Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, August 24, 2017

By Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

You don’t need to have a “shopping addiction” to overspend during the “All I want for Christmas is more” season. Triggers encouraging you to buy more and save more are everywhere.

But if you want to hold on to some of your cash, it can help to consider if you’re about to get trapped in a compulsive shopping binge. Here are some of the signs of trouble:

— Do you walk like a zombie-shopper toward flash sales and today-only specials?

A big trigger for online shoppers is the “flash sale.” Customers who sign up for texts and emails from certain online retail sites complain of being tempted daily or even a few times a day by all sorts of “limited-time” specials, according to Terrence Daryl Shulman, author of “Bought Out and $pent!” and a counselor of compulsive shoppers.

Maybe the “super savings” last only two hours. But the time limit — much like all those early morning Black Friday specials — create a sense of urgency and a shopper’s rush. Shulman said he’s had a number of female clients say the alerts contributed to overspending. The shoppers had to put a stop to the texts.

“They’re like crack, and they often have to unsubscribe to them,” Shulman said.

Traditional retailers are creating that limited-time feel with their sales, too. Kmart recently brought back its Bluelight Specials, which run in every store, every day and, no surprise, are offered at Kmart.com, too.

— Are you ashamed to admit that all those holiday shopping trips really aren’t working for you?

A variety of legitimate reasons exist for slamming the brakes on gift buying — a job loss, loss of overtime pay, concerns about a limited retirement plan or a small amount of college savings. And some people need to control shopping because they’re dealing with an addiction.

“Some people really get such an adrenaline rush that it can overtake them,” said Shulman. Some studies indicate that about 6 percent of the population deals with compulsive spending, he said.

How do you stop spending way too much on gifts or having way too many people on your gift list?

“It would be great if you could tell people the truth,” Shulman said.

While many are too embarrassed to admit to troubles, it’s not all that unusual for friends to say they’d like to limit holiday spending or cut back. It can happen more often than one would think.

— Do you even know how much you are going to spend for the holidays?

One way to keep a clear head in the midst of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and every flash sale from now until the New Year is to actually sit down and decide how much you’ll spend in total for the holidays. Do you want to spend $400 or $700 on all the gifts, dinners, holiday outfits, baked goods, parties and donations?

“It’s much more than who is on your Christmas list,” said Katie Bossler, a financial counselor for the GreenPath Debt Solutions office in Detroit.

Bossler, 35, said her family turned to the secret Santa idea maybe six or seven years ago when some family members dealt with layoffs during an economic downturn. The limit is $25. And she has creatively bought coffee, movie tickets, books, bottles of wine, even special steaks from the butcher as gifts. (You keep the meat frozen and then put it in the gift bag right before the exchange, she said.)

The idea is to buy something “very small but sweet.”

Bossler targets spending $300 on everything for the season, which she says is very doable. She plans to spend about $30 on a tree, another $30 on cards with postage, give cash tips to people in her everyday life who help her. Her friends don’t do gifts but get together for a holiday meal.

While some might not be running up big credit card debt, they could still be spending more than they need to do.

“Are you using savings that’s earmarked for something else?” she said.

— Can you play a game and just spend cash?

One trick is to take only cash with you on various shopping trips. If you want to spend only $40 on each gift on a given list, take an envelope, mark it with one name and stuff $40 in that envelope. Then spend only that amount on gifts for that person.

Or maybe you want to put a set amount of money on gift cards that you’d buy before you head to the store and later use to buy gifts. The idea is to figure out a way to control impulse spending.

Bossler said such an envelope system can help you avoid being tempted by adding on other items or accessories just to take advantage of sales or buy something cute.

“You can’t overspend cash, but you can definitely overcharge a credit card,” she said.

Often during the holidays, sales or promotions challenge you to reach some limit, say being required to spend $100 to save $25.

Target, for example, has a new Black Friday deal this year in which shoppers who spend $75 or more on Nov. 27 will receive a 20 percent discount to use toward purchases on any day between Dec. 4 and Dec. 13.

Amazon.com was offering a free $10 promotional gift code for targeted customers who bought a $50 Amazon Gift Card, but the program is available only for specific customers through Nov. 30.

— Remember: Free isn’t necessarily free.

When shopping online or via catalog, one of the gotchas is often a spending limit to get the free shipping.

In some cases, shoppers can look at options for in-store pickup to avoid shipping costs.

Toys R Us, for example, recently lowered the minimum purchase required for free shipping from $49 to $19. Toys R Us offers six- to nine-day delivery for free shipping on purchases of $19 or more. The shipping price goes up to $5.99 for a similar shipping schedule on orders under $19. But one could opt for free in-store pickup on any order and avoid shipping costs entirely.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stompor@freepress.com.

©2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A shopper buys a TV inside Best Buy as the store opens in Newport, New Jersey November 27, 2014. Best Buy opened on Thanksgiving evening at 5pm, ahead of many other Black Friday retailers. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz