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08/30/2013 08:31 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2015

5 Moments When You're Most Likely To Overspend

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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.

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