Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Christmas Shopping Rule

Image credit: mischiru, from Flickr
Let's be honest: the real reason we overspend on holiday shopping is that we buy ourselves too many gifts while we're shopping for others.

The problem is that everything is on sale, and beautifully displayed. There are twice as many friendly and helpful salespeople as the rest of the year. It all gets kind of heady and wonderful, and suddenly you're carrying around a huge bag full of new shoes and earrings and candles, and none of them is a suitable gift for your dad.

When I was just starting out as a real post-college grown up, and in a situation where a crayon drawing was no longer a gift option for my family members, I got caught up in this whirlwind. For someone in her early 20's with a modest income, this meant that the credit card totals added up quickly. January was always a little overwhelming.

After a couple of years of this, I made a rule- no purchases for myself between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I admit that I don't follow this rule strictly, especially now that I have a little more disposable income. I might buy some new running shoes this month, and I sometimes get caught up in buying Christmas decorations and clothes for holiday parties. But having the "no gifts for Melissa" rule in the back of my mind seems to help me keep these purchases to a reasonable (and affordable) volume. If I get tempted, I try to remember that the same stuff is even more on sale in January, and by then I usually have some gift certificates and money that came in Christmas cards.

I read a great article today on Get Rich Slowly about the psychology of shopping, and it confirmed that I was on the right track. There are all kinds of subtle marketing tricks that retailers use to get you to buy more. But the biggest issue is that at this time of year most of us just spend more time at the mall. We're shopping for others, but we can't help seeing things we want for ourselves.  I have said it before and I'll say it again: if you aren't shopping much, you won't even know about all the new stuff you can't live without.

I always like to remind you that I'm not a minimalist. I have a full closet, tons of stemware I hardly ever use,  and counter tops covered with small appliances. I don't object to buying stuff in general. What I object to is spending my hard earned dollars on things I don't really want or need. So I suggest trying a little restraint this year, even if it doesn't come naturally to you. I promise, it becomes a habit pretty quickly. And it's so wonderful when you don't have to be afraid of your credit card statements in January.

So long for now, KISS (keep it simple stupid), and put down those snakeskin stilettos and back away slowly...

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