Sneaky Strategies That Fuel Overspending

By Tara Struyk AAA

With your first step through the mall doors, the Christmas music hits you. "It can\'t be that time again already," you grumble in your "Grinchiest" voice. "Weren\'t there jack-o-lanterns in the Macy\'s window just two days ago?" Yet, by the time you make it to the checkout counter you\'re humming "Deck the Halls" with the other rubes, and your arms are stuffed with stocking stuffers. How did this happen? Don\'t feel too bad, you\'re one of the multitudes who have been tricked by vendors to increase your spending at this time of year.

Thirty-six percent of adults spend more than they can afford, according 2006 survey by the Pew Research group. This means that between you and your two best friends, one of you will be breaking your Christmas budget this year.

Overspending is never more evident than during the holidays, when holiday spirit can trip-up even the most careful budgeters, and retailers work especially hard to squeeze every last drop of sales out of customers. But, you can save on your holiday purchases without being a Scrooge. Read on to bust six of the most common tricks retailers use to put a little extra jingle in their cash register every holiday season.

Fighting Temptation and Tricks
The tendency to overspend because of holiday cheer is not lost on retailers, who do their very best to capitalize on shoppers\' relaxed spending attitudes. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average shopper spent almost $900 dollars on holiday shopping in 2006 on items such as gifts, cards, decorations and food. And these purchases provided a full 20% of sales for the retail industry. Because a lot of their yearly sales figures depend on the holiday season, you can bet they won\'t be cutting any of their tricks from Santa\'s pack this year. Let\'s take a look at six of the most common strategies to increase your spending, and hopefully help you avoid them and the long lines this holiday season.

1. Creating Hype
Stores open early and close late, advertise blowout sales and harp on the daily countdown to Christmas, all in an attempt to create a sense of urgency for shoppers and encourage them to buy. Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, generally kicks off this frenzy-inducing trend. In 2006, nearly 59 million people shopped on Black Friday alone, according to the NRF, but the hyped-up holiday shopping generally continues throughout December.

Saving Tip: It\'s really hard to stick to your spending plan when you\'re staring at the last iPhone in the mall and there\'s a crowd waiting in line behind you to snatch it out of our hands. Avoiding peak shopping days and hours will give you some time to weigh your choices more carefully and avoid pressure-induced impulse buys. You can also shop and/or research your choices online, so that you can avoid going to the store altogether, or already have an item picked out for you when you get there. (For more advice, read Five Money-Saving Shopping Tips and Patience Pays For Consumers.)

2. Encouraging Excess
You may have noticed that some stores, such as Old Navy and H&M, provide shopping totes or shopping bags for shoppers upon entering the store. This is convenient for shoppers, but it may also be a spending trap. After all, if everything you pick up is conveniently tucked into these oversized totes, it will be easier for you to carry more merchandise around the store, making you less likely to put it down. It will also make it easier for you to lose track of how many items you\'ve chosen and could lead to you spend more than you\'d planned.

Saving Tip: There\'s nothing wrong with buying several things at the same store, but if you\'re trying to curb unnecessary spending, it\'s important to remain aware of what you are buying and how much it will cost. If you have a budget to stick to (and you should), don\'t walk aimlessly into a large store with a shopping bag to fill - it\'s a recipe for budgetary disaster! If you do end up with several items, sort through them and add up your total bill before you get to the cash register. That way, if the goods add up to way more than you intended or are willing to spend, you\'ll have time to decide whether you should put something back. (For related reading, see The Beauty Of Budgeting and Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season.)

3. Concealing the Deals
When you walk into a store, consider the layout. Where and how to display specific items is not left to chance. In fact, it\'s carefully planned. Retail studies have shown that people tend to head to the right when they enter a store. As a result, the most expensive items - and those with the highest profit margins - are found on the right-hand side of the store. Similarly, if a store seems to be highlighting a specific item, it is probably also one that provides higher returns to the retailer. Likewise, in many stores, sale or discounted items are tucked into a back corner and are omitted from attractive displays.

Saving Tip: Retailers generally put the most work behind selling items that yield higher returns. That\'s not to say that you shouldn\'t buy these items, but just be aware that if you do, you are probably paying a premium. If you\'re shopping for savings, try checking the store\'s sales items first. In other words, start your shopping at the back of the store and work your way to the front. You may find something similar to the higher priced goods that caught your eye at the front of the store for a lower price.


4.
Reneging on Rebates
Retailers offer an astounding variety of discounts and deals during the holiday season, but some of these sales end up costing shoppers more than they\'d planned. For example, mail-in rebates, which are generally applied to electronic goods, allow stores to advertise goods at a lower price. So, a $350 digital camera may be advertised at $290* (*with $60 mail-in rebate). This sounds like a nice savings - the problem is, it is a hassle to send in rebates, which often can take several months to get to you, if at all.

Retailers refer to a failure to redeem a rebate as "breakage" and rather than being an anomaly, retailers often count on a certain percentage of breakage and deliberately make it difficult for you to get your money back. For example, in 1999 Parago Inc., the company behind electronic retailing giant CircuitCity, filed a patent for an online redemption system that would allow the company to provide a "more consumer friendly method for processing rebates that maintains a breakage rate [emphasis added]". The patent goes on to describe the technology as a system that "provides a user friendly interface, yet retains hurdles sufficient to maintain breakage." In other words, some stores will compel you spend more money by tricking you into thinking it will cost you less.

Saving Tip: If you come across the perfect gift that includes a mail-in rebate, consider whether it falls within your budget without the rebate. That way, you can consider the rebate a bonus if it comes through. If you do buy the item, be persistent in pursuing your rebate. Many companies will make you jump through hoops to get it, but most will eventually give in and mail the check if you stay on top of them.

5. Bogus Bargains
Merchandise thrown in a bin suggests its on sale, right? Not always. Higher end stores will also use this method to make people think they are getting something on sale when really, it\'s regularly priced. Similarly, stores will often mix sale and non-sale items together to confuse shoppers into buying the more expensive items. This is particularly true when items are offered on sale when purchased in multiples, such as when two DVDs are sold together for $35, but cost $20 each when you buy separately.

Saving Tip: Less expensive items are usually placed in the least visible and/or least convenient location in the hope that you\'ll go for the more expensive, prominently placed items. Therefore, if you want to find the best sales (or just compare prices), you\'ll have to spend more time browsing. In electronics stores, lower priced items tend to be placed on lower, less accessible shelves. In clothing and department stores, sale items are frequently found at the back.

6. Preying on Impulse
If you\'re standing in line at the electronics store to buy a new gadget for someone on your list, chances are you\'ll be surrounded with all the accessories to go with it. The huge display case of batteries will remind you that the new gadget you\'re waiting to buy won\'t be much fun on Christmas morning without them. The retailer is hoping that if you\'re standing in that line for several minutes, or if you\'ve left your shopping until the last possible minute, and that you\'ll scoop up these items and pay the premium for buying them there, rather than comparing prices elsewhere in the store or buying them at a discount retailer.

Saving Tip: There are always items you\'re going to need every year, such as cards, wrapping paper and, yes, batteries. Plan ahead and shop for these items well before the holiday shopping season begins and you are rushing to pull your shopping list together. Better yet, buy these items at deep discounts in January and save them for the next year.

Conclusion
For some people, holiday shopping is all part of the fun of the season. But for many, this "Christmas cheer" may wear off when the bills come rolling in. If you keep your spending in check and avoid falling prey to retailers\' sneaky attempts to get you to spend more, you may come out feeling all the more merrier for it.

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