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Strap on your high heels before pulling out the credit card

By , CardRatings contributor
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The goblins and ghouls of Halloween are behind us which means we are almost to the biggest season of the year. No, I am not talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I'm talking about the shopping season.

Yes, I know shopping isn't really a season, and we often bemoan that the true meaning of the winter holidays is overshadowed by consumerism. And yet, we continue to shop our way through November and December. According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 19 percent of retail sales occur during the holiday season, and these sales may represent up to 40 percent of the revenue for some merchants.

As you get ready to head out to do your part for the economy, researchers at Brigham Young University have some unconventional advice: put on your favorite pair of heels first. It's just one way to quite literally find the balance needed to make smart spending decisions.

No heels? Try the escalator instead

The BYU study, published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Marketing Research, was based on the idea that physical sensations can affect our purchasing decisions.

Using a series of six experiments, researchers Jeffrey Larson and Darron Billeter found consumers who had a heightened sense of balance were more likely to make middle-of-the-road purchase decisions. They didn't buy the bargain basement item -- you know, the one with the questionable quality but sweet price tag -- nor did they splurge for the probably overpriced high-end option.

"If you're someone who tends to overspend, or you're kind of an extreme person, then maybe you ought to consider shopping in high heels," Larson said in a press release.

Don't wear heels? You can try one of these other balance-inducing strategies:

  • Riding the escalator up and down
  • Playing Wii Fit
  • Leaning back in a chair while shopping online
  • Balancing on one foot

If those all seem passé, you could also try shopping on a cruise ship or walking on icy sidewalks. Researchers suggest these could both have the same balancing effect although they did not actually try these strategies. (Note to Mr. Larson: if you would like to put your cruise ship hypothesis to the test, I'm sure I could find time in my schedule to help.)

Other ways to prevent overspending

Finding balance appears to be one way to avoid overspending with your credit cards, but it is certainly not the only tactic you can use this holiday season.

Here are a couple more unconventional strategies to try:

  • Race through the store: The fact that we spend $2 per minute while in the grocery store is often bandied about online. The stat is attributed to the Food Marketing Institute although I must confess I couldn't find it on their website. However, you really don't need a study to tell you the longer you stay in a store, the more likely you are to find something to buy. Time yourself and see if you can get in and out in record time.
  • Cancel your magazines: There is something insidious about all those glossy magazines that arrive every month in your mailbox. Sure, they may have some good articles, but they are typically full of photos that make you feel inferior about your life and that is guaranteed to put you in a spending mood. And don't forget all those "helpful" editor's-pick sections that feature new products. Dropping a couple subscriptions may mean fewer must-have items end up charged to your credit card.
  • Find new friends: Well, that might be a bit harsh. You probably don't want to ditch your current friends. However, from personal experience, I can attest that it is easier to keep your cash back card in your wallet when you are surrounded by frugal friends. If your bestie is a shopaholic, you may want to think about how you can steer your relationship away from weekends spent scouring the stores for sales.

So put on your high heels and get your stopwatch ready. Then gather up your new best bud before you swing by the recycling center to unload your magazines on the way to the store.

Happy shopping…er, holidays!

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