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When Smart Women Buy Stupid Things

When Smart Women Buy Stupid Things


“Holiday stress made me do it,” you might protest — and there’s merit to that claim.

After all these years, shouldn’t I be immune to holiday sales? I’m often on the receiving end of cornucopian product samples, so I have enough stuff in my closets to stock a small department store.

But let’s face it: Some shop opps (shopping opportunities) simply push my buttons. Guaranteed to suck me in, for example, is any email “alert” that mentions “limited edition,” “40% off” or my own personal Achilles heel, “Last day/online only; pick six minis free!”

My peers tell me they’re in the same boat. Subjected to a nonstop onslaught of marketing messages from screens both large and small, many of them have morphed into shopping zombies (shombies?), brainlessly punching in their credit card digits at 11 p.m.

So here’s what to do when an immovable object — that’s us — encounters a seemingly irresistible retail force:

Pocket your cash — and credit. The holidays can make us nervous, angry or sad, leaving us vulnerable to the lure of so-called “retail therapy.” Don’t go down that path! Try these three ways of inoculating yourself:

  1. Put all items on hold before buying them in a store, or leave them in your virtual shopping cart for 24 to 48 hours before clicking that seductive “Buy” button online. Just going through the motions like this can satisfy your urge to splurge; by tomorrow — let’s hope! — you’ll be over it. (And not one thin dime worse off.)
  2. Do leave home without it — your wallet, that is, when you’re heading out “with no particular place to go.” Browse store shelves, but don’t buy from them. Simply trying on items of clothing, sampling cosmetic-counter handouts or talking to beauty reps can be instant balms for whatever ails you, be it loneliness, the jitters or hair-trigger spending habits.
  3. Watch YouTube makeup videos. I have to confess that I find the chatty monologues of some cosmetic professionals to be weirdly soothing — and who knows when you’ll decide to try out one of their tips yourself, using products you already own?

Purge that urge. Impulse purchases may bring immediate gratification, but giving in to the online come-ons that crescendo during and right after the holidays can be an emotional roller coaster: Elation or regret before the item arrives, then euphoria or guilt once it does. To climb down from this particular carny ride, take control in three ways:

  1. Put off purchase decisions by checking customer feedback. Are those high-rise jeans getting five-star ratings or complaints?
  2. Shun infomercials and home-shopping channels. Honestly, ladies — do you really need three bamboo comfort bras?
  3. Recycle catalogs as soon as they arrive. Or stop them from showing up altogether by visiting websites such as Catalog Choice, the National Do Not Mail List, or the Direct Marketing Association.

Restock in moderation. When a staple item you love — and wear or use to death — goes on sale, it makes sense to buy it in bulk. Maybe it’s an otherwise pricey pair of Commando tights, or an Urban Decay Naked Smoky Eyeshadow Palette that has become your personal must-have. But balance is key: Two or three, girlfriend — not two or three dozen!

Perfection is impossible. Are you forever fruitlessly searching for that perfect designer handbag…that leather jacket you can wear with everything…that luxury skin cream that’s “worth every penny”? Any or all three quests can quickly max out your credit cards, so make a list that is precisely one item long, then stick to it. Comparison-shop before you buy. Avoid discount malls — which, paradoxically, make it easy to overspend. And pay for purchases by cash, check or debit card; your credit cards should be stowed for the duration.

Don’t expect miracles. The key to happiness lies in acquiring the hottest, latest, coolest whatever: That’s what the retail-industrial complex would have us believe, especially when the object of desire is something smothered in garish logos or celebrity associations, from shoes to shampoo. But will buying Fenty Puma by Rihanna velvet sneakers for $150 truly boost your self-image? It’s possible, I suppose — but then volunteering at a homeless shelter is free.

For more beauty and style tips for women 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love after 50 and AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine, at

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