The stock market may be way down, your checking account balance may be way down, but the discounts at the mall are up—way up. We are now in the thick of the holiday season, and that means advertisements are everywhere encouraging consumers to spend, spend and spend some more.
There's no escaping it: This year, more than ever because of the economic gloom, we are being bombarded by retailers trying to lure us with rebates, free shipping and 20 percent off.
How can you keep from handing over what little cash you may have left or charging up your credit cards until the debt spirals out of control?
Or breakfast or dinner or even a snack. Just don't go shopping when you're hungry. I'm sure you've heard this in reference to the grocery store, but it's actually true for other kinds of shopping trips.
"I know it sounds ridiculous, but we do know that, when you are hungry, you end up buying 40 percent more," says Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. "And not just food," he adds. Hungry shoppers "actually buy more flat screens, or more furniture, or more software too."
That's because we're hardwired to crave, buy and hoard when we're hungry, so items you wouldn't ordinarily consider start looking irresistible. Of course, there's also a less-scientific reason to eat before you shop: Eating out usually costs more.
If you have kids, leave them at home. If you've ever been out shopping with a child, you know why. Not only will your kids want anything and everything for themselves, but they'll also try to convince you your home really needs a new laptop or the family room's TV needs an update.
"What we've learned from exploring kids is that they have certain techniques that they use to persuade you to buy more," Lindstrom explains.
I don't know about you, but I know several of these techniques all too well. You're better off saving your shopping for when your kids are at school or playing with friends.
So simple and so, so important. Before I head to the stores, I spend about 20 minutes writing down everything I want to buy. Then I check an online comparison-shopping site to find out where those items are being offered at the best prices. That way, I have a detailed list of where I need to go and what I need to buy, and I'm less likely to be distracted by sale signs.
I know it's exciting to get an item on sale. But if you're buying for the discounts and not because it's something you need or want—either for yourself or for a gift—you're going about things the wrong way.
Think of it this way: Saving 30 percent is great, but if you didn't buy at all, you'd be saving 100 percent, which is even better. Before you're at the register, ask yourself if you'd still be swiping your card if the item were full price, or if the sale price was, in fact, the full price. You'd be surprised how your brain works when facing temptations. If you take a moment to reconsider, you may find that you wouldn't buy that DVD boxed set without the sale sign, no matter what the price tag says.
If there's an upside to this economy, it's that it is affecting everyone. There's a good chance everyone at work, on your block, in your circle of friends and in your family is cutting back. That means you can feel more comfortable than ever before suggesting ways to conserve money. One way, particularly if you have a large family or group of friends, is by drawing names out of a hat for presents.
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.