Your Money: Drinking and shopping brews up a nasty cocktail

Reuters
Cosmopolitan drinks line a bar in New York May 23, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORKHonesty time: What is your most embarrassing drunk purchase?

When Reuters canvassed social media on this very question recently, we got some cringeworthy responses.

A wrist tattoo of a shooting star. $400 worth of orange Agent Provocateur lingerie. 14 separate Snuggies, in blue. A lava lamp. Bright pink jeans.

Perhaps most horrifically, a copy of the Nicolas Cage stinkbomb movie, "Left Behind" (rated 2 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

You get the picture.

A third of Americans admit to having shopped while under the influence, according to a new survey by the financial comparison website Finder.com. Among those who regularly drink alcohol, that figure rises to almost half.

The damage was not minimal, either. The average price tag of those drunk shopping sprees was a whopping $206.

"What is interesting is that people are not just buying something small, like a pizza slice or a pack of cigarettes," says Michelle Hutchison, Finder.com's money expert. "These are significant things people are buying."

The most common spending while under the influence? Clothes and shoes, bought by 39 percent of drunk shoppers. That is tied with gambling, also at 39 percent, followed closely by cigarettes at 38 percent.

And who exactly is doing the drunk shopping? Millennials, apparently, 39 percent of whom cop to the practice. They are followed by Gen X at 36 percent, and then by more restrained baby boomers, at 18 percent.

Retailers know all too well that drinking and spending money do not play nicely together, at least for the spender. You may have noticed an increasing number of "Sip and Shop" special events; bars being installed at high-end retailers and shopping malls; and extended shopping hours around high-alcohol holidays like Thanksgiving.

"The folks who are out with me on Black Friday in the stores at 5 a.m. are not ladies who had gotten up at 4:30 and headed out, but rather, people who have been up all night - and usually drinking," says Kathryn Hauer, a financial planner in Aiken, South Carolina.

So, what's the overarching reason why drunk shopping has become so prevalent these days? Online retailing. If you do not have to drive anywhere, or lug any huge boxes, but just have to click a few buttons or even one button, hey presto, you have a veritable army of tipsy shoppers.

Here are some pointers, then, on how you can build up your defenses against a litany of regrettable, booze-soaked purchases:

* Leave the credit cards at home.

Stick to cash for a night out, and a predetermined budget, and you automatically limit any potential damage. Even better, leave your credit cards with a roommate or partner, who can serve as another line of defense against overspending.

* Delete shopping apps.

The era of "1-click" shopping makes spending binges just too tempting. So delete your Amazon app from your phone - not forever, just for the course of your boozy night out. Re-install it the next day when you are nursing that hangover and are less likely to splurge.

* Tie your own hands.

If you really distrust your own ability to resist drunk shopping, consider deploying tech tools to help you out. The "Freedom" app, or the Chrome extension called "StayFocusd," can help block or limit your own access to tempting websites - either altogether, or during certain timeframes.

* Know your return policies.

If you only shop at retailers that have relatively liberal return policies, you can save yourself a lot of future grief. Even if you do get refunded, though, remember that you may have to cover fees for shipping or restocking.

"One of my clients goes shopping every Black Friday after a few Bloody Marys with her partner," says Atlanta financial planner Niv Persaud. "They have a blast. Then, over the weekend, they return a lot of items."

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum)

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