Sunghwan Yi

If you’ve made a Christmas shopping list, you might want to check it twice, says marketing and consumer studies professor Sunghwan Yi. The cheerful music, twinkling lights and sale signs could succeed in tempting you to buy more than you planned and to spend more than you should.

For most of us, lingering economic uncertainty does not stop the shopping. Many stores launch holiday shopping campaigns soon after Halloween, which means, on the one hand, there are more opportunities for value-minded shoppers to save money. On the other hand, even if items are half price, when people buy impulsively and purchase things they don’t need, they usually regret it afterwards and can suffer serious consequences if their credit cards are maxed out.

Understanding what motivates excessive shopping is a longtime interest of Yi, who received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council earlier this year to study this and the difference between compulsive and impulsive shoppers.

Unlike compulsive buyers, who shop too much because of a need to escape chronic negative feelings about themselves such as shame, inferiority and worthlessness, people with impulsive shopping tendencies find it hard to fight the desire to acquire because they are susceptible to situational distractions, says Yi.

“The majority of people who find themselves spending extravagantly during the holiday season arrive at a store in a positive frame of mind. Impulse buyers tend to be motivated by sensory stimulation and materialism, and as their self-control wanes, they succumb to promotions like ‘buy one, get one,’” he explains. “They easily get caught up in the excited mood created by external cues like colourful displays, especially when they’ve become fatigued from continually making the effort to resist temptation.”

What is a common complaint during the festive season could develop into a year-round problem. These tips may help curb the urge to splurge:

•  Use cash. According to previous research, using debit and credit cards numbs the pain of parting with your hard-earned money.
•  Never go shopping when you’re tired.
•  Avoid online shopping. Whenever you don’t use cash, it’s easy to overspend.
•  Put a time limit on shopping. The longer you shop, the more vulnerable you become to impulse buys.
•  Don’t rush into buying something because you’re afraid the item will be sold out. Remember, there will always be another, better deal.
•  Bring along a frugal friend and ask for his or her opinion.
•  Avoid last-minute shopping.
•  Shop around and then sleep on it. It may not be as appealing the next day.
•  Tell yourself, “I can live without this.”
•  Ask yourself, “Do I really need more than one?”

There are ways to enjoy the holidays without going in the red. Planning ahead and spending some time getting creative in the kitchen is a good bet. Edible gifts are usually welcome, whether it’s homemade gingerbread cookies, chili oil or brandied blackberry jam.

“My personal motto for the season sounds simple: Have fun and don’t blow the budget,” says Yi. “I hope I can stick to it.”