12 psychological tricks to save more and spend less over the holidays

Between decorations, holiday feasts, Secret Santa exchanges at the office, and gifts for your family and friends, it’s easy to blow through your paycheck during the holiday season

It doesn’t help that most supermarkets and department stores are carefully engineered to get you to spend more.

To help keep more cash in your wallet this holiday season, we rounded up 12 simple strategies to help you trick yourself into spending less and saving more:

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Master the '10-second' rule.

'Whenever you're in a store and you pick up an item, hold it for ten seconds,' writes founder of The Simple Dollar Trent Hamm, in his book, '365 Ways to Live Cheap.'

'During those ten seconds, ask yourself if you really need it and also if that money wouldn't be better used somewhere else. You'll almost always find yourself putting that unnecessary item back on the shelf and walking away, quite proud that you didn't waste your money on something so unnecessary.'

Put this strategy to test when you're shopping for stocking stuffers — it's easy to get carried away with small, relatively inexpensive presents, but a bunch of little purchases can add up over the course of the gift-giving season.

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Practice the 'stranger test.'

Another quick and easy in-store trick: When deciding whether or not to make a purchase, imagine a stranger offering your would-be purchase in one hand and the cash it would take to buy it in the other. If you'd rather accept the cash, you might as well keep that money in your pocket.


Procrastinate on non-essential purchases.

There are times when procrastinating does have value. When it comes to discretionary spending, A. Noonan Moose from Frugal Fringe recommends putting off your purchase to give yourself time to find better prices and make better decisions. We highlighted a few of our favourite examples here.

This strategy translates well to buying gifts online: If you're deciding between a few choices, put all of them in your cart, and leave them for a few days without checking out (as long as you'll still have time for delivery before they're needed). In that time, an item might go out of stock and make your choice for you, you might be offered a retailer coupon by email, or the price might drop.

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Go cash-only.

Research shows that people spend significantly more when using credit cards instead of cash. So if you're looking to curb your spending, try bringing only cash to the store.

Simply leave the plastic at home, determine how much money to withdraw for your holiday gifts, and buy things only with the cash you allocated for yourself. When it runs out, you're out of funds.

Use new bills.

Bonus: If you're going cash-only, seek out the newest, crispest bills from your bank. Research shows that people prefer new cash to dirty, wilted bills, and are more likely to spend, and part with, the old ones.

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Cover your credit card to create a mental -- and physical -- barrier.

If leaving the plastic at home simply is not a possibility, there's another option for you that just requires a bit of crafting: Particularly if you're prone to impulse spending on your credit card, Lifehacker recommends creating a simple paper sleeve for your card.

Not only does it give you another mental step to climb before you can spend -- and another chance to second-guess yourself and put on the brakes -- but on the sleeve, you can paste or draw a picture of your savings goals to keep them top of mind, or pen a warning to yourself: 'Not for self-gifting!'

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Break down the monetary value of your hour.

Reddit user Koketa13 recommends converting dollars to hours. 'If you make $10 an hour, then that cup of coffee isn't just $2, it's 12 minutes of your life,' he says. 'For me, this helped put a lot of things into perspective and cut down on impulse purchases.' How many minutes are you spending on wrapping paper?

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Never spend loose change.

Make it a hard-and-fast mental rule, suggests Anna from the blog And Then We Saved, and instead consolidate those unspent coins every night until you have a small pile of savings to bring to the bank.

If you're spending cash during the holiday season, this is the time to start gathering up every extra cent.

And even if you don't use cash, Anna writes, 'some banks will round your purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit that money into a savings account. If your bank doesn't offer that service, you can easily add up the change on your purchases and move that change to a separate account. Doing the maths yourself is a little less magical, but it works.'


Shop alone.

'Unless you're shopping specifically to split purchases with a friend, try to shop alone,' recommends Hamm in '365 Ways to Live Cheap.'

The more people you bring along, the easier it becomes to impulse buy, he writes: 'There are many more opportunities for impulsiveness with multiple people than there is with one person. A single person equipped with a planned shopping list has the least chance to slip an impulsive purchase into the cart, so go alone to save some money in the checkout aisle.'

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Take fewer shopping trips.

The more time you spend spend shopping, the more you'll spend.

In addition to taking fewer trips to the store, limit the number of stores you go into. What tends to happen is we become more invested as we put more time into shopping -- and that time investment makes us feel like we have to buy something.

Before heading out to holiday shop, make a list detailing exactly what you intend to buy and what stores have those products -- and then stick to your list. If you have a hard time limiting your time spent shopping, set a timer when you walk in the door, Hamm suggests: 'Set a time goal when you need to check out and leave the store. This will reduce the opportunities you have to be distracted by impulsive buys and keep you focused on the items you're intending to purchase.'

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Try 'taxing' yourself.

Fredrick Petrie, author of 'The End of Work: Financial Planning for People With Better Things To Do,' recommends 'taxing' yourself in order to get more money out of your wallet and into the bank -- this way you'll make savings a priority from the get-go, rather than budgeting everything else first and then seeing what is left over for savings.

'Make yourself your own mini-IRS,' Petrie tells Main Street. 'You are more likely to put it aside if you are forced to as a tax. Put 10 cents of every dollar that comes into your hands somewhere where you are less likely to spend it. Successful saving first requires 'psyching yourself out.''

To make sure you're still able to pay yourself first over the more expensive holiday season, it's important to prepare for these expenses throughout the year. If you know gifts will cost you about $500, start setting aside $42 each month in January so you're fully prepared come December. If you didn't think ahead this year, make it a 2016 resolution.

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Don't hesitate to say 'no.'

Jackie of Money Crush points out that we're thinking about 'no' all wrong. Instead of being reluctant to turn down a purchase, pass up an expensive opportunity, or closely manage your budget, remember that refusal gives you power: For one thing, it gives us serious negotiating clout. And for another, she explains, saying 'no' to the things that don't really matter allows us to focus on the things that do.

It's particularly easy to give an enthusiastic 'yes!' to purchases over the holiday season, with so many enticing decorations, sweets, and stocking stuffers. Remember to check yourself while shopping, and don't hesitate to turn down that extra string of lights or Kringle.

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