It’s laughably easy to overspend during the holidays — from catering feasts and baking treats to stocking stuffers and Yankee swaps, the expenses seem to never end.
What’s more, most stores are carefully engineered to get you to overspend. Particularly during the last month of the year, they will tug on your emotions with holiday cheer and load the checkout aisle with tempting holiday delights that are nearly impossible to turn down.
If you want to curb your spending this holiday, start by recognising these subtle yet common store tricks.
Kathleen Elkins contributed to a previous version of this article.
They tug at your heartstrings with a charming holiday ambiance
The holidays are a heartwarming and special time of the year -- retailers are aware of this and tug on your emotions even more with charming decorations, cheerful holiday music, and aromatic displays.
We tend to forget to think about money logically even more so during this time of the year, and as a result, overspend.
They put a big, bold 'SALE' sign in the window
Even if there are a few leftover Black Friday sales here and there, this is simply bait to get you in the store, where you'll likely buy non-sale items.
There's also a reason they're red, besides the holiday factor: People react faster and more forcefully when they see the colour red.
They create an inviting atmosphere
Retailers work hard to make the shopping experience feel like a respite from the craziness of the holidays. Both relaxing music and warm, winter scents put you at ease and can soothe you into an elevated perception of the brand, making it more likely you'll buy more.
Don't let a calming atmosphere lull you out of sticking to your budget.
They place the pricier items at eye level
Anything a store really wants customers to buy is placed at eye level so it's easiest to find, and particularly favoured items are highlighted at the end of aisles.
Look above and below for similar items with lower prices and fewer markups.
They play the 'limited-time offer' card
Stores not only entice you with sales, but they also use limited-time offers to increase your sense of urgency in making a purchase -- and it doesn't help that the holiday season already exudes urgency.
Oftentimes, stores are simply creating the illusion of an unbeatable sale. While these items may be tempting to buy on the spot -- especially with a looming gift-giving deadline -- you're better off putting the item on hold, thinking through the purchase, and making sure it's really worth opening your wallet for. Keep in mind that to be a thorough shopper over the holiday season you'll have to plan ahead and start your shopping early.
Source: U.S. News and World Report
They give you a taste of what's for sale with sample stations
This trick not only slows you down and gets you to spend more time in the store, but it exposes you to new products. It also increases the odds that you'll buy that new product -- trying something for free makes you feel more obligated to buy it.
Particularly over the holiday season, retailers and markets will try to bait you with samples of irresistible sweets and chocolates.
They choose strategic colour schemes
Stores draw customers in with warm hues like reds, oranges, and yellows, but once inside, cool colours like blues and greens encourage them to spend more.
There's bound to be even more red adorning storefronts during the holiday season.
Source: Bellizzi et al. (1983).
They strategically place ultra-expensive items next to slightly cheaper ones
Using the 'compromise price effect,' store sneakily place much more expensive items next to slightly more reasonable ones, making customers thing they're getting a good deal on the latter item.
Beware: Even if that $175 sweater is cheaper than the $250 next to it, you're still shelling out $175 that you might not have planned to spend.
They load the checkout aisle with tempting products
The most profitable area of the store is the checkout line. By the time you've made the rounds through the grocery or department store, your self-control is effectively exhausted.
Over the holidays, the checkout line is bound to be surrounded with various stocking stuffers and holiday candy, and stores bank on you succumbing to these temptations while waiting.
Source: Business Insider
They price things at $0.99, rather than rounding up to an even price
Tagging a product with $0.99 causes consumers to automatically round down. If an item is priced at $1.99, we tend to think of the product as costing $1 rather than $2, making us more likely to purchase it.
Look out for this trick when it comes to stocking stuffers and other items in the checkout line.
Source: Fast Company
They offer free shipping to your home
Sometimes stores offer free shipping when they're out of stock in a size or low on inventory of a particular item, which is not uncommon during the busy holiday season, but this is often just to get you to make the purchase that day. You may be better off shopping around and finding a better deal with a competitor.
Plus, you could end up waiting seven to 10 business days for your purchase, and by that time, you may have reconsidered how much you actually need it, or your gift deadline may have passed.
Source: U.S. News and World Report
Or they truly get you with outrageous shipping and handling prices
The last-minute holiday shopper is lucky in a way that online shopping and overnight shipping exist -- but this alternative comes with financial consequences.
Last-minute shipping can turn a dream bargain into a costly endeavour, and you may not realise it until you're about to submit your credit-card information and the shipping and handling cost appears.
The moral of the story: Plan ahead, do your shopping as early as possible, and don't spend on unnecessary expenses like accelerated shipping.
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