5 Sanity-Saving Tips for Holiday Shopping

Plowing through cash like nobody’s business in a fa-la-la-la frenzy? Presenting five expert strategies for staying smart—and on budget—when the list hits the fan.

1

Buy Multiples.

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Photo by Kikovic/Getty Images

You know the story: Instead of buying five terrific scarves for five terrific friends from one terrific store, you sprint all over town in search of a special item for each person. This sort of “overindividuation” was looked at in a 2014 study published in Journal of Consumer Research. Focusing on variety, rather than how much the recipient might enjoy the gift, translates into spending more money and expending more time. Research by study coauthor Robyn A. LeBoeuf, a professor of marketing at Washington University, in St. Louis, shows that while people feel that giving different presents is the thoughtful thing to do, recipients are often just as happy (or happier) with less tailored items.

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2

Don’t Get Pinned Down.

Temporarily swear off Pinterest when you’re shopping for holiday gifts. Based on data from the e-commerce technology company RichRelevance, shoppers who land on a retail site from Pinterest spend an average of $199 per session. Even Facebook can be a problem. When people are focused on close friends (say, when they’re scrolling through a pal’s vacation pics), they tend to spend more, says a 2013 study published in Journal of Consumer Research.

3

Take Care of Yourself Like a Toddler.

You wouldn’t expect a little one to do well at the mall without sleep or water. Why should you? Shopping tired is a trigger for mindless purchasing. Exhaustion makes you “react strongly to emotional stressors,” says Henry Emmons, an integrative psychiatrist and the author of Staying Sharp. As in, when “White Christmas” plays on the stereo sound system, all bets are off. Hydration also makes a difference, even when you aren’t conscious of the fact that you’re thirsty. “We don’t necessarily think that we need water,” says Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., the author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind. “We just understand that we need something. You’re looking at a product and you sense want.” The next thing you know, you’re buying something that you don’t need.

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4

Split Your Shopping List.

Column A is anything that you can find online; column B, items that require (really require) a trip to the store. Front-load column A. Dragging yourself around too much “can sap your stamina and leave you zoned out,” says Yarrow. That’s when you overspend. Since kids’ gifts tend to be specific, try to order all of them in time and online, where it’s easy to comparison-shop for deals. Free Shipping Day is December 16: Many retailers participate and guarantee delivery by December 24 (also the first night of Hanukkah this year). Save the B list for gifts that call for in-store expertise (say, choosing a tech item) or your senses—a perfume purchase.

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5

Dress the Part of a Smart Shopper.

Swap “mall Crocs” for a pair with flair, and that ratty sweatshirt for a neat top. Research shows that clothes affect behavior. Says David A. Ellis, Ph.D., who coauthored a study on this topic (which has a name, enclothed cognition): “The physical experience [of wearing certain clothes] can trigger associations.” That means wearing a pulled-together outfit can make you a savvier shopper. Bonus: It might even influence salespeople to think twice before pressing for the upsell—something to keep in mind whenever you shop, but especially for big-ticket items (like something to park in the driveway rather than tuck under the tree).