5 Tips for Not Over-Spending — on Black Friday, or Any Other Time.

In the United States, Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, and the Friday following the holiday is known as “Black Friday.” It’s such a popular shopping day that one explanation for the name is that it’s the day when retailers go from being “in the red” to “in the black” (i.e., they start to show a profit).

Many people begin their holiday shopping on Black Friday; there are sales and special promotions; it’s a popular day to visit the mall.

Which means that for some people, it’s a challenge not to over-spend. 

In my book Better Than Before, about how to change habits, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to make or break a habit. If you’re worried about spending too much, try these strategies:

1.The Strategy of Monitoring: keep close track of what you’re spending. It’s easy to forget various purchases, or maybe even to forget to check a price tag. Monitoring has a very powerful effect — even if we’re not even trying to change a behavior, we tend to do a better job if we monitor it.

2. The Strategy of Distinctions — cash or credit cards: Some people do a better job controlling spending when they use cash.  For most people, using cash makes it harder to spend, because handing over actual bills feels hard. In fact, that’s one reason that casinos use chips instead of cash; loss seems more imaginary when you’re not handing over actual greenbacks.

On the other hand, some people are more careful when they use credit cards. They know that they’re going to confront a record of every single dollar they spent. So do what works best for you.

3. The Strategy of Clarity: shop from a list, so you know exactly what you’re planning to buy, and you don’t make impulse purchases. If you’re shopping for Christmas presents, say, don’t buy something for yourself.

4. The Strategy of Accountability: have a partner who has to be notified every time you make a purchase. You could go shopping with your sweetheart who holds your wallet, for instance, or — like a friend of mine — you could text your brother every time you pull out your wallet. She found that just knowing that her brother would see what she was buying helped her to make better choices.

Remember, if you’re an Obliger, you need accountability! This is crucial! If you want to form an Accountability Group, to get that crucial accountability, you can join the Better app. If you don’t know if you’re an Obliger–or an Upholder, Questioner, or Rebel–take the quiz here.

5. Strategy of Loophole Spotting. “Boy, we’re good at thinking of loopholes. What are some loopholes you might invoke, as you’re browsing the aisles?”

Moral licensing loophole: “I’ve been so good sticking to my budget, I deserve to splurge a little.”

Tomorrow loophole: “Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be so frugal, it doesn’t matter what I do today.”

Lack of control loophole: “Stores are designed to be so tempting that no one could resist buying.”

Arranging to fail loophole: “I’m not going to buy a single thing today, but I thought I’d just come and look around, for fun.”

Questionable assumption loophole: “If it’s Black Friday, this price must be a good bargain.”

Fake self-actualization loophole: “You only live once, I should treat myself!”

One-coin loophole: “What difference is this one purchase going to make? I’m not going to bust my budget in one store.”

When we recognize that we’re invoking a loophole, we’re able to resist.

How about you? Have you found some good ways to avoid over-spending?

Now, I myself am an under-buyer, so I don’t have trouble with over-spending. I have trouble with under-spending; it’s inconvenient and inefficient to be an under-buyer. So I have to force myself to purchase.

On the subject of money, you may be interested in this question: Which of These Four Stories Do You Tell Yourself about Money?

  • Mimi Gregor

    As a Questioner, I question the entire idea of giving gifts. Unless you know exactly what the person wants, you will undoubtedly get him the wrong item or something he will not use for whatever reason. Since Christmas anymore seems to be all about acquisition, it makes more sense for people to take advantage of the sales to buy what they themselves want/need and let their loved ones do the same. Personally, I think most people have enough useless crap taking up space, and fail to see this need to buy more as “a gift”. They get the initial high that comes from buying the item, and then a week later, the item lies around forgotten… something that takes up space and needs to be cleaned around.

  • Gillian

    These are some great suggestions for controlling one’s spending. However, you missed the most important one – don’t participate in Black Friday! I completely agree with Mimi’s comments.

    I find it ironic that in the US, the day after one of the most special days in your year, when you express gratitude for life’s abundance and spend precious time with people you love, you go on a shopping spree. Black Friday is a manifestation of North America’s odious obsession with excessive material consumption. Unfortunately, it is now spreading across your northern border into Canada. Although we celebrate Thanksgiving in early October, not late November, there are Black Friday sales all over the place. (Our traditional equivalent is Boxing Day sales on December 26. An equally odious practice.)

    Again, to Mimi’s point – we don’t need all this stuff ourselves and neither do the people you might give it to. Is it really necessary to replace that e-gadget you bought last year with a new one? What happens to the old one – the landfill? How many people consider the environmental and climate consequences of all this consumption? it is huge!!! We are all paying the price.

    There are people in North America who do not share in the general prosperity but they are not the ones hitting the malls on Black Friday because they don’t have the money – even at sale prices. If you are fortunate enough to have a lot of spare cash at this time of year, perhaps you can find a way to help those people.

    It seems to me that the Friday after Thanksgiving would be a good time to continue the gratitude you presumably expressed on Thursday and a good time to reflect on what really matters in life – I don’t think that material stuff would be very high on most people’s lists.

    And, Gretchen, while there certainly are over-buyers, I don’t believe there is any such thing as an under-buyer. The less you consume, the better. At a personal level, you might cause yourself some minor inconvenience but looked at from a planetary perspective (the most important perspective) you are doing a service.

    • Elena

      Are you thinking that it is only spreading across to Canada ? I am in Istanbul, Turkey. Right now on the window of the small shop across the street I can read the script Black Friday. This is a small neighborhood with a lot of people who don’t even speak English and the shop is by no means international. American consumption obsession is far more influential than you may think.
      And I agree completely with every word you say about consumption, however it seems the world is unable to find any otherway to keep the economy going.

      • Gillian

        Oh, no! It’s even worse than I thought. Even in Istanbul!

        The world needs to rapidly change to a low-carbon, low-consumption, steady-state economy. The result of not doing so will be catastrophe. The spread of the American obsession with material consumption is destroying the world. Maybe when Donald Trump’s Florida resort is under a couple of feet of seawater we will start to see a will to change.

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