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How to Avoid Impulse Buys on Cyber Monday

Leave the “but it’s 40 percent off!” excuse behind with these five easy tricks for avoiding online impulse buys.

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cyber monday

Are you shopping at work again? (Don’t worry—we are too.)

Cyber Monday, the marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving, is the online equivalent of Black Friday—without the total mob scene parking lots and lines. Last year, 107 million shoppers hopped online for Cyber Monday (70 million of whom were at work) and total sales topped $1 billion for the first time in Internet history.

MORE: Restyle Your Wardrobe Without Spending a Dime!

Today, online deals are surely flooding your inbox and popping up in search ads. That’s no coincidence. Websites have tons of techniques to trick you into buying more than you need (and more than you can afford).

To get a little insight, we spoke with a web programmer for an online commerce website about some of the tricks of the trade. “A lot of websites will try to induce a sense of urgency or panic, with the intention of guiding your cursor toward the big ‘buy’ button,” he says. “They even test which design will make people buy the most; button placement, shopping cart displays and animated banners—usually on the right side of the screen—make you more likely to lay your credit card down.” 

COLUMN: Controlling Your Impulse Shopping Urge

Pretty much every site you go to will offer a “call to action” on the first page—cues like “order now for free shipping” or “buy one, get one 50 percent off”—enticing you to behave like a kid in a candy store. Amazon.com’s homepage cleverly includes a countdown showing how many of each item is left. The message? “Time is running out! Buy now!”

Sure, we’ve bought $300 worth of clothing just because “40 percent off—three hours only!” seemed like such a fabulous deal, but that’s still $300 we maybe didn’t need to spend. So amid the discount mania, we’re here to help you take advantage of deals you do need and save your pennies on deals you don’t.

Try our top five ways to avoid impulse buys on Cyber Monday:

Make a shopping list. “It’s hard to keep track of all the shopping you’re doing at the holidays,” says YouBeauty Psychology Advisor, Art Markman, Ph.D. “It’s like trying to juggle eight balls.” Instead, he suggests making a shopping list and setting a budget before you start browsing. Then have fun finding the best deal for everything on your list. If there’s a little extra in the budget after the list is done, use it to treat yourself.

GALLERY: Holiday Gifts That Give Back

Tally the total cost. Thirty dollars might not seem like much, but $30 at lots of different sites adds up. Before you purchase anything, find all the items you’d like to buy, then tally the total cost. Seeing that hundred-and-something tally gives you one last chance to reconsider. 

Limit your browsing time. Surely you’ve been sucked into the virtual vortex before (3 hours on Facebook, really?), but not today. Plan a busy day for yourself so that you can’t possibly spend all day on the web, and set aside one hour for holiday shopping—enough to make a dent in your shopping list without doing too much damage.

Sit with a friend. Friends can hold you accountable while you shop, says Markman, especially if they’re a bit more budget-conscious. Browse together—with your shopping lists, of course—and keep each other honest. (Don’t have a friend on hand? Try videochatting to keep each other in check.)

Leave and come back. Even though that bright red velvet dress looks absolutely essential right now, it may not seem like such a hot idea if you give it a couple minutes. Before you make a purchase, walk to the water cooler or pay your bills then come back and see if it still calls your name. If it does, go for it; if it doesn’t, click that “X.”  

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