MONEY Odd Spending

Top 10 Strangest Things Marketers Tried to Sell Us in 2014

Our look back at some of the year's strangest products may seem laughable or a sad source of embarrassment—depending on whether you actually bought any of them.

Check out 10 of the strangest things marketers tried to talk us into buying in 2014. A few of them, we’re sure you’ll agree, were quite literally hard to stomach.

  • Dewitos

    Doritos and Mountain Dew
    Scott M. Lacey

    Following on the heels of Doritos cheese sticks and Doritos tacos, this fall PepsiCo began doing taste tests of the most frightening Doritos mashup so far: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew, a.k.a. “Dewitos” or “Dewritos.” The innovation has been called a “new frontier for fast food,” with a flavor best described as “liquid cheese,” only with lots of caffeine.

  • Quarters for Doing Laundry

    rolls of quarters
    George Diebold—Getty Images

    Over the summer, a startup launched on the premise that people would pay a premium for a subscription service for quarters, which would be delivered so that you wouldn’t have to go round up up the on your way to the laundromat. The service charged $15 per month for a once-a-month delivery of a $10 roll of quarters. Needless to say, the site folded nicely and neatly—not unlike properly handled laundry—after about one week of existence.

  • Burgers for Breakfast

    Person holding BK Whopper
    Karl-Josef Hildenbrand—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    The battle for fast-food breakfast customers raged in 2014, with Taco Bell and McDonald’s launching ads, special promotions (like free coffee), and new products to beat out the competition. Burger King joined in the fracas with the laziest fast-food concept in recent memory: Burgers for Breakfast, in which BK made Whoppers and other burgers available during early morning hours. The idea reportedly flopped with customers; burgers were not on the restaurant’s national breakfast menu at last check.

  • A Fake “Mona Lisa”

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood
    Is it real...or is it a Mark Landis? Fine Art Images—Getty Images

    No, no one actually tried to sell the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. But to celebrate the launch of a new documentary about Mark Landis, an infamous and prolific art forger, Landis’s forged version of the Mona Lisa was hung in a coffee shop in New York City with an asking price of $25,000. Apparently, no one wants to pay that much for a fake—not even a masterful fake by the likes of Landis. “After all the hype, there wasn’t much real interest or a sale,” a spokesperson for the coffee shop told us.

  • Derek Jeter’s Used Socks

    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3.
    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3. Tony Farlow—AP

    Throughout the course of Derek Jeter’s final season for the New York Yankees, ticket prices soared when #2 was in town, and an astonishing and varied amount of Jeter collectibles were marketed and sold. Among the oddest pitches: $400+ for one of Derek Jeter’s socks (game used, of course).

  • Seven Weeks of Unlimited Pasta

    Olive Garden pasta
    Joshua Lutz—Redux

    In September, the Olive Garden restaurant chain rolled out one seriously odd food offer: The Neverending Pasta Pass. The potentially cost-effective (also: potentially nauseating and potentially weight-altering) $100 passes gave users as many pasta dishes, breadsticks, and Coca-Cola soft drinks as they could stomach over the course of seven weeks. Only 1,000 of the passes were offered, and they were quickly snatched up by the masses—a few of whom recorded the good, bad, and ugly of eating at Olive Garden week after week.

  • Ebola Fashion

    man in hazmat suit in front of house
    PM Images—Getty Images

    The Ebola outbreak stoked fears around the globe, while also serving as a boost for an array of products, some understandable (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, anti-germ protective gear), others downright bizarre (Halloween costumes, fashionable masks that retailed for $20). Yet another entrepreneur was trying to sell Ebola.com for at least $150,000 this year; he’d purchased the web domain in 2008 and has been waiting for an opportune moment to sell.

  • Pot Edibles That Look Like Hershey’s Candy

    Marijuana leaf
    allOver images—Alamy

    Soon after the sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, shops began selling a range of smokeable and ingestible products. Among the edibles was a brand of marijuana-infused candy called TinctureBelle, which made pot treats like Ganja Joy and Hasheath—with labels that looked eerily similar to traditional Hershey’s candies Almond Joy and Heath. Understandably, family values advocates and Hershey’s didn’t like the imitation versions, and the candy company sued last summer. The case was settled in October, and the pot candies that resembled Hershey bars have been recalled and destroyed.

     

  • Caffeinated Underwear

    caffeinated underwear
    iStock

    File this one under the category of products making outlandish claims that are just too good to be true: In 2014, the FTC ruled that a pair of companies that made and marketed caffeine-infused underwear must stop advertising that its products aided in weight loss. There was no scientific evidence to back up the claims, and customers who were coaxed into buying the caffeinated skivvies were granted refunds.

  • Bigger Butts

    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A.
    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Kevin Mazur—WireImage

    In 2014, marketers were more than happy to help convince women that they should try to enhance their physical assets to resemble Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez in one particular way. Hence the increase in butt implants and lift surgeries, as well as the sharp sales rise of products such as padded underwear, which give the appearance of a larger backside.

MONEY Leisure

Why a Hyped New Lottery Game Went Bust in a Hurry

The "Monopoly Millionaire's Club" lottery launch at Times Square on October 20, 2014 in New York City.
The "Monopoly Millionaire's Club" lottery launch at Times Square on October 20, 2014 in New York City. Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images

A new Monopoly-themed lottery game was expected to be popular enough to warrant its own TV show. But the game has already been killed after flopping with lottery players, who often had no clue if they won or lost.

State lottery sales have largely gone flat at the same time that much of the country has come to rely more and more on the revenues sanctioned gambling provides. To boost sales, state lottery commissions are constantly trying to capture the imagination (and dollars) of players by rolling out exciting new games. As one economist explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past summer, a lottery game “follows a life cycle like any product… You get this increase in sales. It peaks. People get used to it, and then you get this slowdown.”

Hence the need to regularly create and market new lottery games, like the Monopoly Millionaires Club, introduced in 23 states in October as the first multi-state lottery game to hit the scene in 12 years. At the time, state lottery commission press releases (like one published for Arizona) and news outlets in participating states (such as New Jersey) had trouble explaining all of the game’s particulars. It was a “two-pronged game,” but with potentially multiple winners and “three different ways to win a million dollars,” and each ticket came with a series of numbers as well as a traditional Monopoly property, like Marvin Gardens or B&O Railroad. Anyone with a ticket matching all six numbers would win the jackpot (starting at $15 million), and when a jackpot was awarded, other randomly selected players would win $1 million apiece. But if nobody won the jackpot, nobody else was eligible to win $1 million either.

Oh, and players were supposed to enter an online sweepstakes to win a trip to Las Vegas to be on the associated TV show, to be hosted by Billy Gardell (Mike on “Mike & Molly”), where more millions could be awarded. And each ticket cost a pricey $5. “This $5 price point strengthens the game’s play value while differentiating it within lottery draw game portfolios,” the Arizona press release explained. Whatever that means.

From the get-go, people were puzzled. “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club is like a cross between Powerball, the Pennsylvania Lottery’s Millionaire Raffle, and McDonald’s Monopoly game, which makes people collect various game pieces,” one Philadelphia Inquirer writer summed up. “Plus, there’s a TV show,” and unlike popular scratch-off lottery tickets, “there’s nothing ‘instant’ about” about the Monopoly game. While it could possibly pay off big-time for players, the game was so confusing it might “set records for people who fail to realize they won, as well as people who mistakenly think they did.”

Turns out people don’t like confusing lottery games involving delayed gratification, and they certainly don’t like forking over $5 a pop to play such games. Citing “sales that have not met the lottery industry’s projections,” Texas announced last week that it was suspending the Monopoly game, and all other states followed suit recently. By December 26, the game will disappear nationally. To borrow from Monopoly lingo, this game is going indefinitely to jail. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200—or any amount.

MONEY consumer psychology

5 Reasons Why You Give Such Awful Presents

cupcake in a ring box
Tooga—Getty Images

If it's the thought that counts when it comes to giving terrific presents, then what exactly are horrible gift-givers thinking?

We’ve all suffered through that awkward silence at least once, the one that comes right after someone opens the holiday gift that you selected—and that’s somehow not quite right. In fact, it’s a horrible gift. It’s inappropriate, thoughtless, silly, or otherwise ill-considered.

Depending on the manners of the recipient, the reaction to the presentation of such a gift might be a forced squeal of delight, an overly broad, stiff smile, or a quick, flat “thank you” tinged with a touch of confusion. Or something far worse. But there’s no getting around the fact that, as far as presents go, this one has been deemed pretty awful.

How could this have happened, you wonder? You’re usually such a thoughtful gift-giver. It’s not that you don’t like the recipient, nor that you were trying to make a statement or cheap out—among the disturbing psychological motivations for presents that wind up on the Worst Gifts Ever Awards list that I’ve chronicled in previous years. Still, even the most seasoned, well-intentioned shoppers make mistakes. After talking with scores of recipients about why some gifts are awful, a handful of explanations surfaced repeatedly.

So that you can avoid developing a reputation as a bad gift-giver, here are the top five reasons why regrettable presents are purchased.

1. The “This Will Make a Nice Gift” Gift

Leslie purchased three elegant carving sets (the kind you use to carve a roast or turkey) at an online auction because she thought they “would make nice gifts” for someone. “They were like 80% off, and I guess I wasn’t thinking about who exactly they would make nice gifts for because everyone I gave them to seemed confused,” she recalled. “In retrospect they were right. I wasn’t thinking about the person I’d be giving them to, just that they were beautiful—and that I could give an expensive sort of gift for not much money.”

If you find yourself considering a purchase but you don’t have a recipient in mind, think about Leslie. Then think again and reconsider making the purchase. The best gifts are purchased with a specific recipient in mind. Very rarely does it work out that someone buys a gift and later finds the perfect person to give it to.

2. The “How Old is He Again?” Gift

Many people see relatives only during the holidays, or even less frequently than that. It’s easy to think of people as who they were the last time we saw them, rather than realize who they are right now. Which is basically Maryanne’s explanation for why she gave her 14-year-old step-niece sparkly barrettes and a butterfly wand for Christmas last year. “I was shocked when I saw her, she was so grown-up all of a sudden!” Maryanne said. “Needless to say, she hated the little girl gifts.”

This kind of mistake can be made not just because of age-related snafus, but also by givers failing to notice changes in life stages, looks, interests, and hobbies. A man named Joe told me that he finds it odd—and a bit annoying—that he still gets a tie every year from one of his sons even though he’s been retired for years: “I’ve got a closet full of ties and it no place to wear them.”

3. The “All Hat, No Cattle” Gift (and Vice Versa)

Wrapping makes a statement. For some reason, Janine decided to use an old Tiffany box to hold an ornament she’d purchased for her sister. “You should have seen her face, actually both of them,” Janine remembered. “The one she had when she saw the Tiffany box—all excited. And then the one she had when she opened the box—not good.”

I think the sister would have liked the ornament a lot more if the blue box presentation didn’t make her think it was going to be something else. On the other hand, Ray slipped a diamond ring in the bowl of a mixer, wrapped the whole thing up and gave it to his wife for Christmas. “She was so mad about that mixer, she’d told me not to get her any more cooking equipment, and then she was embarrassed about getting mad when she saw the ring. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Ray said. “It really wasn’t the joyful opening I’d hoped it would be.”

The solution isn’t to skip the wrapping and creativity. It’s to be aware of managing expectations to maximize the pleasure of the gift. And remember surprises aren’t necessarily good.

4. The “Procrastinator’s Special” Gift

Procrastinators usually do so for one of two reasons: They’re mulling among two or more options and it’s taking a while; or they are really unclear on what to do, where to go and how to pick so they drag their feet, knowing that if they make a mistake they can blame it on time constraints. Procrastinators can make inspired gift choices — but the odds are against them.

Pamela is married to a procrastinator. “My husband got me really fabulous shoes, but in the wrong size with a note saying that I should exchange them for the right size,” she said. “When I tried to exchange them were sold out, which was also the case when he bought them — probably on Christmas Eve.”

5. The “The Impulsively Purchased Extravagance” Gift

When do we purchase impulsively? When we’re wowed. In today’s marketplace, dominated as it is with dramatic Black Friday discounts and big markdowns throughout the holidays, that “wow” is more likely to come after we see a special price rather than a special product. Shoppers can easily get blindsided by a tempting price, not to mention the idea that they’ll be able to give a seemingly extravagant gift that’s still within their budget.

That’s the gist of how Megan ended up giving her mother a dry-clean-only cashmere robe for Christmas last year. “It was elegant, and even though it was almost twice as expensive as the plush robe she’d asked for, I was thrilled to give it to her. Until I saw her face,” said Megan. “She had this ‘Did I raise a crazy daughter?’ look on her face, and in that instant I realized what a mistake I’d made. Unfortunately, I got it at an outlet mall. I couldn’t return it so it lives on to remind me to stick with the list.”

Which is good advice for everyone.

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY consumer psychology

10 Subliminal Retail Tricks You’re Probably Falling For

soda can with sprinkles and a cherry on top
William Castellana—Gallery Stock

There's a reason that salesperson is being rude. Increasingly sophisticated consumer research shows that if she disses you, you'll spend more.

Today’s marketing strategies aren’t dreamed up in smoky rooms full of Mad Men. The tools companies employ to get you to buy their stuff have grown ever more sophisticated, with marketers even using neural measurements to design product packaging and appeal to your deepest desires (to be covered in Cheetos dust, apparently).

Consumer experience these days is not simply designed; it’s engineered. Research determines the ads you see, the scents and sounds you encounter in stores, even the way a salesperson might casually touch your arm. It’s not all high-tech brain science, but here are some of the tricks companies use to entice you to spend more.

1. They make you nostalgic. Don Draper was on to something with his sentimental pitch for a Kodak campaign. But the abundance of families, puppies, and childhood ephemera in the ads you see every day is more than a simple ploy to tug on your heartstrings. Recent research shows nostalgia makes people value money less and feel willing to pay more for purchases.

2. They sic rude salespeople on you. At high-end stores like Gucci, customers are actually more inclined to buy expensive products after a salesperson has acted snottily to them, a new study found. This effect—which doesn’t work with mass-market brands, only luxury—seems to have something to do with the desire to be part of an in crowd. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, you’re more likely to want to belong to a club that doesn’t want you as a member.

3. They use smaller packaging to get you to buy bigger. You’d think that it would be easier to buy and drink less soda and beer if you stick to the cute new mini-cans that seem to be all the rage these days. But research shows buying multi-packs of those small sizes can actually lead people to consume more overall.

4. They get you lost and confused. It’s not an accident that grocery stores are often laid out unintuitively. Losing focus makes people spend more on impulse purchases, says expert Martin Lindstrom, who has conducted studies on marketing strategies. Getting interrupted during shopping also makes you less price-sensitive, according to research co-authored by marketing professor Wendy Liu at UC San Diego. That’s because when you return to look at products after a distraction, you have a false sense of having already vetted them, she says.

5. They mimic your gestures—and get women to touch you. A woman’s touch—but not a man’s—makes people of either sex looser with their money, so when that saleswoman touches your shoulder, you may unwittingly end up spending more. Additionally, research shows that if a salesperson of either sex imitates your gesticulations, you are more likely to buy what he or she is selling.

6. They get you to handle the merchandise. Consumers are willing to pay at least 40% more for mugs and DVDs—and 60% more for snacks—that are physically present than for the same products displayed in photographs or described in text, according to a Caltech study. And other research shows your willingness to pay more increases as you spend more time looking at and holding objects.

7. They create the illusion of bulk bargains. Whether you’re using a jumbo shopping cart or a small basket, you’re going to be tempted to load it up, so it pays to make sure those “deals” are actually worthwhile. Researcher Lindstrom found that adding the sentence “maximum 8 cans per customer” to the price tag of soup cans caused sales to jump, even if no true discount was offered, because it gave the illusion of one. It’s worth asking at checkout: Does that “10 for $10″ actually just mean one for $1?

8. They give you free treats. Consuming even one free chocolate increased shoppers’ desire for nonfood luxuries—including expensive watches, dressy designer shirts, and Mac laptops—right after eating it, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

9. They drop the dollar sign. If you think the plain old “28” rather than “$28″ on the menu of your favorite fancy restaurant is simply designed to look chic and minimalist, think again. A Cornell study found that a format that leaves off dollar signs and even the word dollar gets people to spend 8% more at restaurants.

10. They carefully engineer store ambiance. Ambient sounds and smells can make you less careful with your cash. In an appliance store, researcher Lindstrom pumped in the smell of an apple pie, and the sales of ovens and fridges went up 23%. He also found that alternating German and French music in a wine shop influenced which bottles customers purchased. Even nonmusic background sounds can make you overspend: A researcher found that the distraction of noise made people more likely to buy fancier sneakers.

 

MONEY identity theft

Here’s How to Make Sure You Don’t Get Cyber-Scammed on Cyber Monday

141128_EM_CyberTheft
Patrick Strattner—fStop Images/Getty Images

'Tis the season for identity theft. Online shoppers, protect yourselves.

As consumers start their holiday shopping, virtually everyone has the same Christmas wish: Please, don’t let anyone steal my identity.

A recent survey from TransUnion found that 96% of Americans say they’re worried about identity theft this holiday season, and almost two-thirds are more worried this year than they were last year.

And they’re not wrong—identity thieves like to strike during periods of high activity, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “Criminals fish where the fish are,” says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president for TransUnion. “This time of year, a lot of people are fairly busy and flustered and just trying to get things done, and they might not be as careful or diligent.”

When you shop at a brick-and-mortar store this season, it’s mostly up to retailers to keep your information secure. But when you shop online, you can fall into traps. Here are the do’s and don’ts for staying safe:

DON’T click on links in retailer emails.

Hackers like to prey on deal-hunters by sending “phishing” emails that look like they’re from brands you know and trust, says Joe Siegrist, CEO of LastPass, a password management and information security company. Then when you click on the email link, the hackers redirect you to a fraudulent site and steal your information.

If you see a great deal, double-check. “Go directly to those sites instead of clicking on links in the email,” Siegrist says. And legitimate businesses should never contact you to ask for your account information or password—if you get an email that does, go directly to the business’ website and enter your information there, or call the business to make sure the request isn’t fraudulent, Chaplin adds.

DO check to make sure you’re shopping at a secure website.

The tell: the URL. The address line should begin with https. That “s” is key—it means the information is being sent over a “secure” line, Chaplin says.

“You might do a web search for an item, and then you’ll click on some sort of a link, and that link might take you somewhere that’s not where you want to go,” Chaplin says. “Be sure that you do business only with websites that have the proper security measures in place.”

DON’T shop on public WiFi networks.

Thinking of sneaking out to a coffee shop to do a little online shopping on your lunch break? Be careful, Chaplin says. Only enter sensitive financial information like credit card and bank account numbers on secured WiFi networks with passwords. On networks without passwords, “whatever you’re typing and viewing online could be seen by someone else,” Chaplin says. “An open WiFi network is not secure.”

Phishers love open WiFi networks, too. “It’s a lot easier to fool you into thinking you’re on a legitimate site when you’re not,” Siegrist says. “They can replace the contents of the page with something they want to be shown.”

DO keep your software up-to-date.

To protect yourself from identity theft, keep your computer safe from malicious adware, Siegrist says. There are a number of adware removal tools out there, but here’s the free and easy way to protect your device: Say yes to software updates. That means installing Windows and Mac updates as they become available instead of always clicking “later.”

And pay extra attention to your internet browser of choice. “Your browser is a very important one—make sure you keep that up-to-date,” Siegrist says. “You have to actually restart your browser to get [the updates]. Don’t run your browser for days on end without a restart, especially if it’s indicating to you that it needs to.”

DON’T use a debit card for online shopping.

Credit cards have better liability protection than debit cards. And when you use a debit card, funds come straight out of your account, so it can take longer to recover your money if someone racks up fraudulent charges.

DO use a different credit card for online purchases.

If you can, use one credit card offline and a different credit card online, Siegrist says. That way, it will be easier to detect fraud. Need a new credit card? Check out MONEY’s Best Credit Cards for holiday shopping and for all year round.

DON’T save your credit card information on websites.

When you shop online, retailers will often prompt you to save your credit card information so that you can buy more items quickly and easily at a later date. Don’t do this.

“You definitely increase your risk when you store your credit cards at these sites,” Siegrist says. “The site itself is then keeping that credit card stored—that makes it a target for hackers.”

DO change your account passwords.

If you do have accounts at different online retailers, change your passwords at least once after Cyber Monday. That way, if any of the sites are hacked during the holiday season, your accounts will be more secure. “It’s good internet hygiene,” Chaplin says.

When you change your passwords, don’t reuse passwords across multiple sites—or else you’ll be giving hackers the master key to multiple accounts. Use this trick to create really secure passwords that you’ll actually remember.

And whenever possible, set up two-factor verification. That way, no one can get into your accounts without both 1) your password and 2) another separate piece of information sent to just you—like a text message or a code retrieved from an iPhone app. Here’s how to enable two-factor verification.

DON’T stress about credit card fraud.

Look, it’s no fun when a hacker steals your credit card number. But credit card number theft won’t wreck havoc on your financial life like other kinds of identity theft. Your liability for fraudulent charges is extremely limited, especially when a hacker just steals your card number and not your physical card. In that case, you owe nothing. And after a big data breach, your financial institution might mail you a new card no matter what, just to be safe.

(If someone steals your actual card and uses it, you could be out up to $50 on credit cards or $500 on debit cards—but that’s not relevant in cyberworld.)

Be worried if a hacker gets your social security number. In that case, a fraudster could open new accounts in your name and ruin your credit. If that’s what you’re afraid of, here’s what to do. But you shouldn’t be sharing your social security number when you shop online, anyway.

DO check your statements.

That said, you should still keep a close eye on your credit card and bank statements for suspicious activity, especially at this time of year. That aforementioned liability protection is only helpful if someone detects the fraud. With credit cards, you’ll want to identify fraudulent charges before you pay your bill. With debit cards, you need to report any fraudulent charges within 60 days of receiving your statement to get your money back.

And read the statements closely. “Criminals are a lot smarter than they used to be,” Chaplin says. “It used to be a huge charge would show up on your card and your bank would call you. Oftentimes now a charge will be $20, $30 a month, and you might not be aware of it.”

But never fear—though identity thieves may have gotten smarter, you can still outsmart them.

Related

MONEY consumer psychology

Stop Making These 5 Shopping Mistakes And You Won’t Overspend!

Jennifer Martinez filled a shopping cart with toys at the Toys R Us store on County Line Road in Arapahoe County Thursday night, November 28, 2013.
Karl Gehring—The Denver Post via Getty Images

Shoppers feel smart when they've snagged a great bargain. But during the frenzy of sales on Black Friday and the holidays, it's common for bargain hunters to make dumb mistakes that wind up costing them big time.

The biggest shopping season of the year is upon us. We shop more, and when we do, we’re overwhelmed with products and price promotions in today’s hyper-competitive retail environment. In effect, everyone is shopping with at least a touch of “bargain brain.” That’s the term I use to describe the confusing, pressure-filled state of mind of the average shopper during the holiday period. And it’s this mentality, combined with some classic sales strategies practiced by retailers, that makes it more likely for shoppers to wind up making some regretful shopping decisions, including but not limited to choosing the wrong gift or buying at the wrong price.

As a consumer psychologist, I interview lots of shoppers, and this year, with few exceptions, they said that if it wasn’t on sale, they weren’t buying it. We’ve come to expect discounting, and won’t buy until they appear. Promotional sales are ubiquitous, and shoppers understand that the “regular” price of many products has been inflated to leave room for markdowns. Therefore, as you’ve likely already seen, it’s a deal-a-minute holiday out there.

We’re flooded with news of “unmissable,” “unbelievable,” and “never before” rapid-fire sales from all directions: advertising, catalogs, emails, texts, through social media feeds and all other sources of digital communication. With each bit of information coming our way, we’re constantly pushed to reevaluate what to buy, and when to buy it. Considering all of the decisions that must be made, it’s no wonder we make some less-than-great ones during the holidays. And so bargain-brained errors are common around this time of year, especially those that fall into these five categories:

Fear of Missing Out
Because sales are short-lived and hot holiday gifts are often available in limited supply, shoppers are well aware that if they don’t bite, the item could soon return to full price or disappear entirely. That’s why sales cause FOMO (fear of missing out) fever, and it’s this mix of fear and excitement that can muddle thinking. Add in the emotional pressure and competitive fuel of crowds and it’s understandable why so many end up making regrettable purchasing decisions at this time of year.

To keep your cool, it helps to understand that the vast majority of holiday sales are carefully planned long in advance of the season. With few exceptions, retailers have ample supplies of what they expect to be top sellers. Many of the seemingly great doorbuster deals that appear in limited supply on Black Friday are not only cheaply priced but cheap quality as well. So overall, in all likelihood you’ll be able to find the best gifts in stock somewhere during the course of the holidays, and you shouldn’t sweat missing out on a few chintzy Black Friday deals.

Actually, one approach to the pressure of the season is simple resignation: Enter the holiday shopping season full assuming that at least once and perhaps multiple times you’ll miss the lowest price or see something later that would have made a better gift. Frankly, it’s not a bad strategy. It preserves time and saves energy that might be better used for enjoying the holidays. If you’re not scared about the possibility of paying a little more than is necessary, or of purchasing some gifts that are decent but not necessarily great, then you never experience FOMO—nor do you make the bad decisions spurred on by this common emotion.

Valuing Price Over Value
Even in the face of a jaw-dropping bargain, it’s essential to stay focused on how much you really want the item rather than on the discount. During frenzied moments, people can easily lose focus on what they’re buying and end up with gifts in search of a recipient rather than a thoughtfully chosen gift for someone on your list. Jenny, a busy working mother, for example, told me she has a “gift drawer” stuffed with cashmere scarfs. “I got them online during a flash sale a couple of years ago and I’m still working though that stash,” she recalled. “It’s almost embarrassing because I honestly can’t remember who I’ve given one to in previous years.”

Also keep in mind that when we’re emotionally charged while shopping, we’re also more prone to impulse purchases. Whether online or in store, tempting add-on items (especially those stocking stuffers and knickknacks that can hammer your holiday budget) will be especially prevalent this year. The solution is to breathe deeply and take an extra moment to consider what you’re really buying.

Getting Confused by Deals
Another problem with the swift and steady stream of promotions we’ll be wading through this year is managing the complexity of offerings. Neil, an engineer by profession who is used to tackling complexity, says that even he’s often confused by the way sales, coupons, and promotions piled on top of each other. “I have a coupon for $50 off if I spend $200 so that’s a 25% discount, but what if I find something for $150 for my wife?” he said. “Then I’d probably end up spending more to get the discount which blows the discount. Or I can wait for Black Friday but maybe what I want won’t be included in the sale.” Stay calm, use your phone’s calculator, and never ever spend in order to save.

Too Much Bargain Hunting
In my research I’ve found that consumers who are heavily bargain-focused actually spend more total money shopping than others. Why? They spend more time shopping, which means they see and therefore often want and buy more merchandise. Also, because their focus is on how much they’re saving, they more easily lose track of what they’re spending.

Speaking of which, a classic silly bargain-brain move is to mentally consider the money you’ve “saved” off list prices as “earned” money—and this found money often gets spent pretty easily. Consider what Angie said in a recent interview: “I got these pants I needed on sale, so I treated myself to the matching top. It was full price, but that’s okay because I saved all that money getting the pants on sale.” Get the irony? In no universe is spending money actually saving money. But it can feel like that. Beyond that, remember that in our discount-crazed world, original prices are usually wildly inflated, so sales “save” far less money than you think.

Ignoring the Fine Print
Yet another potential pitfall to bargains is that they often come with strings attached. For gifts, the most problematic of these issues is a no-return policy, a short return window, or returns that only qualify for merchandise credit. Take is from Carly, an avid online shopper, that unless you’ve seen and considered the product before, losing the ability to return merchandise can be costly. “I spent half my Christmas budget on clearance blow-out merchandise” last year, she said. “While a few of the items were perfect and I got them for a steal, at least half were ungiftable and totally wrong. I’m stuck with them so it’s not really a bargain in the end.”

If you find yourself succumbing to “bargain brain,” do your best to remain mentally calm. Try to focus on the value and cost of a product rather than simply the reduced price of a tempting sale “opportunity.” Above all, stay loyal to your gift list and budget.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

_____________________________________________________

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

Read next: 7 Black Friday Haggling Secrets You Need to Know

 

MONEY investing strategy

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Explains How to Dramatically Improve Your Investment Performance

rolling dice
Michele Galli—Getty Images

Stop thinking that you're smart enough to beat the market.

Beating the market is very difficult, and most investors are incapable of doing it. I’m extremely confident that I can beat the market, however. I know I’m better than the average, and am pretty sure my investing results would support that view, if I were to tally them all up.

Over the years, I’ve heard variations of the above response countless times whenever I’ve asked investors if they could beat the market. This composite response illustrates perfectly a main theme from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. All of us – whether you’re Warren Buffett or a struggling day trader – tend to overestimate our own investing abilities, while being extremely capable of assessing the weaknesses in others. Grasping this simple insight alone could dramatically improve your investment performance.

Being more humble isn’t just an admirable personality trait – it can literally save you money. Below are nine investing insights from Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman’s classic book Thinking, Fast and Slow:

1. “The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high.”

Here, Kahneman is saying that we too often rely on our intuition and routine thinking for big decisions when we should actually slow down and become more analytical. This is especially true of those investors who are quick to trust their gut and overestimate their pattern recognition skills when deciding to buy or sell a particular stock.

Kahneman helps us better understand our thought processes by using the framework of System 1 thinking and System 2 thinking. The former operates automatically and quickly “with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” System 2, on the other hand, “allocates attention to effortful mental activities that demand it.” Quite simply, System 1 is fast thinking, and System 2 is slow thinking. For investors, it’s very important to know that System 1 is our default thinking style, and it can be a “machine for jumping to conclusions.” Knowing this will encourage you to try to shift to System 2 when faced with a difficult decision.

2. “There is general agreement among researchers that nearly all stock pickers, whether they know it or not – and few of them do – are playing a game of chance.”

Kahneman is skeptical about whether it’s possible for ordinary investors to beat the market. As an academic steeped in statistics and economics, he points to 50 years of research that shows “the selection of stocks is more like rolling the dice than like playing poker.”

Obviously, many of us might disagree, and that’s fine. I still believe it’s important to consider his view on this issue, however. Anyone who truly thinks they can beat the market, should be able to provide evidence of that skill by objectively analyzing their returns over a long timeframe. System 1 thinking is quite good at allowing you to fool yourself into thinking you might be better at stock picking than you really are.

3. “Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be. We tend to exaggerate our ability to forecast the future, which fosters optimistic overconfidence. In terms of its consequences for decisions, the optimistic bias may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases.”

Here again, we see how our System 1 thinking can play tricks on us. According to Kahneman, we often have a very unrealistic sense of our abilities and future prospects. This may explain why so many political and financial analysts are out there confidently making bad predictions on a daily basis.

The interesting part of this quote, for me, is Kahneman’s take on optimism. He believes that being optimistic is a good thing to be – many entrepreneurs are more confident than mid-level managers, according to one study, for example. The danger, Kahneman argues, is that optimists tend to underestimate risks. This might be a good thing for spurring action, but might not always be the best thing for your portfolio.

4. “Closely following daily fluctuations is a losing proposition, because the pain of the frequent small losses exceeds the pleasure of the equally frequent small gains. Once a quarter is enough for individual investors. In addition to improving the emotional quality of life, the deliberate avoidance of exposure to short-term outcomes improves the quality of both decisions and outcomes.”

This is one of the most helpful pieces of advice for investors in the entire book. Kahneman points to compelling research showing that checking individual investments on a frequent basis will lead to poor decision making. So why not save time and improve performance by turning off the daily market noise?

5. “The research suggests a surprising conclusion: to maximize predictive accuracy, final decisions should be left to formulas, especially in low-validity environments.”

This quote is potentially very helpful for investors. Remember, Kahneman believes that stock picking is a classic “low-validity environment.” So he’d likely argue that an inconsistent investing process would hurt performance over the long run. For illustration purposes, your belief that you know exactly when to increase (or decrease) your cash allocation might be a delusion that is hurting your overall returns.

If Kahneman is right about this, then relying on rules could be helpful. Putting money to work every single month, for example, regardless of what the market appears to be doing at that particular moment could be a smart technique. Holding stocks for five or even 10 years without selling could also be wise.

6. “Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too eager to believe them.”

I know I’ve been guilty of this many times in the past. We see a successful business from the past, and assume that’s the magic formula for the future. Kahneman challenges us to be more skeptical. The excellent management book The Halo Effect makes a similar point.

Kahneman believes the key variable that is never considered by observers is “luck.” Because luck is so important, “the quality of leadership and management practices cannot be inferred reliably from observations of success.” Another important principle is regression to the mean. He notes a study of Fortune‘s “Most Admired Companies” showing that the worst-rated companies actually earned higher stock returns than the most admired firms over a 20-year timeframe.

7. “Success = talent + luck; Great Success = a little more talent + a lot of luck.”

These formulas illustrate an important theme in the book. Kahneman feels that luck “plays a very large role in every story of success.” A big challenge for investors, of course, is distinguishing between skill and luck. I’ve noticed that the most successful investors rarely acknowledge the latter as playing any role whatsoever until they have a bad year.

8. “The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do.”

As a former history teacher, I believe this to be true. Our knowledge of the past is imperfect at best, and yet, we often make important decisions based on this imperfect understanding.

This insight is very important for investing. Is 2014 really like 1938? Or is it more like 2007? Does that mean you should sell or buy stocks or load up on gold? Kahneman would urge you to be careful here — each of us has an “almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

9. “The satiation level beyond which experienced well-being no longer increases was a household income of about $75,000 in high-cost areas…The average increase of experienced well-being associated with incomes beyond that level was precisely zero.”

This is such a great insight for me. Beyond a certain point, earning more money won’t make you any happier. For investors, it’s encouraging to know that growing a realistic pot of capital over a long timeframe will likely be enough to result in a happy retirement.

I can’t recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow enough to all investors. For me, it’s one of the best investing-related books that I’ve ever read.

MONEY Tech

Best Buy Is Finally Making a Comeback

Best Buy employee with box
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company appears to have found an in-store strategy.

On Thursday, Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 1.3773% delighted fans and investors by reporting a blowout fiscal third quarter. The results, reported before the bell, were non-GAAP diluted EPS at $0.32 per share versus analyst expectations of $0.25 per share. And while total revenue growth was still sluggish at 0.6% over last year’s quarter, that figure also beat analyst expectations by coming in at $9.38 billion versus $9.11 billion.

More importantly, the company appears to have found an in-store strategy. Domestic comparable sales increased 2.4% ex reclassifications, signaling it’s finding a way to use its stores as an advantage against online retailers. And speaking of online retailers, Best Buy increased its domestic online revenue an outstanding 21.6% over the same quarter a year ago. Although online is still a small portion of the total revenue haul, it is encouraging to see Best Buy growing this segment instead of conceding this channel to other retailers.

Great quarter, but is it sustainable?

Over the last five years, Best Buy has had a tough time. The company found itself a victim of the macroeconomic environment and suffered during the recession. However, unlike other retailers, the company never recovered post-recession. The chart below will give you proper context of Best Buy’s struggles versus the greater S&P 500.

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Two issues for Best Buy

The company faces two problems: aggressive pricing competition and the discretionary nature of their products. Due to Best Buy’s large store footprint (read: costs), the company would find itself losing a pricing war to online retailers — mostly Amazon.com. The trend of shoppers coming into Best Buy stores to test products then buy them from online retailers was so prevalent it inspired its own name: showrooming. CEO Hubert Joly has instituted price-matching strategies and improvements to counteract this trend and it appears to be paying off.

The second issue is the discretionary nature of Best Buy’s products. Unlike a grocer or a discount retailer like Target, consumers generally can postpone electronics purchases until they are more comfortable about the overall economy and their personal finance situation. And although the recession is over, wage growth is still harder to come by. Many were left scarred by the recession and have closed their pocketbooks. In addition, the recession has been tough for technology savvy millennials that are a natural fit for Best Buy’s brand.

Are better times ahead?

However, more recently, price drops in oil and slowing healthcare inflation have given many Americans a stealth pay increase. The consumer confidence index is sharply up and generally portends more discretionary spending, which is good news for Best Buy going into its seasonally heavy fourth fiscal quarter.

There’s been a host of positive economic news — GDP grew at a 3.5%-plus annualized rate the past two quarters, there have been nine straight months of 200,000 jobs created, and an unemployment rate below 6% — that will eventually lead to more discretionary spending. And when that happens, a leaner, better-ran Best Buy will be in a position to benefit from it.

MONEY consumer psychology

Why JetBlue Can Break Your Heart, but Comcast Never Will

JetBlue Planes
Seth Wenig—AP

It hurts to find out that brands like JetBlue want you to love them—but they only love you for your money.

This week, JetBlue announced it’s adding more seats on planes and new fees for checked baggage. The moves are clearly aimed at hiking profits—which is what businesses are supposed to do, right?

So why, then, has JetBlue’s policy change been met with outrage and a sense of betrayal? Isn’t JetBlue just a business that’s, you know, in the business of making money? Shouldn’t we fully expect these kind of profit-first policies? And if this kind of behavior is to be expected, why would there ever be any sense of surprise or disappointment, let alone heartbreak?

The subject brings to mind the old fable “The Farmer and the Viper,” in which a farmer nurses a freezing snake back to health—and is then promptly bitten and killed by the snake as soon as it has the opportunity. The moral is that you shouldn’t be surprised, and you certainly shouldn’t feel betrayed, when a snake behaves like a snake. A similar takeaway comes from the disturbing 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” which tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who were killed, in essence, because a bear behaved like a bear.

The complication is that consumers don’t necessarily view brands that we interact with regularly as animals that will take advantage of us whenever the opportunity arises. We’re encouraged to “like” brands on Facebook, and marketers spend billions to try to get us to love brands, ideally with a cult-like fervor. We tend to view favorite brands as trusted partners or even friends, and we can feel violated and betrayed to the core when the terms of what can be a very warm partnership are exposed as more “strictly business,” to quote The Godfather.

“Some brands are so good at connecting with consumers on an emotional level that the relationship feels incredibly personal, much like a friendship,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and TIME and MONEY contributor. “In most cases the consumers feel they share the same values as the brand, which they see as manifesting human characteristics.”

This certainly seems the case for JetBlue and its longtime customers. The brand resonated and indeed became beloved because of the perks (free TVs and snacks for everyone) and amenities (leather seats and plenty of legroom all around) as much as because of its overriding ethos that all customers were valued—and valued equally. What helped make JetBlue stand out and become an industry darling is that its competitors in the airline business are notorious for exceptionally poor customer service, especially in regards to passengers who are paying the least for their flights.

Slowly, though, JetBlue tweaked its business model—adding a business class and adding more fees recently—and with this week’s announcement about shrinking legroom and the addition of baggage fees, it’s clear that the values originally embraced by the brand have changed as well. For the people who loved and were loyal to JetBlue specifically because of its egalitarian, customers-first approach, the latest moves serve as a big slap in the face with the cold-hearted reality that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but hurts nonetheless: Brands like JetBlue want you to love them, but they only love you for your money.

Experts who study marketing and company-consumer relationships believe that brands that have developed cult-like followings for supposedly doing things the right and honorable way—Chipotle and Whole Foods come to mind—are likely to feel greater backlash if and when they appear to violate customers’ trust. “Our theory is that the people who feel most betrayed are the ones who were most attached to the brand in the first place,” says Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who is researching brand betrayal with colleagues.

By and large, consumers tend to get most attached to scrappy smaller brands with a streak of independence—brands they can identify with and feel good about supporting. “We love underdog stories,” says MacInnis. “We see ourselves as underdogs. We love the little guy, so there’s a natural brand connection.” It’s a connection that goes beyond a mere mutually beneficial economic transaction.

On the other hand, brands that are monolithic and fail to develop long-lasting loyalty or affection—big banks, pay TV and wireless providers, and yes, airlines come to mind—are less at risk of betraying customers’ trust because there was little to no trust to begin with. “You’re not likely to feel betrayed when a cable company treats you poorly,” says MacInnis. “You’ll shake it off and jump” to a competitor without blinking (assuming another one is actually available). “The transgressions are par for the course.”

It’s all about expectations: When someone we thought of as a friend turns out to be just another snake, it’s heartbreaking. Hence, the presence of several “Et Tu, JetBlue?” headlines out there, indicating that the once beloved airline’s betrayal is one of epic proportions.

“When consumers sense they’ve been used or manipulated they feel a burn more similar to a human betrayal than simple transactional disappointment,” says Yarrow. However, bigger, widely bashed brands are “lucky” enough to disappoint customers so frequently that there’s no surprise or sense of betrayal when they make yet another profit-first, customer-unfriendly move. “Consumers have such low expectations of Comcast, for example, they are thrilled when there simply aren’t problems.”

MONEY consumer psychology

12 Ways to Stop Wasting Money and Take Control of Your Stuff

Digging in overflowing closet
Steve Cole Images—Getty Images/Vetta

If you're swimming in stuff, not to mention debt, check out this list of a dozen tips to stop the madness and streamline your lifestyle.

In my work as a consumer psychologist and author, I’ve read countless studies about consumer behavior, and I’ve conducted plenty of research on my own, interviewing hundreds of shoppers about how, when, and why they shop. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to avoid piling up too much stuff and how to stop making unnecessary, excessive, and ultimately unsatisfying purchases.

Do an inventory check. Jenna Suhl, who has worked as a wardrobe stylist in San Francisco for more than a decade, told me, “It’s not uncommon for people to buy new things because they have so much they can’t see what they already have.” Suhl recommends weeding out what’s worn, ill-fitting, unmatchable, or a style that no longer suits. That’s not only true for clothing and accessories, but also tools, household products, and knickknacks. Another woman once mentioned to me that she actually bought the exact same serving platter twice, forgetting that she already owned it. “At least I have consistent taste,” she laughed, “but clearly I have too much stuff.”

Buy good quality—and use it. Perhaps counterintuitively, I’ve found that it’s common for people to almost never use the things they love the most—a favorite pair or jeans, a vintage Mustang—and that give them the most pleasure. Why? Often, it’s because they want to protect the item in question, because they like it so much and don’t want it to be ruined. Instead of using their favorites regularly, they buy cheaper things—sometimes knockoff imitations—for “everyday” use. The unfortunate result is less satisfaction, and that lack of satisfaction often leads to more buying in the misguided hope that some new item will make us happier. In a similar vein, many people spend more money on an outfit they wear once for a special occasion than they spend the entire year on clothing they use every week, such as workout wear, jeans, or sneakers. The smarter approach is to put your money where you’ll see it in action and enjoy it the most, thereby reducing purchasing cravings.

Count your blessings. First and foremost, being grateful—not just for possessions, but also for the people, places and simple pleasures in life—is good for the soul. But an attitude of gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse purchasing because it creates a sense of abundance within the individual. When you’re feeling full of gratitude, you’re less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts and accumulating more stuff.

Turn off the temptation. Imagine having a friend who was constantly telling you about seemingly terrific deals (half-off watches!), or that you simply had to try the new pizzeria in town (free dessert!). Hearing about these offers puts you in the position of considering purchases you might not otherwise have noticed. Worse, you’re likely to get worn down over time, so that you end up jumping at some offer partly to reward yourself for all of the times in the past you behaved virtuously and passed on the latest bargain. These are the effects of signing up for email subscriptions from retailers and deal sites. If you’re trying to rein in your spending, simply cancel those subscriptions. Forget the idea that they somehow save you money. You’ll save a lot more by remaining ignorant of all those seemingly amazing bargains.

Play the waiting game. When you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, wait at least 20 minutes. Then, after clearing your head, reconsider how and when you’ll actually use the product. Instead of simply choosing to have it or not have it, think for a moment about what else you might prefer instead—such as the freedom of having less debt or a bigger purchase that requires saving, such as college tuition, a house or retirement. When considering larger purchases of, say, anything more than $100, make the wait period 24 hours. The typical impulse purchase seems a lot less like a “must-have” after sleeping on it.

Learn to share. I’m not talking about the explosion of “sharing economy” businesses that facilitate things like car-sharing and bike-sharing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned DIY method of buying something with a friend or neighbor and owning it jointly. I recently watched two young women negotiate sharing rights for a relatively expensive gold necklace they both wanted and ultimately bought together at Nordstrom. And I interviewed a family that purchased backyard play equipment with their neighbors. That family is also ingenious about repurposing. For example, they decorated homemade birthday cards with buttons taken from worn-out shirts (which were cut up and used as dust rags). I’ll admit these practices can seem time consuming and not commonplace—but they’re inspiring, and perhaps there’s an opportunity to share or repurpose that will eliminate a new purchase in your life.

Buy only what you need, right now. Part of what makes shopping so alluring is the mental vacation that comes with imagining how a product can be used, such as, “I’ll turn heads in this outfit,” or “We’ll have the wildest parties with this cocktail shaker.” But most homes are cluttered with unused merchandise (often with the tags still attached) purchased for, say, an African safari that never materialized or a slimmer figure that has yet to be acquired. Don’t let your imagination divert attention from the cost and practicality of an object, nor from reality. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you’ll be using the item in the very near future. If the answer is no or not likely, pass.

Focus on the bottom line, not freebies. “Free” is the four-letter word that always seems to work in marketing. But the free gift with purchase, the free bottle of water while you’re shopping, and the free samples can all cost you. For one thing, getting something for free creates a sense of obligation that makes it harder to say “no” to a persuasive salesperson. Shoppers also often use the free gifts included with purchase to rationalize buying something that’s way beyond their budget. I’ve seen otherwise highly intelligent, logical people spend a fortune to get something for free. And the irony is completely lost on them.

Remember that it’s okay to buy nothing. Shopping takes time, and it can feel like time wasted if a purchase isn’t made. Outlet malls, which typically require a significant drive, are particularly dangerous places for people trying to reduce their consumption. It’s not uncommon for people to purchase something they don’t really need rather than to leave empty-handed, with the feeling like the trip was a total waste. The same phenomenon occurs in upscale “destination” boutiques and at e-retail sites that have drawn shoppers in for significant amounts of time. But don’t fall for the notion that you’ve wasted time if you shop and don’t buy. The truth is that buying something you don’t need only makes for more waste.

Do some quick math as a reality check. If you earn an hourly wage, do a little simple division to see how much of your time, effort, and work is eaten up by a potential purchase. The thought that three hours of your work barely covers the cost of some restaurant meal is likely to inspire you to cook more. The same concept works for salaried workers, just first do the math to break down your roughly per-hour take. Alternately, you could compare the cost of a new purchase to the amount in a savings account, or how long it took to save that amount. Calculating that the cost of a new TV would swallow 50% of the savings that took you two years to compile should be enough to give you pause. Likewise, if you’re really trying to get a better sense of how much you’re spending, don’t use credit cards. Spending with cash feels more tangible, more like you’re spending real money that required your real time, sweat, and effort to earn—and that’s the whole point.

Buy for the right reasons. Research shows that we can think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty, think we’re tired when in reality we’re bored, and so forth. In other words, we’re pretty good at identifying when we need something, just not so good at identifying precisely what it is we need. The concept translates directly into the world of shopping and buying: People often buy stuff not because they truly need the stuff, but to fill a variety of other psychological needs, including the craving for human contact, relief from boredom, the opportunity to feel totally competent and in control, and the mental stimulation of something unique or beautiful. To buy less, don’t confuse the real reasons you’re shopping; the tips above about practicing gratitude and waiting for a specified time period before making a purchase should help boost awareness of what it is you truly need.

Shop for stuff you need, not sales. Another of the psychological reasons that many people over-shop and buy is to get a burst of feel-good dopamine that accompanies sale shopping. Snagging a coveted item at 30% off can feel like winning a prize. But sales are nothing special: Virtually everything is discounted at some point in today’s retail world, and at least three-quarters of the purchases shoppers tell me they regret making were bought on sale. They often say they the item isn’t quite the right size, color, shape, or style—but what got them hooked was that the price was right. This is silly, of course. If you don’t like the item, there’s no price that makes it a smart buy. I’ve also found that sale-focused shoppers, ironically, tend to spend more total money than others. Remind yourself when shopping that the point is to seek good-quality items you need, not random stuff that is appealing solely because of a seemingly good price.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

_____________________________________________________

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

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