By Candace Braun Davison
Little things can trigger impulse buys. Knowing these unexpected times when you may be getting spend-y can help you keep them in check.
When You're Avoiding The Crowds
Back-to-school shopping season is in high gear, and, for sanity-keeping purposes, you may be tempted to tackle your school supplies list at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, when Walmart is practically guaranteed to be blessedly empty. But shopping at crowded stores could help your wallet: We're less likely to buy unnecessary items when we're surrounded by swarms of people, a Journal of Consumer Research study found. It's like we go into survival mode, where we immediately think of what we need to get in and get out (and emerge relatively unscathed).
When You've Opened Another Bank Account
It's hard to resist the $50 cash bonus for opening an extra account or starting a "fun" fund to get you through those slogging winter months, but a May 2013 study found that people tend to save more when they have just one place to deposit money. That's because they have a better knowledge of how much is there -- and how much they're spending, researchers say. When our income is spread across a few places, we can easily justify a purchase by thinking, "oh, but I have money in that other account, too."
When You're Buying Something Embarrassing
If you've ever bought some candy, a magazine or a Collector's Edition Seinfeld DVD box set to deflect from what you really need to pick up (ahem, antifungal foot cream), you're not alone: almost 80 percent of people spend money on unnecessary extras to divert the cashier's and other shoppers' attention, finds a July 2013 study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
If the thought of buying just the item you really need makes you anxious, search for a distraction purchase you'll use, like paper towels or toothpaste. It may even save you a 10 p.m. grocery-store run in a few weeks.
When You Could Use a Little Support
It's no surprise that we're likely to splurge when we're feeling down, but 75 percent of women say they're shopping to treat someone else, finds University of Hertfordshire research. Sadness can make us crave others' support, and buying gifts for those we care about can help us feel more connected to them, explains Sheconomics co-author Karen Pine, PhD, who conducted the study. Plus, when money is tight, it's easier to justify spending on someone other than ourselves.
When You're Reminded Of The Time
The clock can rule our schedules, our thoughts and, as it turns out, our bank accounts. When a sign encouraged people to "spend a little time, enjoy C&D's lemonade," they were more likely to stop and buy a drink -- and pay 51 percent more for it (compared to a those who saw a sign that asked them to "spend a little money"). Why? In the 2008 study from Stanford University, researchers found that 'spending time' makes us feel more like we're buying an experience, not parting with our hard-earned cash.
The subtle shift is enough to make us feel like we're investing in something to do -- which most other research states will make us happier than material possessions -- but in essence, it's just stuff masquerading as an experience.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Check Off The 'Add Nearby Airports' Box: $41
The sweet spot for buying plane tickets seems to change all the time. <a href="http://www.kayak.com/">Kayak.com</a> now says its customers are finding the lowest domestic fares 21 days before travel, and the lowest international fares 34 days before. Whenever you buy, though, you should use the site's Add Nearby Airports tool; it's a box you check off right under the From and To city fields -- but a Kayak rep told us only one in five users actually does this. We recently searched the site for a round-trip ticket from JFK to Fort Lauderdale (<a href="http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/2010-travel-stats-%E2%80%94-busiest-travel-weeks-top-destinations-in-u-s-and-abroad-top-airline-routes/">it's one of the most traveled routes in the United States</a>) and came up with a $241 fare. Clicking on Add Nearby Airports shaved off $41 and brought us to nearby West Palm Beach. Depending on your final destination (e.g., if you're headed to Boca Raton, which is about halfway between the two Florida airports), it may not matter which one you fly into.
Get The Kid-Size Popcorn, Even If You're Seeing A Grown-Up Movie: $6
You're not the only one who's annoyed with the cost of movie theater snacks: Earlier this year, <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20120304/NEWS06/203040519/Filmgoer-takes-stand-on-costly-snacks-sues-AMC-Livonia-theater">a Michigan man filed a class-action suit against his local AMC theater</a> because he was so fed up with paying $8 for Goobers and a Coke. Although coupons are hard to come by (concessions are where theaters make most of their money) -- and sneaking in your own food isn't technically allowed -- you can save some cash by ordering off the kids' menu. A small popcorn and small soda at a chain theater we called in Indianapolis cost $12, while a kid-size popcorn and soda there are only $6 -- and you get a package of gummy candy, too.
Buy Groceries With A Card: $3.20 Each Time You Get Gas
Many supermarkets have loyalty cards that reward shoppers with discounts on future purchases. <a href="http://www.mypricechopper.com/my_price_chopper/default.aspx">Price Chopper</a>, <a href="http://www.kroger.com/fuel/Pages/default.aspx">Kroger</a>, <a href="http://www.safeway.com/ShopStores/RewardPoints.page">Safeway</a>, <a href="https://www.winndixie.com/SR/fuelperks/Default.aspx">Winn-Dixie</a> and other chains, though, have started giving their regular customers discounted gas at participating stations. The discount varies by program, but customers typically receive a 20-cent-per-gallon reduction for spending $200 on groceries. With the national average cost of a gallon of gas currently at $3.23, a 16-gallon tank of gas costs $51.68. Knocking 20 cents off each gallon drops the cost to $48.48.
Be Okay With A Full Inbox: $40
We know: The last thing you need is more email. But many online retailers offer immediate discounts of anywhere from 10 to 40 percent if you sign up for their free newsletters (plus you'll get a steady stream of coupons throughout the year). The least annoying way to do this is to set up an account just for this purpose (something like JaneLovesDiscounts@gmail.com works). <a href="https://app.bedbathandbeyond.com/prefs/pref.cfm">Bed Bath & Beyond</a>, for example, gives you 20 percent off one item, so a $200 bedding set would only cost $160. <a href="https://www.hm.com/us/newsletter">H&M</a>, <a href="http://www.americanapparel.net/subscription/subscribe/en/">American Apparel</a>, <a href="https://www.burlingtonsignup.com/Signup.aspx">Burlington Coat Factory</a>, <a href="http://www.crocs.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-crocs_us-Site/default/Newsletter-Subscribe">Crocs</a> and many other retailers have similar deals.
Make Dinner Reservations Online: $20
You may think of <a href="http://www.opentable.com/">OpenTable.com</a>, the site where you can make free restaurant reservations, as a helpful tool for planning a date night, but your local bar and grill might be on the site too. While you may not usually make a reservation before heading there for burgers on a Friday night, there are perks to doing so through OpenTable: Before you know it, you'll have racked up enough points to win yourself a $20 gift card to use at any restaurant listed on the site.
Give A Gift They'll Never Know Was On Sale: $6
Gift cards can be a busy (or forgetful) person's ace in the hole. But the recipient doesn't have to know you only paid $44 for that $50 Applebee's gift certificate. Sites like <a href="http://www.giftcardrescue.com/">GiftCardRescue.com</a> offer anywhere from 3 to 30 percent off the face value of cards from dozens of restaurants and stores. It's also a good way to snag a deal for yourself, e.g., stocking up on $86 worth of shoes from Payless for $68.
Know That Something Borrowed Can Apply To Bridesmaids Too: $100
Most bridesmaid dresses cost between $150 and $200. Add $75 for shoes and another $60 for jewelry, <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/06/30/bridesmaids.cost/index.html?hpt=hp_c2">CNN reports</a>, plus $100 for manicures, hair and makeup (not to mention wedding gifts, travel expenses, etc.), and you're looking at about $1,700 to be in your best friend's wedding. Is it surprising, then, that companies have popped up offering rental dresses for the bride's BFFs? <a href="http://www.littleborroweddress.com/">Little Borrowed Dress</a> is one; it stocks a range of rental silk dresses for $50 to $75. Your gown arrives two weeks before the wedding day, and you just pop it in the mail after the party. You'll free up closet space and save yourself a very pricey conversation about how you'll turn your purchase into a cocktail dress.
Abandon Your Shopping Cart: $24
Anyone who has quibbled over prices with a vendor knows you get the best offer when you pretend you're not interested after all. The technique of walking away can work online too: Some sites contact would-be customers after they put items in their shopping carts but don't follow through with a purchase, offering discounts and other incentives via email. This <a href="http://business.time.com/2012/09/27/the-passive-aggressive-way-to-haggle-online-abandon-your-shopping-cart/">recent Time article</a> lists stores that have done this; just remember you have to get far enough into the checkout process to log in or enter your email address for it to work. Recent example: We put a $120 North Face jacket from O2GearShop.com in our cart, left and got an email with the subject line "Forget something?" a few days later offering us 20 percent ($24) off.
Be The Summer Camp Early Bird: $99
Many summer camps for kids, both general and special-interest ones, offer significant discounts if you sign up early. <a href="http://www.redtri.com/portland-kids/trackers-summer-camps-early-registration-discounts">Trackers Summer Camps</a> in Portland, Oregon, is one; it knocks off 10 percent if you sign up by February 22. <a href="http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Summer-Camp-Early-Enrollment-Special.html?soid=1103063442994&aid=EKCKcwlwWHs">The Easton School of Rock</a> in Easton, Pennsylvania, is another, lowering the cost of its program from $495 to $396 if you register before the end of March. If only we could save money by meeting every other deadline in our lives early.... <strong>Next: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/money/Advice-from-Money-Experts-How-to-Spend-Less-and-Earn-More">The 7 money mantras experts live by</a></strong>