Today's economy has created a perpetual sale season. At a time when many Americans are working hard to trim their spending, alluring discounts and now-or-never bargains have never been more ubiquitous. From shop windows to advertisements to email enticements, temptation is inescapable.
Sales are powerful motivators to spend, they've sabotaged some of the most resolute savers. Today's consumers need extra armor. Here's how to resist the spell of a sale and make smart shopping decisions, even in the face of a 70% off tag.
- Count to 10. Actually, make that 1,200. 20 minutes is about the length of time it takes for your head to resume control once you've become emotionally worked up. If you're in a situation where you feel pressure to buy (like at door-buster event, or when your heart's pumping because you found a "treasure" in the sale bin) hang on to the item and cool down before you buy.
- Beware the frenzy of the crowd. Street hawkers hire shills that pretend to be enthusiastic about their items because it works. Retailers sometimes deliberately limit production or distribution of a product in order to stimulate a sense of urgency and competition among consumers. And sometimes a captivating product simply inspires the masses - who inspire more masses, until everyone seems to want one whether they like the product or not. TMX Elmo anyone? When you find yourself in the grips of "crowd frenzy" envision a bright red, laughing image of Elmo and ask yourself, "if nobody else wanted this, would I?" No offense, Elmo.
- Use cash. Though credit cards offer convenience and often bonus miles or cash back, if you want to get in touch with your budget - touch cash instead of plastic. Credit cards are emotional shields from the paying part of our purchases. They allow shoppers to be overly focused on what they're getting and under focused on what they're losing. After all, with credit cards nothing really leaves your wallet. Sale shoppers need to stay focused on the paying part of their transactions, not just the getting part - parting with cash usually does the trick.
- Visualize the item not on sale - in two different ways. First imagine you're shopping and you see the item and it's the full original price - would you stop and take a look? Would you want it and crave it as much as you do now? Consider that when it comes to apparel, cosmetics and grocery store items in particular, sales often draw your attention to items you'd never before considered buying. Coupons, gifts-with-purchase and jammed sales racks are alluring, however the focus is on the opportunity not on the cost. The key is to question why you never thought you needed the item before you noticed it was on sale. Maybe, it's not the item that you want but the fun of getting more for your money.
Second, imagine you're seeing the item at its current (sale) price but not on sale. In other words imagine that it started out at the sale price. Does it seem worth it? Remember your not buying a $50 item that's "worth $100", your buying a $50 item that nobody would pay $100 for, now you have to figure out if it's worth $50 to you.
- Don't feel guilty. If you love to shop the sales, give yourself a budget, stick with it and most of all - enjoy your purchase. People who feel guilty rob themselves of what's alluring about a sale in the first place. They are consequently left unsatisfied and continue to crave. Like extreme dieting, this can often lead to blowing good intentions entirely. Caveat: don't overuse this tip and be faithful to your budget. Research shows that once shoppers make a purchase, the next one's easier.
Sale shopping is for many a great source of entertainment and getting something on sale sure beats paying full price - as long as it's something you really want.
Dr. Kit Yarrow is an award-winning consumer research psychologist and a professor of both business and psychology at Golden Gate University. She's the author of Gen BuY: How Teens, Tweens and 20-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail, which will be published by Jossey-Bass in August.