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Luckily, even those with a tendency to overdo it can tame their inner shopaholic this season. Consider these tips:
Skip the stores. If your shopping habit is a real problem that's leaving your family financially stressed, stay home. "If you have an alcohol problem, you probably wouldn't hang out at the bars," Shulman says. Make a shopping list for your partner and send him or her to the store in your place. Or, if filling your online shopping cart gets you into trouble, block the sites that burn a hole in your pocket.
Leave the credit card at home. If you think you can handle the store or you can't get out of going, take a debit card that's linked directly to an account—or better yet, take cash. That way, you have to stop shopping when you run out of money. If parting with the plastic isn't an option, Durvasula suggests attaching a sticky note to the card with exactly how much you can afford to spend that day. Write the amount of every transaction you make on the note, subtracting from the total each time. Online shoppers can stick the note to their computer screens.
Unsubscribe from email lists. Remember Pavlov's Law, with the dog drooling in anticipation of food every time a bell rang? That's comparable to when we receive a sales email from a store, Shulman says. We anticipate deals every time we see the email, and decide we have to seize the bargain. And it only takes a click or two to spend major money. Unsubscribe, because if the emails stop coming, so will the temptation to indulge.
Shop when you feel your best. We're not great decision makers when we're tired. (Ever inhale leftover pizza as a midnight snack?) Shopping when depleted won't end well, says Durvasula, so head to the mall when you're alert. If you're typically weary after a full day of work, opt for a Saturday morning shopping trip. Added bonus: If you go early enough, you may be able to beat the rush.
Walk away. If you're on the fence about buying an item, Durvasula suggests setting it back on the shelf and walking away to think about it. "Sometimes it doesn't have the same allure the next day or even in an hour," she says. "A lot of times in the frenzy of the moment, you just think—I want to buy this thing!"
Rethink gift-giving. "People often view a gift as something in a box with a bow," Durvasula says, "but I think the most precious gift you've got is your time." Take a friend out to lunch, she suggests. Or invite everyone who gave you gifts to your house for a party. Shulman suggests building a holiday tradition of going ice skating, exploring a museum, creating a snowman, or volunteering, instead of showering your family with material things. "I think we've lost track of how to show and express our love to each other besides giving gifts," he says. If you ask your kids down the road what they remember most about Christmas or Hanukkah, they'll more likely remember the stuff they did rather than the stuff they got. "Those are the really great memories," Shulman says. "The toys are cool, but the memories of them will likely fade."