A Psychological Trick to Resist Overspending This Holiday Season

Updated 01/31/18
a woman holding a coffee and looking at her phone and thinking about whether or not to make a purchase
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Black Friday may have come and gone, but the holiday season is still brimming with countless promotions and deals "too good to pass up." However, once all is said and done, we can often find that our bank accounts have taken a bad hit as we head into the New Year. Plans we made for travel, moving, or taking a career risk are then put on the back burner as our bank balances recover from our holiday spending.

But if you're looking to spend smarter this season and resist the temptation to blow all your money on material allures, there are some psychological tricks you can employ to better your odds. "By learning how these ads attempt to make you feel bad about yourself, you can push 'delete' without thinking twice," asserts Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP, a professor emeritus of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Psychology Today. In her article, she references the Compensatory Consumer Behavior Model that proposes that consumption provides individuals with a psychological value that goes beyond the functional utility of the product or service in question. "According to this view, the reason people will pay outrageous amounts for such everyday products as jeans and watches is that by doing so, they satisfy their need to feel better about themselves," explains Whitbourne. "Buying products associated with higher status allows you to reduce the discrepancy between how you see yourself and how you wish to see yourself." Here are some of the tricks Whitbourne outlines to resist the temptation to overspend.

Bolster Your Self-Esteem Before You Buy

Because so many ads play off feelings of inadequacy, it's a healthy practice to take note of your value before making a purchase to feel better about yourself or the situation. "Given that retailers want to make you feel that you lack something important if you don't buy their product, focus on the personal strengths you have that contribute to a positive sense of self," recommends Whitbourne.

Don't Be Impulsive

Whitbourne explains that urgent verbiage retailers use in their emails and ads encourage us to make hasty purchases without giving our consumption adequate thought. Force yourself to take a time-out before making any purchases so you can consider your reasoning behind it. Otherwise, Whitbourne says you'll "fail to engage in the kind of rational reasoning that will allow you to make good decisions based on your actual budget."

Look at What You Have, Not at What You Don't

Finally, you can encourage yourself to become a smarter consumer by focusing on what you have rather than what you don't. "Take mental stock of what's in your closet, or if you're at home, go and look through your stash of similar items," suggests Whitbourne. "This will not only allow you to feel less inadequate and deprived, but it will also show you that you've managed to accumulate items similar to those advertised that help you feel just as good as the new ones being dangled in front of your eyes."

Next up, here are 9 things we spend too much money on.

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