How’s the back-to-school shopping season treating you? If you’ve been avoiding the mall, you’re not alone: according to a recent Reuters analysis, Macy’s reported lower in-store sales this past month, as did WalMart, Aeropostale and American Eagle. Pointing to factors like the payroll tax, increased gas prices and slower job growth, many retail experts say that consumers just aren’t ready to spend like gangbusters this fall — and as a result, fall inventories will be lower than in years past.
However, according to psychologist April Benson, August can still be a dangerous time of year for those who are inclined to over-shop — with or without the help of doorbuster back-to-school deals.
“There are three threads that come together at this time of year: Back to school, end of season sales, fall fashion push. These three things often create the perfect storm of over-shopping,” Benson said in a recent teleseminar.
Together with “Recovering Shopaholic” blog author Debbie Roes, Benson provided some tips that you can employ to protect yourself from succumbing to deals you don’t need for products you don’t really want. Here’s what they suggest:
Don’t try to be “practical.” “People think: ‘I like these now and they’ll be a great thing to have next year,’” Roes said of discounted fall fashion. “That’s a big problem, and that’s the first mistake.” Roes said that the urge to buy clothes in bulk now — jeans, fashion sweaters, dresses for “any occasion” — comes out of the desire to be practical, and to be prepared for next year. The reality, she says, is that too many people don’t think about the ways in which their life could change, and the ways in which those purchases could become obsolete.
“A lot can change in a year. Your lifestyle may change. You may change jobs. You just don’t have the same means. And style preferences also change,” she said. “Those clothes we bought thinking we’re being ultra-practical tend not to be used that much.”
If it’s a habit, break it. Traditions can be nice, but if you’re shopping in the fall because it’s what you’ve “always” done, Benson and Roes say it’s time to break the habit. “We shop this time of year because it’s what we did when we were kids. We’d go and get our wardrobe for the next school year. A lot of us will do that now whether we need it or not,” Roes said, noting that marketers will take advantage of this nostalgia and peg adult clothing sales during the back-to-school period, too. The fall leather jackets might look enticing, but if you stocked up on heavier clothing in February — when retailers were trying to turnover winter inventory — you probably don’t need to buy more in September.
Test your closet. You’ve probably heard the “shop in your own closet” tip before, but Roes has a slightly different approach: “Do a closet audit,” she said. With each item of clothing ask yourself, “does it work for me, does it fit me, does it fit my personality, do I even like this?” This will give you an idea of what you have and what you need. If the closet audit fails, Roes recommends taking an even more visual approach with something she calls the hanger trick: “Turn all hangers around so the hook faces outward. As you wear things and put them back in your closet, place the hook inward,” she explained, saying that one quick glance at your closet will show you what you’re wearing and what you’re not wearing — as well as what you might need to buy. “What are the things to buy more of and what are the things to stop? If you’re not wearing fancy dresses, why buy fancy dresses?”