Thursday, August 13, 2009

Six Common Shopping Traps...aka some of the reasons I shop

I got to work early this morning (I know, a shocker, but I ride the bus now so I’m always here early) so I decided to read the news before actually beginning my day. After all, I like to be informed about the happenings in the world.

While perusing CNN.com, I was quickly drawn to a headline that read, “6 Common Shopping Traps – How to Avoid Them.” Okay, so this isn’t world news, but as both a fan of shopping and someone who has had her income slashed three times this year (thank you again, Governator), I thought this might contain pertinent information. I enjoy reading about tips from people in many areas – money, fashion, organizing, etc.

I clicked on the article and found it was from Oprah’s magazine. It started off by describing compulsive shopping; did you know that according to a Stanford study, 1 in 20 adults is a compulsive shopper, buying things they “…don’t want, use, or even need?” I didn’t know that, so I read on.

(I should tell you that just this morning I was talking to my friend on the bus about shopping. I used to love to roam the aisles at Target; I’d go to the store with a list of five things, but I’d walk up and down every aisle, lest I see something I hadn’t thought of, or find something new. I am in need of a few toiletries at home right now, mostly toilet paper itself, but I am reluctant to make the trip to Target to buy it, because I can’t seem to leave the store without spending at least $75, mostly on stuff that I don’t need and probably won’t use too often. I don’t want to go shopping because I’m afraid I won’t be able to go in, get toilet paper, and leave. And I refuse to go to WalGreens or Rite Aid to get it because it’s so much more expensive. OMG I’m a compulsive shopper!)

The article then talked a little about the difference between shopping 100 years ago, versus shopping today. I hadn’t thought about this – think about women in pioneer days. They “went into town” and went to the general store, which had everything from food, to household goods, to fabric. Women didn’t shop for pleasure, they shopped to buy necessities.

Today I find myself shopping for pleasure and actually putting off shopping for necessities (remember the toilet paper comment from above?). And I don’t go to one store, like my great-great-great grandmother may have done. I don’t even stick to one store for groceries - I go to three or four!

How has shopping evolved from purchasing necessities to shopping for fun, for therapy, for a solution to boredom? For me, it was money.

I had some of it.

Thanks to the downtown in the economy I have less of it now, so I can see how reckless I used to be concerning spending. My problem is that I truly enjoy shopping; it really is a hobby for me. I enjoy the hunt for the perfect purse, or shoes, or whatever (it could be a pencil, a set of sheets, it doesn’t matter). I enjoy the thrill of deciding which items I want to purchase from my loaded cart, then going to the cash register and knowing I can afford them. The thrill of swiping my card (debit only, I don’t use credit cards anymore), and seeing “Approved” flash across the screen.

However, lately I’ve been looking at ways to pare down, in case another cut to our income comes down the pipes (which is rumored to happen this fall). I know I need to stop shopping purely for pleasure, and I’m getting better. Now I go to the register, and instead of feeling the thrill of knowing I can afford this, I feel guilt. Instead of getting home excited, I get home and know I’m going to return it tomorrow. I’m trying now to focus on other less expensive hobbies that will occupy my time without emptying my wallet (although I do love shopping for a good wallet!). I realized that shopping and the things I buy don’t define me; I’m still the same person without a $200 bag, or without a house full of stuff (speaking of the $200 bag, you can read about the downfall of my purse obsession here).

Anyway, back to the article. Oprah’s magazine gives us six common shopping traps.

1. You’d better shop around.

Apparently when you’re purchasing multiple items in one store, you are already spending a lot of money, so you’re less likely to care about throwing a few more things in. The article gives the example of already spending $200, and therefore not caring about adding a $20 T-shirt. They advise you to make purchases at several different stores instead.

This is Target for me – the more I put in my cart, the less I care about adding a few more things. Sam Walton must have understood this concept perfectly, hence the creation of Wal-Mart and Super Wal-Mart. At Wal-Mart you can buy clothing, cleaning products, toys, fabric, toiletries, even tires! Add the full grocery store of the Super Wal-Mart, and it gets worse. You’re spending $200 on groceries, $50 or so on toiletries, you throw in a bathmat and a DVD or two, and it’s not that big a deal. Or so you think.

2. Don’t buy into bargains.

Huh? Aren’t you supposed to shop for bargains? No, no, no! Our brain apparently registers the bargain and gets excited about the discount, so we purchase the item, even if it’s something we don’t need. However, if I’m at the grocery store, and black beans are on sale, I’m going to stock up, because I know that’s something I eat all the time and I’ll be back to buy again. I do, though, fall victim to the bargain scam on items I don’t need; I know I have (and will probably continue to) buy things I liked, but really didn’t need, simply because it was a great deal.

3. Cash and carry.

Everyone has heard that if you are a shopper who tends to overspend, you should only pay for things with cash. You think more about whether you really need the item if you’re paying for it with cash than with a credit card. The Stanford study even goes so far as to say that there is evidence the enjoyment of purchasing things is paired with the touch of plastic. I actually believe that; as mentioned, I don’t use credit cards, but I never carry cash (because if I have cash, I will spend it…I’m the opposite of the “cash and carry” person). Instead I use my debit card, but because I’m using a card, I get the same feeling that someone using a credit card gets. The amount I’m spending is more abstract, because I’m not counting out and handing over cash. However, I don’t excuse that by thinking that I already have a credit balance, so adding to it is not going to hurt, since I’m actually withdrawing funds directly from my bank account. I know deep down that I’m spending cash (especially when I look at my bank statement), but at the same time, I understand the feeling of using a card and not really thinking about the amount you’re spending.

4. A bad mood can cost you.

According to the article, sadness can devalue one’s sense of self, so we shop to evaluate one’s sense of worth. However this doesn’t explain why the urge to spend may come on when you’re mad, bored, busy, happy…or maybe it does. Maybe all those times are to evaluate one’s sense of worth.

5. The fall of the mall.

I hate malls – the parking, the crowds, the fact that I always seem to need to go to only two places, which are on exact opposite ends of the mall. However I understand that many people love the mall; here they can socialize, de-stress, and shop to their heart’s content. But there is a problem – apparently the ‘ole mall isn’t doing so good. A research firm in New York estimates that 3,000 malls will close in 2009.

I’m not sure how this “common trap” is explaining to us why we spend; let’s just assume they’re saying malls are bad because there are so many stores and move on.

6. Ration your willpower.

They say your ability to fight temptation weakens as you get tired. I think the article loses it here, though (thank goodness it’s the end). They say to practice building self-control in small doses by sitting up straight, using your non-dominant hand, or not swearing for a week. I’m sorry but not swearing for a week is not going to help me stop myself from shopping. Not swearing for a week is going to make me so f$%*ing frustrated that I’m going to shop to make myself feel better. Perhaps I’ll re-evaluate my sense of worth.

I myself am the opposite of what the article says – I don’t lose the ability to fight temptation as I get tired, say at the end of a shopping trip. When I go out for a day of shopping, I spend way more up front; I’m pumped, I’m excited, I’m all about the great deals! As the day wears on, I get grumpy; I don’t really want to go to any more stores, I don’t really care if I buy anything else. Seriously, ask my mom and my aunt – they used to take me “antiquing” or “yard saleing” with them, but they had one rule for me: No whining. What can I say, I got grumpy towards the end of the day!

So what do you think? Does the article have merit? Why do you think you shop? Or, how do you discipline yourself to not shop? Maybe you just don’t like to shop. I’d really, really like to know why…since I’m trying not to like it so much.

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