By Rory Evans, REDBOOK
We used to dream of time spent alone on a beach somewhere. Alone in the tranquil oasis of a fancy spa. As time goes on (and reality sets in), the dream evolves: Alone, pushing a shopping cart through the local big-box store. Alone, luxuriating in mascara choices in the drugstore makeup aisle. For women with full houses and fuller schedules, shopping offers a precious opportunity for purposeful aimlessness, a place to be solitary for a delicious hour or more. The only drawback: You walk out lugging a ton of purchases you didn't intend to make while "browsing."
Sound familiar? Here's how to get the retail therapy you need without the sticker shock.
1. SHE'S THE Q.V.C. MVP
Her Habitat: The comfort of her own home, possibly even the comfort of her memory-foam pillow-top mattress (bought in three easy payments).
You Know Her By: Her Rachel Zoe faux-fur vest, her ultrasonic electric toothbrush, her SteamMax team cleaner.
Checkout Confessional: "When I first got married, I became a when-my-husband's-away insomniac because he traveled often for work," says Debbie, a 43-year-old mother of three in Buffalo, NY. "I'd keep the TV on all night, tuned to QVC." Eventually, the channel became her regular destination. "It doesn't matter what's on. I'll tune in for a car wax segment." She's not just listening-recent splurges include a tummy-tuck camisole and Mrs. Prindable's caramel apples.
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Get a Grip: "The QVC channel is all about time-limited offers," explains Martin Lindstrom, author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. "Hosts constantly remind viewers that time is running out, creating enormous urgency to buy now." Lindstrom recommends logging on to qvc.com instead. "You can get the same stuff without the pressure-and extra time to hunt around online for a better deal."
2. WHAT A DRUGSTORE JUNKIE
Her Habitat: CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid
You Know Her By: Her insights on the newest no-slip-grip ponytail-holder technology, her encyclopedic knowledge of OTC cold remedies, the perpetually stocked jar of caramel creams on her desk.
Checkout Confessional: Ellen, 42, a mother of an 8- and a 6-year-old in Maplewood, NJ, describes going to CVS the way others might speak of a trip to an ashram: "I just wander the aisles to get a calm, de-stressing experience. Almost in a trance, I've found myself at the checkout counter, shelling out for four types of sippy cups, three cutesy toys, and a fancy new digital baby thermometer, never mind the fact that we barely use the one we already had."
Get a Grip: Shop for yourself first. "There's a reason the cosmetics aisle is your last stop before checking out," says retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, author of What Women Want. "Once a woman has shopped for everyone else in the family, she wants to reward herself." To curb overspending, don't reach for a cart or basket. "The average person can hold eight items in their two hands," Lindstrom says, "and do you need more than that from a drugstore?"
3. THE HOARDING BIG-BOX DEVOTEE
Her Habitat: Costco, BJ's, Sam's Club
You Know Her By: The SUV always parked in the driveway... because her garage is filled with bulk bundles of Brawny, gallon cartons of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, and five-quart cans of garbanzo beans.
Checkout Confessional: "I go every three or four weeks," reports Annemarie, 38, a high school teacher in Lafayette, CA, whose love affair with Costco began when she moved to a larger house with a pantry. She gets everything from a year's supply of oatmeal to bags of rice that, at 10 pounds, outweigh both of her kids at birth. Inevitably, she's made a few regrettable purchases. More than a year ago, she bought an enormous two-pack of body lotion that failed to wow her: "I'm still finishing it!"
Get a Grip: "Unless you're the Duggars, bulk buying can lead to overspending," says Ramani Durvasula, a professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles and an expert in behavioral issues like addiction. Ounce for ounce, the products may be a bargain, but the line between stocking up and hoarding is a fine one, especially "if you're accumulating items no family could use in a reasonable amount of time, like 40 boxes of detergent." Team up with friends for warehouse shopping; you can split the merchandise and still get the savings.
4. THE TARGET GO-GETTER
Her Habitat: Target, or the equally alluring Walmart or Big Lots
You Know Her By: The red cart overloaded like the Clampetts' truck, with everything from cat litter to Xhilaration lingerie.
Checkout Confessional: "I'm in heaven when I can let my OCD label-reading, comparison-shopper true self emerge at Target," says Alyssa, 42, of Cincinnati. "I love the array of merch. And I've been known to rock a Mossimo top… or three."
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Get a Grip: Those huge shopping carts are one reason you spend more, Lindstrom notes. "Research shows that if the size of the shopping cart has doubled, you are going to buy 40 percent more. You look inside and think, Hey, I haven't bought a lot, but in reality you're probably already over budget." Shop with a list, ladies!
5. THE ONLINE OMNIVORE
Her Habitat: Her desk at work, her laptop at home
You Know Her By: The lightning speed with which she can collapse an Overstock.com page and bring up a spreadsheet; a car trunk full of Zappos boxes to be returned.
Checkout Confessional: Whenever she needs a break from work, Kathy, 35, a mom of two in Galena, OH, looks no further than her mouse. "I often plan to run errands at lunch, but ultimately, I buy online because the two-day wait is no big deal." In a single month last year, she rented a bouncy castle for a birthday party, bought outdoor lights for her house, and picked up a boat-a boat!-on eBay.
Get a Grip: "Paying for purchases online can be equivalent to using casino chips," Durvasula says. "We'd gamble a lot less if we had to put five-dollar bills on the table." Let items linger in your virtual cart for a day before pulling the trigger to avoid buyer's remorse.
6. THE CRAFT STORE ADDICT
Her Habitat: Michael's, Jo-ann's
You Know Her By: Her spectrum of construction paper, die-cut hole punches for any occasion (minuscule leprechaun hat, anyone?), and glitter under her fingernails.
Checkout Confessional: "When I see pictures of Martha Stewart's craft area in her house, I know that if I had the time and money, my supplies would look like that," jokes Lori, 38, a teacher and mother of three in Metuchen, NJ. Instead, Lori's projects are crammed into two closets and have gone untouched for years. "I've bought kits to make my own soap," she says. "I get home, make one bar, and remember, Wait, I can buy this for 79 cents."
Get a Grip: "There's definitely a human instinct to create something of value," says Bridget Brennan, author of Why She Buys and an expert in women's spending habits. To make sure you see a project through, sign up for an art class with a friend where you can, say, decoupage a frame in one night. Satisfying, but sane.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.