Spending

Drinking a cup coffee before your next shopping trip might affect how much you spend, according to a new study: Here's how

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Key Points
  • Drinking a cup of coffee while or before you shop could cause you to spend more, according to a recent study.
  • Those who drank a complimentary cup of coffee prior to shopping spent about 50% more money and bought almost 30% more items than those who drank decaf or water, the study found.
  • There are ways to curb impulse spending — like creating a limited window in which to shop — that can help you not overspend.

Shoppers have a new spending trigger to watch out for: caffeine. Drinking a cup of coffee while or before you shop could cause you to spend more, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Marketing.

During three experiments done in department stores, those who drank a complimentary cup of regular coffee prior to shopping spent about 50% more money and bought almost 30% more items than those who drank decaf coffee or water. The University of South Florida researchers found similar results in a experiment with online shopping.

The fact that the coffee was free might have also skewed shoppers attitudes, says Ross Steinman, a professor at Widener University who studies consumer behavior. Many people unconsciously follow a social convention called the "norm of reciprocity," which is an expectation that people pay a favor back. Shoppers might have been more loose with their wallets because they felt the need to reciprocate the gesture.

But caffeine can also put you in a different state of mind, he adds. "Maybe that [coffee] triggered a cognitive state which led them to purchase more than they intended," he says.

Maybe that [coffee] triggered a cognitive state which led them to purchase more than they intended.
Ross Steinman
professor at Widener University

This might be because those coffee jitters could be easily misread by shoppers,  says Sean Blair, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who is an expert in consumer psychology and decision-making.

"You might feel excited and feel good because of the caffeine and think it's because you're excited to buy this thing," he says.

Like caffeine, there are lots of other overspending triggers while shopping in stores or online. Limited time sales, like Prime Day, can cause shoppers to buy more because they feel like that deal will be out of reach soon. Grocers often switch around their aisles so shoppers must roll their carts in search of things, in hopes they will be tempted along the way by a product that isn't on their shopping list.

Caffeinated or not, if you tend leave a store having spent more than you meant to, there are ways to curb that behavior, experts say.

Make a list before you shop

Before you head to the store, draw up a physical list of what you need to buy, Steinman says. "Writing it down or type it up in your notes," he says. "Try to stick to that list."

If something is a good deal or intriguing for another reason, look at your list and remind yourself that the item wasn't part of the plan and budget.

Set a time limit

The amount of time you give yourself in the store can affect how much you buy, Blair says. So set a time limit. If you're crunched for time you might not look at prices or throw items in your cart without thinking, but if you have nowhere to be you might wander and be tempted by products you wouldn't have ever thought about buying.

"You might not want to go shopping at a time when you're super rushed, but you don't want to take too leisurely a trip because it gives you time to browse the wrong aisles," he says. "Don't be super stressed but don't go on a shopping vacation."

Don't be super stressed but don't go on a shopping vacation.
Sean Blair
assistant professor at Georgetown University

Leave impulse buys in your virtual cart

If you're online shopping, don't press "checkout" right away, Steinman says.

"Leave it in your cart 24 hours and then come back at a later date and think about if you really need to purchase that," he says.

During that time, you'll go through a "cooling down period," he says, that will allows you to return to a more "consistent emotional state."

Create a spending buffer

Budget a certain amount for your unplanned purchases, Blair says.

"Maybe put aside $5, $10, or $20 you need to spend if you run across something you thought you needed," he says. Having that small amount of "wiggle room" can keep you from overspending enormously.

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