Shopping can be rewarding or maddening. We buy stuff we need. We buy stuff we want. And we buy stuff we neither need nor want, not always knowing why. The search for an answer to that question―why?―led me on a three-year fact-finding odyssey in which I delved into the cultural, social, and psychological aspects of how Americans shop. What I found is that the why doesn’t always make sense. Yes, there are clever marketers who provide us with endless reasons to buy, but at the end of the day, nobody puts a gun to our wallets. So our best protection against imprudent purchases is to be aware of what’s influencing us. Here, 10 tips to help you be more mindful with your money.
1. Don't let the store seduce you. Retailers operate on the theory that the quickest way to our credit cards is through our senses. The speakers at Abercrombie & Fitch pump out loud, bass-heavy beats to get teenage hormones rocking; hotels and spas are redolent with aromas of minty freshness; jewelry stores aim high-wattage halogen lights at watches and rings to bring out even more sparkle. These so-called atmospherics entice us so we linger longer and spend more, but they won’t improve the value of the merchandise.
2. Don't let the store scramble your "reference price," either. This marketing term refers to the price that you expect to pay for something (because you have bought that item several times before), and retailers are quite adept at messing with it. Take, for example, a can of tuna. The price in your head is probably around $2.25. But by shrinking the size of the can from six ounces to five, the sellers are making more money, even though the price looks unchanged to you. Sure, when the kids are wailing and you’re in a hurry, you aren’t going to study every price-weight fluctuation. But being aware of this sleight of hand could save you money from time to time.
3. Shopper, know thyself. Some psychologists say that most of us fall into one of two categories: Low self-monitors aren’t too concerned with social feedback and make purchases based on their preference for a product, while high self-monitors buy to fit in. In general, you’ll make smarter purchases if you stick to your shopping temperament. Ignore these thoughts and quite a few buys will never make it out of your closet.