?
The market is working against you
Take control wherever you can
- Avoid shopping online at night. Impulse purchases are most often made online in the evenings, during a time where people are most deficient in energy and with the least amount of control over their emotional reactions (ie. purchases). The opposite is true during the day. Consumers make much more careful purchases, comparing prices and examining product features, while they have increased cognitive capacities.
- Pay with cash. Studies find that people spend about 12%-18% more when using a credit card to make purchases, as opposed to cold, hard, tangible cash. Something about physically seeing your money dwindle away makes you want to be more careful about how you spend it, right?
- Don’t shop alone. If you’re anything like me, you’re a lot more likely to overspend, and over-justify when you’re shopping alone. To combat this, shop with someone who will ask you the tough questions, like “can you afford that?“, “are you sure about that?“, “don’t you already have that exact same thing in the exact same shade?“. Yes, I’m suggesting you go shopping with a killjoy.
- Shop with a plan, and stick to it! That means having a list, and a specific budget associated with that list. This is one of the areas that I really struggle with. I usually like to go with a “rough idea” of what I need/want, and almost always end up overspending. Write down exactly what you’re looking for, how much you’re willing and able to spend on each thing, and then go about your mission. If you’re especially keen, look up sales, deals, and promos ahead of time to make the most out of your shopping trip.
- Never shop hungry. For me, this goes without saying. The hungrier I am, the angrier and more irritated I get (all the emotions!), and the more I buy (food, and other things) to try and make myself happier and in a better mood.
Who knows, I may decide to give presents again next year, but in the meantime, I’m really enjoying cozy, stress-free time spent sitting by my Christmas tree, sipping hot cocoa, and still having money in my bank account by Christmas morning.
Here’s to actually making money at Christmas time (through Airbnb), rather than spending it all…