NNNY – Day 1.4 – Retail voodoo

Yesterday I was in the mall, and as much as I hate to admit it, popped into some stores just for a browse. And like a siren song, there were “30% off” signs everywhere that were just luring me towards the racks of blue shirts (I can never ever have enough blue in my wardrobe) and really soft boyfriend jeans. I realised though, what had really pulled me in was the sale sign.

See, in addition to trying not to buy new things, I’m also trying to uncover the reasons why I want to buy those things in the first place. I was a psychology major in college so I know things like this are influenced by a number of factors – both physical and mental. Awhile back, someone recommended a book to me  that discusses both those elements. I was reluctant at first as I saw it as a self-help book – which to me are the equivalent of a sleeping pills – but she was right; it did address the things that interested me.

In this book, Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonical, PhD*, she explains how dopamine, a sort of happy chemical in the brain, is triggered when we become aware of the possibility of something, well, good happening. It’s the possibility thing that caught my attention. Apparently, it’s anticipation that makes us happy but once we get it, it’s,not nearly as exciting. Think about the smell of french fries outside McDonalds. Whether you eat them or not, you have to admit they smell pretty darn good and you’d probably want to get some. Of course, the first few fries are great, but after that, you just eat them without really enjoying them as much as you thought you would. That’s sort of what happens with shopping – it’s the anticipation of the hunt.

Kelly explains how the retail industry recognises this, and for someone who becomes excited by a bargain, all the store has to do is pretty much put up sale signs and we automatically see that money saved as money earned. So, like those jeans I saw yesterday, they were $50 but with 30% off, that brought them down to $35 which, according to Kelly, means I earned $15.

It made sense. $50 for nice soft jeans is reasonable at any time, but with that sale sign, I suddenly had to have them. I think I’d have had the same reaction if those jeans had started at $70 and were marked down to $50  – “What a bargain! I just have to have them”.

I didn’t buy them – mainly because of the Nothing New policy, but neither will I add the $50 to my running total. This one I’ll just chalk up as a lesson learned.


*McGonigal, K. (2012). Maximum Willpower. London: Penguin Group.


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