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Confessions of a Shopaholic: 3 Ways to Curb Spending

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Kit Yarrow is a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and author of “Gen Y: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.

A friend recently wanted to get her spending under control, so she decided not to buy anything except groceries. Four weeks later, she clicked on an email link for a three-hour-only sale and purchased a pair of shoes. It was all it took to get her clicking again: This started a spending binge that resulted in even greater debt than what she had when she started her plan to stop.

Mall occupancy is up, according to a report Monday, and it’s increasingly easy to shop online with the recent surge in sample sales sites. Here are three psychological tools to help shopaholics in 2012:

1. Rebrand Yourself, Discard Self-Hating Labels

It’s not always helpful for anyone to label themselves as a “problem spender.” A better method is to identify with the strength and resolve they have in other parts of their lives and to label previous over-spending as a mistake they will choose not to make in the future. It’s a powerful mental shift away from defensiveness and reactivity toward personal power and control.

My friend shared responsibility and control with her boyfriend. Because of this, satisfying her boyfriend became the goal, rather than altering her spending. We see this in dieters who sneak treats when their spouses aren’t looking. A better method is to state your intentions and ask others to respect your new frugal lifestyle.

2. Unsubscribe from Favorite Online Retailers

Don’t be exposed to temptation by opening those emails from her favorite online stores. Retail email campaigns and deal-of-the-day offers put people in the position of making purchase decisions on a regular basis. They are more insidious than visiting a mall because time pressure elevates the need to act. Anyone serious about curbing spending will cancel all subscriptions.

Retailers glean valuable information about consumers from social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and polls. As SmartMoney.com reported, some retail tricks include: “The Sale Must End Today” (or the day after tomorrow), “Get a Free Gift With Selected Purchases Over $50” or “23% Off.” Studies show odd numbers make it look more like a genuine bargain.

3. Avoid Going Cold Turkey On Spending

Don’t go cold turkey. The fact is that people need to buy things. While drastic reductions in spending are certainly possible, forgoing all spending often results in a slip-up. Once that happens people view themselves as failures, which means they beat themselves up in what’s known as the “what the hell” effect, and so begins the over-spending cycle all over again.

In this case, the goal was a negative one – to stop spending. It’s easier to accomplish positive goals that involve getting something rather than stopping something. An easier goal to accomplish might have been a monthly reduction in a credit card bill. That way, the focus would be on what people are getting out of their resolutions, not just what they appear to be giving up.

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    • Up until a week ago, I felt pretty coaftromble. I change company I work , anything economical want a change. I ‘t see doing near future, ‘s going happen a sense security coming months saw during 90 s blow up anytime, face. over road truck driver, I see 48 states Consumer spending isn’t being hampered much I see tvs being wheeled out box stores everywhere Now people using credit poorly I don’t know know putting themselves a hole again. McCain won, I’d feel a lot better things, now, seeing way things going, I’m going hold back I late 90 s knowing things going really .

    • I’ve been a normal worker with a small salary, but today a millionaire. I have read the wonder book “Stop the Shopaholic in one day”.

    • When I worked at a law firm, I attended a seminar where we received a book that has helped me for the past three years, The Model Rules of Personal Finance for Professionals from the American Bar Association. I don’t make a lot of money but what I do I want to keep and make the best use of for me so I’m not having to be anxious about money.

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  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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