Leave this at home when you go shopping (or you’ll regret it)

What should you leave at home when you go shopping this summer? Jennifer Boaro prefers this strategy: Put your credit cards into a cup of water. Then store it in the freezer.

“That way,” says Boaro, a furniture designer from Bellevue, Wash., “I have to wait for the ice to melt before I can use it.”

Ah, the things we do to keep us from overshopping. Almost 1 in 10 Americans is a compulsive shopper, and the disorder even has a name: Compulsive Buying (CB). Interestingly, most of the research points to poor planning, not a hedonistic lifestyle, as the reason for overdoing it. So if you’re stuck with a five-figure credit card bill, a few adjustments to your shopping experience could do the trick.

This is a good time to try some new strategies. With the upcoming Memorial Day sales just ahead, you can’t afford to wait. And don’t forget the Fourth of July, Labor Day and then — watch out! — Black Friday and Christmas.

You don’t have to become a statistic. Last week in this column, I discussed the items you should take shopping with you. Today, I present a list of things you should leave behind:

Another person with CB or young kids with little self-control.
“Any parent will tell that you that trying to do any kind of shopping with young children can feel like a truly impossible task at times,” says Kerri Moriarty, a veteran shopper and head of company development at the financial website Cinch Financial. But that can be true when you’re shopping with friends or a significant other. The best shoppers go solo, says Moriarty. They’re focused and determined to find the product they need at the best price.

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A bad day.
Many CB sufferers turn to retail therapy to make them feel better. Retailers even promote it as a way of easing some of your life’s stress. Go shopping; it’ll make you feel better! “However, spending money is unrelated to whatever is bothering you,” says Kendal Perez, a savings expert with CouponSherpa.com, a coupon website. “It only provides a short-term high that may result in an even worse day if your problems are spending-related.” Indeed, the right state of mind isn’t just desirable for shoppers — it’s required.

An unlimited budget.
If you have one of those platinum cards without a spending limit, you should keep it in your freezer. “Don’t leave home without a limit,” says April Masini of “Ask April” fame, who has seen more than her fair share of relationships wither under the pressure of extreme debt. “If you’re someone who’s prone to spending — or overspending — give yourself a thoughtful limit before you leave home.” If you know you suffer from a touch of CB, talk to the person you may choose to take with you. Set a limit and ask that person to hold you accountable. Note: Did I mention you should leave your kids at home?

Your credit card.
Jocelyn Johnson, a mother of two girls from Elkins Park, Pa., can’t leave them at home when she goes shopping, so she does the next best thing: she leaves her credit cards. “Instead, I gave myself a weekly cash allowance, so as I shop, I’m not tempted to grab items just because it’s on sale or only $2.99,” she says. “This also helps me regulate impulse buying when my girls want to just throw items in the cart.”

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I’ve used the “oops-I-left-my-credit-card-at-home” excuse myself, but it only works for a while with kids. Sooner or later, they’ll ask you if you remembered your card before you leave. And then, as they say, the jig is up.

If you suffer from CB or know someone who does, these strategies might help. But as before, the only way to stay safe is to keep away from the mall, the big box retail store, or the computer. And helping you do that is beyond the scope of this column.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Alan Gore

    Now my wife is going to complain about carrying around a block of ice in her purse.

  • Charles Owen

    Several points:

    1. We are moving to a cashless society. Like it or not, while it used to be that credit cards were a luxury you used for major purchases only, you can now buy almost anything with a credit card. Even vending machines now accept credit cards. Cash is complicated and difficult to count and track and easy to steal. Credit cards are electronic and easy, so there is more and more incentive to do away with cash or make it harder to use. Ask anyone from Sweden, where cash is now just 2% of transactions. Better to learn responsibility than silly frozen credit card tricks, because lack of responsibility is going to make it harder and harder to get by.

    2. If you have $500 cash in your wallet, can you tell what you spent it on at the end of the month? I doubt it. Nearly everything we spend money on is on credit cards. It all goes into a spreadsheet in columns by budget category regularly during the month. I can tell you exactly what we spent on groceries or gas or entertainment every single month. Can you really do that with cash without resorting to silly envelope systems? One of the most valuable things you can do when trying to budget is keep track of everything. It’s easy with credit cards. It’s hard with cash.

    3. It’s easy to burn large amounts of money using credit cards. But, it’s just as easy using cash, only it will consist of lots of little purchases you made because they were so easy.

    4. Pay off your balance every month (and please don’t give me that “you’re a deadbeat” nonsense.) We have not paid any interest in decades.

  • Stephen0118

    If leaving your credit card/debit card at home is your strategy and you’re flying, you have to make sure you bring what you need with you. jetBlue charges you for blankets and headphones (and they don’t accept cash) so make sure you bring your own if you intend to fly them.

  • LeeAnneClark

    The credit-card-in-ice strategy won’t work when you can easily use your cellphone these days with apps such as Apple-Pay! Can’t exactly freeze your cellphone in block of ice… ;-)

  • RightNow9435

    I charge almost everything on credit cards….and ALWAYS pay the balance in FULL every month. That way most everything is 1-5% less, depending on the credit card used. Of course, the key to this is only buying what you would have paid cash for, and paying off in full monthly, both of which you do need discipline to do. Same here re never paying credit card interest in decades

  • AJPeabody

    Just add a 256 digit unlock code. That will slow you down!

  • Alan Gore

    Or on an iPhone, use your big toe as the authentication print.

  • LeeAnneClark

    LOL! I actually do use ApplePay quite a bit, and I’ve had some difficulty using my thumbprint…mainly if I’m freshly showered, or my thumb is at all damp. If I try to use it within an hour after I’ve showered, it won’t work at all. Maybe showering makes my fingers plump up to the point where it alters my prints?

    Note to criminals: be sure to shower right before you commit your crime, so your fingerprints can’t be traced. ;-)

  • redragtopstl

    Hear, hear.

    We only use no-fee credit cards, pay ’em off each month … and check each quarter to see which ones are giving cashback bonuses in certain categories. (Yes, we track that info on a spreadsheet and post it on the fridge. I also take a photo with my phone so I have it with me.) We usually use our cashback to buy restaurant gift cards, and we can treat ourselves and/or someone else to a nice dinner.

  • MarkKelling

    The modern chip card does not take well to freezing, especially in water. The chip will fail. But I guess that solves the problem of using the card. ;-)

    I treat my credit card like a debit card — if I don’t have the money in my checking account, I don’t charge it. And then I pay off the card in full every month.

    I used to not be that way. My earlier jobs I worked in didn’t pay that much and I let my balances build up. I got a wakeup slap in the face when one credit card company sent two goons to talk to me at the place I was using their card too much. I managed over several years to finally get my stuff together. I have not paid a penny of interest to any credit card in over 30 years.

  • Karen Donner

    I love to shop. Seriously love it. It calms me down and makes me happy. But here’s what I’ve discovered: I don’t have to buy! I just go to one of my favorite shopping sites, spend a happy half-hour putting stuff in my basket, going back and forth and then …. close the tab. Seriously, that’s what works for me. Window-shopping in person doesn’t have nearly as powerful a placebo effect.

    Part of the deal is that i have to actually be halfway serious about buying something and then flip the switch at the end. Saying “I’m going to fake-shop for awhile” doesn’t give me the same effect. But over the past few years I’ve gotten much better at saying to myself “Nope, don’t really need any of that,” right before it’s time to put the credit card or Paypal info in.

  • Alan Gore

    Yes: Apple Pay has trouble with wet hands, mostly because water is filling in the ridges of your print. Drying your “buying hand” even a little helps.

    My serious advice for Apple Pay users is to use your non-dominant thumb to authenticate. The print will be in more usable shape, especially for chrono-Americans.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I actually have both thumbprints saved to be used. So if one is giving me a hard time, I can usually get the other one to work.

    Unless I’m freshly showered. Then neither will work at all. ;-) It just doesn’t like those plump freshly cleaned thumbs!

  • John McDonald

    with economy faultering around the world, the cash economy will boom. Most small businesses will give you discounts for cash

  • Noah Kimmel

    pretty sure all US airlines are cashless in flight now

  • Noah Kimmel

    if you don’t have CB, a savvy credit card strategy is actually a pro-consumer move. Credit cards can offer meaningful rewards (points or cash back) as well as other protections such as return protection, theft or damage protection, electronics repair, extended warranties, price protection, trip insurance, elite loyalty status benefits, ability to chargeback, among others.

    It is important to pay off balances in full, not spend beyond your means, and ideally track your spending with rewards to optimize card choice.

    Just a month ago, I had a $500 repair on an apple laptop covered by chase / visa 2 years after purchase and all I had to do was fill out one page form and include a receipt! I’ve had plenty of meals and hotels paid for by Amex when flights have been long delayed. Lounge benefits on international travel? Thank you Sapphire Reserve Card. Points for tons of “free” travel…

    I will never understand Elliott’s imperative to ignore such great consumer protections and benefits.

  • joycexyz

    That’s why I love Amazon’s Wishlist. I can add items to it, not just from Amazon, but from other sites as well. Then I can revisit days, or even weeks, later, and remove most of them. The ones left are for consideration.

  • Tricia K

    I realize this is about controlling adult impulse shopping, but the line about the kids and forgetting the credit card hit a note. My parents did their best but were not a good example of how to plan and budget money. I worked hard to educate myself to live life differently and lose the financial stress they lived with daily. When your kids want something at the store, perhaps the more accurate and appropriate thing to say to your kids is “that is not in our budget right now,” or something else that is age appropriate. I wish I could give proper credit to the author of the book about raising kids who know how to manage money I read while my son was young, but that is something I learned from her. I also learned to give them an allowance matched to their age (7 year old gets $7 a week), half goes into the bank and half goes to the child. (We adjusted that to my husband’s every other week pay schedule). Then, when we were in a store and they wanted a candy bar, my first question was how much money do you have? If they didn’t have enough, they didn’t get it (I did allow them to pay me when we got home). They learned small amounts of money add up quickly (each had around five thousand in their accounts at the end of high school) and I let them make a bad purchase once in a while to see that not everything is at it appears on tv. And then I showed them how most stores accept returns with a receipt and that there are ways of fixing some cases of buyer’s remorse. They also learned the value of delayed gratification when it took more than a few allowance cycles and extra chores to have enough money for the newest video game. It worked very well to teach them to be financially responsible. My daughter paid off her student loans about four years after graduating.

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