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Resist the urge to splurge

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HOLD ON: A cooling down period is recommended to cut down on impulse buys.

Weak-willed shoppers get dazzled by daily deals, sucked in by super-salesmen and brainwashed by "bargain" brochures.

All too often, impulse buying leads to a feeling of regret, a noticeably lighter wallet and another piece of unused junk cluttering up the garage.

But few people have the backbone of steel required to resist the urge to splurge. How do you stop yourself from crumbling at the first SALE!!! sign? 

1. Shop on a full stomach

Junk food purchases are rarely planned.

"Do your shopping when you're full after a meal so that you take hunger out of the equation," says Dr Mike Lee, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Auckland Business School.

If you shop with a rumbling tummy, by the time you reach the checkout your goodie-laden trolley will give a nutritionist nightmares.

Sneaky supermarket operators have had decades to refine and construct their treat-filled traps. 

"The stock they really want to turn over is at the end of each aisle, where they know people slow down to turn the corner," says Lee.

"That's where the majority of the impulse buying happens."

Sugar-laden treats right by the checkout is another trap.

The best weapons you can fight back with are a full belly and a shopping list.

2. Write it down

Consumer New Zealand says penning a shopping list and sticking to it is the key to avoiding impulse buys.

That's backed by numerous studies that show lists help curb overall spending to some degree. Aimlessly wandering the aisles inevitably leads to a basket full of unnecessary junk.

3. Cool your jets

Ever noticed how desperate sales people are to close a sale while you're in the store? They know that as soon as you walk out the door to have a good think, the window of opportunity has probably closed.

"Think about it for 24 hours before you go back and actually buy it," suggests Liz Koh, an authorised financial adviser and Moneymax coach.

That gives you enough time for rational thought to kick in again. If it still seems like a good idea after the cooling off period, then you can forge on ahead. 

If you can't wait it out, at least try and buy from stores with a good return policy.

4. Don't store credit card details

The wonders of the internet puts every piece of pointless junk under the sun only a few keyboard strokes away from our twitchy fingers.

A skilled cyberspace shopper hardly need leave the house.

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The one annoyance is having to punch in your credit card details and shipping address, though most websites helpfully offer to store them for future use.

Don't do it.

The measly minute it takes to dig out your credit card might be just enough to break the spell and let sanity prevail.

For once, laziness pays off - the author's reluctance to track down his wallet has put the kibosh on many an unplanned purchase.

5. Remove temptation

Every day, inboxes are deluged with emails offering bargain prices on salon vouchers, restaurant visits and plastic kitsch.

At first, the daily deal websites were fun, but now they're losing their gloss.

By their very nature, any purchases made are guaranteed to be impulse buys. Koh's not a fan of the websites, where the countdown timer adds to the pressure of buying. 

"It's just like an addiction - you need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you will succumb to it," she says.

It's the same with glossy brochures and other mailing lists. Make it easier on yourself and tick the unsubscribe box. 

6. Don't shop while drunk

Stumbling through the mall in a cloud of alcohol fumes is generally frowned upon.  

But it's socially acceptable to curl up in bed after a few wines and shop up a storm on Amazon.

Inebriated shoppers are waking up to a throbbing headache and the horrific realisation that they've ordered Barry Manilow's entire back catalogue.

It was inevitable, really. A survey by shopping website Kelkoo last year revealed 43 per cent of Britons said they had shopped online after drinking.

Some only found out what they'd done when a surprise gift from themselves turned up in the mail.

There's also evidence that online retailers are actively targeting the drunk demographic. If you've had a few, put down the mouse and step away from the computer. In the same way you shouldn't drive when drunk, don't internet shop.

7. Go it alone

"Shopping in groups is usually not so good," says Lee.

You cover a much greater area as you tag along to all the shops where the others want to go, leading to greater temptation.

There's also a kind of 'groupthink' that occurs, says Lee, as people tend to egg each other on.

For example, friends are much more likely to tell you how great the denim miniskirt looks than to mention your overflowing muffin top.

And blokes shopping together will invariably convince each other that they really do need a third power drill or a bigger TV.

Shop alone and avoid the group mentality.

8. Set limits

There's nothing wrong with indulging now and then - it will at least keep you sane.

Koh suggests keeping a separate bank account with a set limit for spending.

"Only use money out of that bank account, so then you won't go overboard with it."

Other strategies could be to leave payment cards at home and only carry the amount of cash that you need.

9. Don't shop when you're emotional

When life treats you badly, there's nothing like a bit of retail therapy to salve your woes.

I'm now the proud owner of a large flat screen television and expensive gaming console, both of which spend most of their time accumulating dust, from just such an occasion.

Impulse buying can also be triggered when you're happy or just plain bored.

"It's a bit like eating chocolate or drinking wine," says Koh. "When people buy things, it gives them an instant lift." 

She warns that for the big impulse buyers, it often goes much deeper than behavioural habits.

"Really you're not going to stop the problem until you deal with the psychological issues that underpin it," she says.

But for the casual spender, the suggestions above might well be enough to improve your finances and avoid the awful sinking feeling of buyer's remorse.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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