In a recent social media post, a friend of the family shared a meme that stated: “No one goes to Target because they need something. You go to Target and let Target tell you what you need.”
My wife found this amusing. I don’t particularly appreciate how often I see charges at Target, so I found it less funny. She was quick to point out that that I have my own spending vices.
Some people are calling the tendency to buy more than initially planned the “Target effect.”
Of course, this tendency is not limited to Target.
Target and other retail stores spend well to find and implement ways to lure you to the store and then keep you shopping as long as possible.
Psychologists have seriously studied this tendency and often attribute this to the good feelings people get when they buy things. From this perspective, people overspend as a way to self-medicate.
Retail therapy is probably a much better way to improve mood than drugs and alcohol, but it can still be damaging.
This holiday season is in full swing, so you need to be extra ready to handle the onslaught of advertising and well-placed spending traps.
Starting with a budget is the most basic approach. Most people are poor budgeters, so if you do set one have an honest moment and evaluate the likelihood that you will actually stick to it.
I think timing yourself is a great strategy.
Stores are wonderfully skilled at arranging things to keep you there as long as possible. The longer you linger, the more likely you are to fill your shopping cart. The faster you can get in and out, the less money you will spend.
It might not hurt to learn a little about how retail stores play games to lure you to the store and then get you to spend more once you are there. If you can approach a store looking for traps, you will feel a sense of power and may spend less money.
There are hundreds of books written to teach retail stores how to arrange aisles, decorate and play with pricing to get customers to buy more. Look up some of these strategies and learn to identify them while you shop.
Last year, my wife and I tried only to buy gifts if it helped our children improve in school, sports or some other worthwhile hobby or skill. This productivity approach was more difficult than we thought and we did fail on a few items, but it felt good.
Six months after Christmas, we noticed that most of the gifts we purchased were still around and consistently used. The sad truth is that many presents live a short life and are soon broken or thrown out.
Enjoy this holiday season, and remember that spending time with people is better than spending money on them. Above all, don’t let the retail madness consume the real reasons for the holidays.