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How to stop spending too much at Christmas

Christmas is by far the busiest time of the year for shopping and many of us deal with the pressure and financial stress of the annual retail frenzy with an increasingly popular new behaviour – self-gifting.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of self-gifting, you might be just a bit in denial. Think of it as December retail therapy: we all know that feeling – we are out shopping for Christmas gifts and we see a sexy new gadget, T-shirt with a funny slogan or a stylish home accessory in a store and realise the person it would be a perfect present for is actually ourselves. So, we buy it, you know, as a treat!

Retail therapy sounds nice – we fool ourselves it’s ok because it’s a type of therapy and we are told: “Therapy: Good!”

Retail therapy is of course popular all year round, especially after a shocking week at work, or an argument with our partner, or when we’re just feeling the blues.

But is it therapeutic if we buy non-essential to just manage predictable and recurring stress? Or is it really impulse spending?

Spending money impulsively can make us ‘feel better’ and ‘more alive’. But it can be a serious problem if this is something we begin to do regularly, especially with expensive items, as a way of coping. And let’s face it, jobs and relationships – and life in general – can be stressful for extended periods. New COVID-19 lockdowns are also very stressful especially on the eve of Christmas.

Data on impulse spending is contradictory – with one survey showing Aussies claim to have reduced our impulse buying while another shows that more than three quarters of us impulse buy when we shop via mobile. So it’s helpful to define it: when react to temptation by mindlessly spending money we haven’t budgeted on.

According to a poll of 1003 consumers by US website creditcards.com, five out of six Americans admit to impulse buying. One in five people had spent more than US$1000 on impulse, which rose to one in three for people earning over US$75,000.

Seven strategies to manage your impulse buying

  1. You are much less likely to buy on impulse if you plan your shopping trip therefore write a shopping list before you go.
  2. Avoid sales (or nominate an item you want and don’t break that agreement with yourself). A price discount is a real trigger for impulse spenders often buying things they don’t need.
  3. Don’t shop when you are emotional.
  4. Remind yourself of your longer-term financial goals before you spend.
  5. Wait a day before you purchase non-essential items.
  6. Make a budget for spending on ‘extras’ or treats and stick to it.
  7. Eat before you leave home to shop, this avoids spending extra money on food items as you will not be hungry during shopping time.

It’s not a huge leap to switch from a default state of mindless impulse spending to one of financial mindfulness– which means having awareness and paying attention to your finances and financial behaviours.

Working through complex and difficult problems that may trigger impulse buying is of course not easy. But let’s not forget what a hugely painful thing financial stress is. Ask yourself honestly, is your impulse buying adding to your financial stress? It’s a question worth pausing to consider honestly.

Financial worries are now accepted as a leading cause of stress in people’s lives throughout the western world.  Impulse spending therefore just compounds the problem.

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