It’s that time of year when retailers seem to join forces to plant a message in shoppers’ minds: “Buy Stuff on Black Friday, or You Are a Fool.”They transmit this message in loud TV commercials, targeted social media ads and promotional emails you don’t remember subscribing to.But you are no fool. And you — not retailers — get to decide what to buy and when.
Feeling compelled to spend money right now is normal. Who doesn’t want to be like the advertisements’ grinning models, with an armful of gifts?“This time of year, there is a lot of pressure to consume happiness — to show your love through products,” says Christine Whelan, a clinical professor in the department of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.Retailers want you to fold under that pressure. They make most of their money around this time, Whelan says, during their “end-of-year push to sell products.”You may face other pressures, too. “This year we have almost a perfect storm when it comes to spending,” she says. “We have fears of scarcity, we have inflation, and we have this yearning to celebrate in a more normal way than we did last year.”As that storm brews, toss in feelings of guilt. That’s a common emotion around the holidays and can lead to overspending, says Alex Melkumian, a licenced marriage and family therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles.Say that, once again, you can’t gather with family, or you can’t afford those gifts your kid wants.Or maybe you don’t feel guilty so much — just bad for any number of reasons related or not to the pandemic and loaded holiday season. It can be easy to spend emotionally, rather than logically, in hopes of feeling better.Often, Melkumian says: “Instead of feeling uncomfortable, we’d rather just patch it up with a Band-Aid of buying a little something for ourselves.”So, for various reasons, you may be primed to overshop on Black Friday. With that in mind, try to remember that “bargain hunting” can often lead to buying more stuff than you need, says Ryan Sterling, founder of Future You Wealth, a New York-based investment firm. He’s also the author of “You’re Making Other People Rich: Save, Invest, and Spend with Intention.”Plus, the fact that your favorite store is promoting 40% off doesn’t change the amount in your bank account. So aim to shop with intention, rather than in response to promotions.Whelan recommends reviewing your finances to determine how much you can spend on holiday shopping. Create a list of gift recipients, too. With this information, you’ll get an idea of how much to spend on each person. (And if you plan to buy yourself something, add your name to the list.)
As you’re planning, set a few rules. Otherwise, it’s too easy to spot something you want and impulsively buy it. You already have one rule to guide you: Stick to the list. Yes, you may see the perfect item on sale for your aunt. But if she isn’t on your list, or if she is and you already bought her something, move along.Rules that add “speed bumps” between shopping impulses and reactions are also helpful, Sterling says. For example, maybe you step away from potential purchases for at least an hour, if not a day, before deciding whether or not to buy.Without giving yourself boundaries, you may do exactly what retailers want — see their product and impulsively buy it. They certainly don’t want you to pause first.As you take control of your spending, rethink gift-giving.Melkumian recommends asking yourself: “What can I bring to the table? Is it only money, and is it only materialistic? Or can I be creative?”“Creative” can mean a few things, but before changing your approach, loop in your family or whoever you typically buy gifts for. Decide, together, how to handle gifts.Perhaps you agree to a spending cap, or to a gift exchange, rather than having everyone buy something for everybody else. Your loved ones may be grateful for a new approach so they, too, can spend less. (They may also be happy to receive fewer things.)Another way to buck the buy-everything-for-everyone tradition could be to give only homemade or experiential gifts. Whelan likes to combine the two with homemade gift certificates that could include, for example, a night of babysitting or dog-sitting.Giving services rather than material gifts doesn’t just save us money, she says. “They are a way of encouraging social connection and building relationships.”This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Laura McMullen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.