January 8, 2015 in Smart Money

Drop the shopping habit after the holidays

Our brains love to shop.

Shopping lights up the pleasure centers of our brain, especially when we snag a great bargain. Retailers know that, which is why they keep the sales coming after the holidays.

If you’re tapped out, though, it may be time to rein in your brain despite the temptations of after-holiday clearances and white sales. Here’s how to do that.

Give yourself a budget

Quitting cold turkey might be tough, particularly if you traditionally shop the post-holiday sales for wrapping paper, decorations and gifts for other occasions. If you can afford to do so, set aside some cash or set a dollar limit to take advantage of a sale or two. Once the money’s gone, shopping stops.

Try a no-spend week — or four

A no-spend pledge means you don’t buy any nonessentials for a certain period. How you define essentials is up to you, but most people include perishable groceries, gas to get to work and diapers for the baby. Otherwise, you use what you’ve already bought, such as supplies in the pantry rather than dining out and movies on Netflix rather than the multiplex. You avoid trips to the mall and any unnecessary spending. Our brains have a “status quo bias,” which means we hate making the effort to change. Your goal is to shift the status quo from buying to not buying.

Clear out the clutter

As you send stuff off to the charity store or the landfill, reflect on the money spent to buy these no-longer-wanted items. When you’re tempted to bring a new whatever into your home, ask yourself: “Do I really need this?” “Do I need it right now?” “How often will I use it?” “Is there something I already have that would suit the purpose?” If you’re still lusting, figure out how much something costs in terms of how many hours you have to work to pay for it. That can cool your ardor when nothing else works.

Remove the digital temptations

Unsubscribe from retailers’ alerts and newsletters. Remove deal sites from your bookmarks. Consider blocking certain sites if you can’t stay away. Scientists tell us that self-control may be a limited resource, so removing temptations is often a better course than trying to resist them.

Use a wish list

Some people find that just the act of recording a desired purchase feels almost as good as actually acquiring it. Even when that’s not true, writing down what you want and then giving yourself at least a three-day “cooling off” period will help you figure out if the purchase is worthwhile or just a passing fancy.

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