What is it about this time of year that makes us abandon our best intentions and dip into our purse or wallet for the credit card? It is all part of a carefully orchestrated buying frenzy. When we are looking for gifts, the brain releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone, which reduces our rational thoughts and makes us more susceptible to impulses.
The marketers have our number and are using psychology to get us to buy. That’s their job, and they are good at it. But understanding what makes us buy will allow us to spend but not overspend. Take note of these holiday tactics.
Even the most common items are dressed up during the holiday season. They shimmer and shine. We are wowed by metallic and sparkles. Gold and silver make items seem more special. A gold plate must make the food taste better, and we look far better in sequined apparel. That’s why the stores are filled with tinsel and glitzy décor.
Subliminally, the sounds of the season can make us purchase. We hear Nat King Cole singing about chestnuts on an open fire and we are instantly transported to another time. This nostalgic feeling causes us to buy items in an effort to recreate that past time. They even have a name for it, rosy retrospection.
Smells can do the same thing. Have you noticed that the scents of Christmas are gingerbread and cinnamon? Those smells take us back to a simpler time when we were making cookies with grandma. It may be in the form of a candle scent instead of cookie dough, but you are instantly back in grandma’s kitchen. Again, we buy to recreate those times.
Why do we head out of the house the day after Thanksgiving at 5 a.m.? We have all read the ads and know that the best deals have a limit. Either the price is good for a limited amount of time or there are only a limited amount of these great deals available. Count on retailers to turn holiday shopping into a competitive sport. If there is a limit, we want to make sure we get ours before others do. In fact, for many, the idea that someone else will get a better deal than you is unbearable.
In the same manner, many retailers will set out the coffee and cookies this time of year. Feeding you will keep you shopping longer. We feel like we are visiting in the house of a generous friend who cares enough to give us cookies. The reality is that we spend more when we are relaxed. The cookies and other goodies put us in that feel good, relaxed state where we are willing to spend more.
Pleasing kids pleases mom and dad. This is the time of the year that you may find that heartstrings will loosen purse strings. Visits to St. Nick are not only fun for kids, but they also reduce a parent’s critical thinking skills. The glow from Santa’s visit and the list that children give Santa may make you shell out more in the shopping trip that follows. In fact, when children’s holiday activities are included, parents spend more than if it was just a shopping trip.
The holidays are a magical time. Fun and shopping abound. But don’t let these marketing tactics overrule your budget or your better judgement.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.