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How drunken shopping can pickle your finances

The 'beer goggle' effect can lower your guard

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Buying under the influence, shopping after chardonnay or drunken shopping. No matter what you call it, shopping after tossing back some spirits can do a number on your budget.

When you drink, your defenses are down and inhibitions fall by the wayside. So the same way beer goggles make sex with the ex or smooching the stranger standing next you in a bar seem like an OK thing to do, so can shopping under the influence of alcohol .

And retailers know it. In fact, they bank on you walking through their doors (brick-and-mortar or virtual) wearing beer goggles.

Drunk shopping: How a drink or two can pickle your finances

Why booze messes with your money
The concept of "beer goggles" refers to the short sightedness, diminished insight and lack of inhibition that comes with drinking, says Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology who has conducted neuropsychological research on alcohol use and the brain.

Initially, before alcohol slows down your motor skills making it tough to walk or talk normal, booze brings you out of your shell, she says. "Because alcohol lowers inhibitions, we tend to think less about ramifications of actions like overspending when drinking or intoxicated."  Those lower inhibitions, combined with the partying atmosphere associated with drinking, can also heighten impulses to shop or make money feel like it's burning a hole in your pocket, Durvasula says.

Damon Raskin, a specialist in medical detoxification at Cliffside Malibu Addiction Treatment Facility in Zuma Beach, Calif., says even one drink can alter a person's decision-making ability. "Being 'buzzed' can impair a person's ability to stick to their budget when they're shopping or lead to them making impulse purchases," he says.

That's why online retailers wise to the connection between a boozed-up brain and overspending ramp up their efforts to entice you to shop by flooding consumers' inboxes with post-happy hour deals.

Because alcohol lowers inhibitions, we tend to think less about ramifications of actions like overspending when drinking or intoxicated.

-- Ramani Durvasula
licensed clinical psychologist

"According to my raw Web statistics, one of the highest trafficked times of the day is between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. I usually send e-blasts out in the evening, and we experience some immediate sales as a result of the e-blast," says Colleen Lloyd-Roberts, founder and president of the online retailer Top Notch Nail Files.

Merchants located next to mall restaurants that serve alcohol stock their storefronts with loss leaders hoping to lure in lit-up shoppers, too.

Shopping when you're not of sound mind has several ramifications, any of which can pickle your budget. Here's a look at the dangers of traipsing through the mall, either in person or online.

You blow your budget
"Shopping when you're uninhibited could lead you to totally losing track of what you have in your bank account and being at a greater risk of paying overdraft fees when the check you wrote bounces or causes an automatic debit to bounce," says Adam Koos, a certified financial planner in Dublin, Ohio.

A one-night stand with a merchant means you're also more likely to impulsively spend money you've already allotted for financial necessities such as the electric bill, rent or car payment. "If you can't return the impulse items once you sober up, it could take months to recoup the blown money and catch up on bills," says Koos. 

You're more likely to charge up debt
Drunken shopping makes you more susceptible to offers to open a store-branded credit card if your credit cards are maxed out, your checking account empty or you spy a discount that sounds too good to be true. "Shopping under the influence can lead to opening up a new card for the Banana Republic shirt you just have to have," says Koos.

When you shop under the influence and charge the purchases, it doesn't feel like you are really spending money. But getting those credit card statements in the mail serve as a sobering reminder of your drunken shopping escapades, says Steve Repak, author of "Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money."

When you drink and shop, it's harder to think beyond the here and now and make smarter choices about avoiding racking up debt you might not otherwise incur.

-- Steve Repak
author, "Dollars & Uncommon Sense"

"When you drink and shop, it's harder to think beyond the here and now and make smarter choices about avoiding racking up debt you might not otherwise incur," says Repak.

If you can't say no to credit card offers, your credit score could be in jeopardy.

"Your credit score will decline if your debt grows close to your available credit limit," says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. 

A hard pull of your credit when you apply for new credit can shave 10 points or more from your credit score. You can't earn those points back for 12 months, says Ulzheimer.

You're at a greater risk of identity theft
Repak says diminished vision and critical thinking skills also may lead to something sinister. "You are more likely to open yourself up to identity theft," he says.

Have you ever gone shopping after having had a few drinks?

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When you're pie-eyed, Repak says you're more likely to mistakenly shop on a website that's not secure (the difference between "http" and "https" in a Web address gets so tough to spot when you've been overserved). "That opens the door to your credit card information being stolen," he says.

When your defenses are down, you're also more likely to click on links that download a nasty virus that records all of your keystrokes. "That's the equivalent of giving a total stranger your user names, passwords and online access to all of your banking information," says Repak.

Oh yeah, and there's a greater chance of leaving your wallet behind at the store for an ID thief to pick up or not noticing a pickpocket has bumped into you and lifted your wallet.

Bottom line for bottom's-up shopping
Your best bet is passing by the stores and pushing away from your keyboard after having a drink or two. Can't keep out of the mall? Then shop with people you know are good at managing their money and are less likely to overspend. Just make your shopping buddy is sober!

See related: Prepaid card may be a step toward recovery for addicts, How your girlfriends can ruin your credit

Published: September 14, 2012



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