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4 Times to Never Shop for Anything

Keep your wallet shut—and your budget intact—during these oh-too-common situations.

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There are lots of reasons why we shop. Naturally, shopping is a necessity to get the things we need, whether it’s groceries or a birthday present. But other times we head to the mall when we don’t really need anything, or when we can’t really afford to be surrounded by temptations. But awareness can help fend off those urges and impulse purchases.

Jean Chatzky is an award-winning personal finance journalist, TODAY show financial expert and coauthor of Age-Proof: Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip, among others.

Excerpted from Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security by Jean Chatzky. Copyright © 2012 by Jean Chatzky. Reproduced under license from Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

upset woman looking at phone with credit card
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Don’t Shop Angry

Remember the scene from Groundhog Day when 
Bill Murray, loopy from waking up in Punxatawney for what was likely the 300th day, actually put the groundhog behind the wheel. “Don’t drive angry,”
 he cautioned. Well, you shouldn’t shop—or invest—angry, either. That’s because anger makes you more optimistic and more of a risk taker than you’d naturally be. That means you’re more likely to say “what the hell” to unfortunate purchases, to invest or spend money on a whim. Bad move. Similarly. . .

Young sad woman shopping in grocery store
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Don’t Shop Sad

Feeling sad—when a friendship goes sour or you just suffered a disappointment at work—makes you eager to buy just about anything, research shows. Sadness feels like a big hole or void. You want to fill it up, so you’ll do whatever it takes and if you happen to have a credit card in your hand, so be it. And. . .

shopping hungry bakery case
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Don’t Shop Hungry

This is not just a rule that applies in grocery stores. Do you know why they ply you with samples at warehouse stores? Because exciting your mouth—literally making you drool—makes you spend more money not just on food, but on everything. It primes the same part of your brain that responds to the rewards you really want. So maybe you went to the store to buy diapers, but now that your brain is active, you buy the tent. (That shopping trip is legend in our family. I should tell you: We don’t camp.) Oh, and when your favorite little boutique offers a special evening sale with wine and cheese? Steer clear. Alcohol not only primes the pleasure pump, it inhibits self-control. 

man buying expensive clothing
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Don’t Shop When You Feel Lonely

We shop for many reasons—including loneliness. This is important to remember when you stop at the mall on your way home from work because your spouse is working late, the kids have their own lives, and you just don’t want to make dinner for one. You don’t need anything in particular. What you’re really craving is human contact. Those salespeople who tell you how great that leather jacket looks or what a deal you’re getting on those towels aren’t just being nice. They’re doing their jobs and their jobs are to get you to open your wallet. You get caught up in the experience, the compliments, the camaraderie. They get commissions.

Overspending doesn’t just hurt your wallet. Money issues can spike stress levels, hurting your health.

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