How to Control the Shopaholic in You this Holiday Season

From Black Friday doorbuster specials to Christmas sales, the holiday shopping frenzy may soon engage your inner shopaholic – and leave you with a mound of debt by New Year’s.

The average American is expected to spend a little more than $700 on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey with sales reaching $465.6 billion.

If the shopaholic in you is ready to be unleashed, take steps to control your spending habits so you aren’t left with credit card debt and an empty savings account before the year is over.

Use these tips to control your inner shopaholic this holiday season:

Shop at emotionally “neutral” times

Don’t shop when your emotions are running too high or low. Even though many people who get “caught up” in holiday season can overspend when they’re feeling festive, it’s also true that for many shopaholics, the act of shopping and spending is a way to escape from unsettling or negative emotions.

A better strategy: Don’t head to the mall as a form of retail therapy. Make the effort to deal with anger, anxiety, stress, boredom or depression in a healthy way so that shopping doesn’t become an emotional outlet.

If you’re stressed or anxious, talk to a close friend or family member, enjoy a relaxing bath or just take a “time out” from the world and engage in a hobby. Don’t let your emotions fuel any type of shopping spree because you will end up regretting it in the near future.

Always shop with a list

Planning your spending is one of the best ways to keep yourself in check and prevent overspending. Create a master list of gifts you need to purchase and make a promise to yourself that you won’t deviate from it.

Carry these lists with you so you know what you should and shouldn’t be buying when you hit the store.

(Note: your list should bear some semblance to your actual budget – as in, how much you can afford to spend in cash; not how much is available on your credit cards).

Stick to this list as closely as possible, particularly when you’re tempted to splurge on impulse items or buy unplanned-for “gifts” for yourself.

“Pre-shop” online

Another advantage of making a list is that you can pinpoint exactly what you need to purchase – instead of just browsing when you make it to the store. Use the Web as a research tool for comparison shopping and to find some of the best deals on a particular item.

Don’t forget to look for rebates, online discount codes and other coupons from third-party deal sites to reduce costs even further.

But guard against online excesses

Shopaholics can find online shopping to be the ultimate escape but this very activity could end up fueling a spending addiction. If you’re not keeping tabs on spending and just clicking away when you find that “great” deal, you could end up doling out much more money than you planned.

While you can find some unbeatable deals online, make sure you read the refund or exchange policy and are aware of all shipping costs and taxes that will be added to the bill.

Ask yourself if you would buy that same item from a store for that final price. If the answer is “no”, it’s time to move along.

Be honest about your spending

Don’t fool yourself into thinking: “I really haven’t spent that much this holiday season.” Maybe you didn’t spend too much in the last store you hit, or at the last online retailer, but what about your total spending?

If you had to add up everything would it be excessive – or in keeping with your budget?

Keep an up-to-date tally (with you) of all holiday-related purchases, so that after each shopping trip so you have a true and accurate picture of just how much money you’ve spent so far.

Taking a good look at the numbers is one activity few shopaholics actually engage in. When some people are faced with their spending – right there in black-and-white – it sometimes causes them to say: “OK, enough is enough.”

Also, if you make a conscious effort to keep this running total of your purchases, you won’t be in for a big surprise those credit card statements arrive.


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