5 Shopping Tricks to Help You Spend Less
1. Use cash.
I can't stress this enough. For a famous MIT study, researchers asked volunteers to bid on NBA tickets. Those who used cash spent less—sometimes half as much—as those who used credit. Why would that be? One explanation is that spending cash is more "painful" than putting down plastic. In MRI scans of the brains of people faced with a purchasing decision, their pain centers activate when they see high prices; using a credit card seems to numb that response. The theory goes that parting with bills actually feels like you're giving something up; less so when you swipe a card.
2. Be suspicious of sales, discounts, coupons, and online vouchers.
I'm not against coupons per se. My mom saved literally thousands of dollars by clipping coupons and using them for items we actually needed. That said, think of any "bargain" you see like bait—and don't fall for it unless you were already planning to buy whatever the item is that's on sale. Sounds simple, but our minds play tricks on us. We leave the store with four shirts because of a "Buy 2 Get 2 Free!" deal and end up spending more than we would have on just one shirt, which was all we needed in the first place. And here's the thing: We think we saved money, when the reverse is true.
3. Don't trust your senses.
Stores use fragrances, lighting, and music to create an atmosphere that makes you want to buy. Hearing classical music has been shown to make shoppers buy more expensive stuff, for example. And there are entire companies devoted to "ambient scenting," or creating custom aromas, for retailers and other businesses. The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, for example, hired a company to position the aroma of sugar cookies at the top of a staircase and waffle cones at the bottom in order to draw customers to its lower-level ice cream shop.
4. Don't get "anchored" to high prices.
This is a fascinating one. According to research, we tend to pay more than we typically would have for something when we see it in the context of a high-priced item. So if you're shopping at a store that has $50 sweatshirts, paying $40 for one might seem reasonable. But if you're at a discount store where all the sweatshirts are $20, paying $30 suddenly seems like a rip-off. Anchoring takes advantage of the fact that everything is relative. (For a deeper dive, check out Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich's excellent book Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them.)
5. Don't shop with shopaholics.
Research confirms that our friends influence our weight and whether we smoke, so why wouldn't they also influence our spending? A survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA)—who better?—found that nearly two-thirds of people in their twenties and early thirties feel pressure to keep up with their friends when it comes to spending in areas such as dining out and tech gadgets. The solution isn't to dump your debt-laden friends, but you should probably skip going to the mall with them.
This is an adapted excerpt from Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not): A Parents' Guide for Kids 3 to 23 by Beth Kobliner, published by Simon & Schuster.
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