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Last-minute gift buying can drain your wallet

Christmas shopping
There are many expensive pitfalls to last-minute holiday shopping.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

By this time of the holiday season, shopping is on a 24/7 loop. So if you get a little loopy, well, you might want to step away from the smartphone, the laptop and the credit cards.

“I saw this charge come through on my PayPal and I was like ‘What did I buy?’ ” said Angela Anter, 50, who admits she’s been known to shop online after a few cocktails with friends.

What she bought in August was a subscription box at $40 a month for snacks that fit into a Keto-friendly diet. So far, she’s spent about $200 on snacks, rationalizing that she doesn’t need to cancel the service because she gets to try new treats every month.

A year’s worth of snacks, though, would mean she’s going to be out $480.

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Last Christmas, Anter shopped online to spend about $30 on a necklace with an inspirational message, something like “She believed she could, so she did,” for a young woman on her list.

The problem? Shopping when your inhibitions are down means you’re generally not reading the fine print. The necklace, which she ordered in November, didn’t show up in time for Christmas. It didn’t arrive until February. She didn’t pay attention to details like the necklace was being shipped out of China.

“I would never have done that had I not been drinking,” she said.

All sorts of things can throw you for a loop when it comes to the last-minute crunch for gift buying. The 50% off sales are flashing across every single screen — the TV, emails, online websites. Can you really afford to miss out on the next big sale?

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Yes, you can buy too much of a good thing. So here’s a look at what can throw you for a loop and drain your wallet:

Ask yourself: Do I need one in every color?

It’s not quite like signing up for the box-of-the-month. But do you really need gloves in every color?

Maybe you found a nice pair of knit gloves for $20, so you started thinking, “Hey maybe I should get one in black, one in red and another in bright yellow.” Maybe you like the feel of a turtleneck that cost $25. But it’s nothing but an old QVC trick to get you to “buy more, save more“ and pick up two or three different colors.

Soon you’ve spent $100 buying one turtleneck after another.

Ask yourself: Do I need it now?

Sometimes, the one name you need to take off the holiday shopping list is your own.

Some shoppers, not naming names, could save enough to cover the winter gas bill by staying away from searching for the right holiday outfit, the perfect shoes, the next half-off deal on anything.

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Retailers cook up a string of shopping “holidays“ — stores that open on Thanksgiving, Black Friday door busters, Cyber Monday deals, Green Monday, Free Shipping Day and on and on. All are really excuses to pick up something for someone — and yourself.

No need to panic. If you miss one of these big sales, you can wait until an item goes on sale again. Big screen TVs? Expect a bunch of sales before Super Bowl Sunday.

You’ll regret shopping while tipsy

Roughly a quarter of Americans admit to shopping under the influence, totaling some 53.4 million people, according to a survey released in March by Finder.com, a platform for comparing financial products and finding coupon codes.

The annual survey involved 2,000 American adults.

Collectively, according to the survey, Americans spent $39.4 billion after shopping under the influence in the past 12 months, up from last year’s $30.43 billion. The average spent was $736. Many times, people will buy food, clothing, cigarettes, DVDs or gamble. Some have booked vacations or bought a pet when they were a tad tipsy.

That wine exchange? It’s a pyramid scheme

“If gifting one bottle of wine and receiving dozens in return sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is,“ warns the Better Business Bureau.

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The BBB is cautioning consumers that such promotions via social media are pyramid schemes where the wine stops flowing once people stop participating in the exchange. And you don’t get your bottles as promised and are out your initial investment.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service notes that scammers are now using social media to promote illegal pyramid schemes.

Tip: Never give your personal information to strangers. Doing so could contribute to identity theft and other scams.

“One day only” means hurry up and spend

One-day only sales, some offering 50% off all purchases, only encourage people to hurry up and spend money, according to Terrence Daryl Shulman, founder and director of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding in Franklin, Mich.

“They’re upping the ante,“ Shulman said.

“You don’t want to miss this,“ reads one email for Ann Taylor. “Buy more, save more Flash Sale,“ reads another for Chicos.

While signing up for emails can help alert you to discounts, those same emails also create a sense of urgency and may create way too much temptation for someone on a tight budget, Shulman said.

He has said such emails can be “like crack,“ and suggests that those facing financial hardships or dealing with compulsive shopping need to unsubscribe to them.

Shulman, who counsels recovering shopaholics and shoplifters, said compulsive shopping is becoming a growing problem for many people.

Many shopaholics are men, as well, buying DVDs, electronics and other items often online, he said.

“Guys have gotten the bug too,“ he said.

Sometimes, a shopping addiction crops up after a loss, maybe the loss of a job, a death or a bad breakup. Maybe someone is bored with their job or doesn’t have the energy that they used to have in the past.

They may feel more isolated and welcome a chance to interact by shopping.

“Our computers and our phones are our best friends,“ Shulman said. “It’s really pouring gasoline on our addictions.“

One-day and two-day delivery promises can feed a shopping rush too, and, in some, cases the boxes might arrive before you have second thoughts about the order.

“A lot of people don’t like returning something once they’ve got it,“ Shulman said. “They want to get it to you quick before you can change your mind.“

Susan Tompor writes about personal finance for the Detroit Free Press.


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