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Are you being manipulated
into buying more?
Last week I went to the drug store to pick up a prescription. The druggist was at the back of the store so I walked past the greeting cards, the headache medicine, and the motor oil. I couldn't walk straight back; I had to zig-zag my way through the aisles.

Then I went next-door to the super market to buy a quart of milk. Again I had to walk to the far back corner, past the bread smells in the deli, around baskets full of canned soup on special, and along the soft drink aisle. When I checked out in the express lane, I stood waiting next to packs of batteries, ball point pens, and bags of candy. The woman in front of me was charging her food on a VISA card.

Stores have done elaborate studies which show that for every minute they can delay you, you will spend money on things you hadn't planned to buy. Some stores estimate that impulse buying goes as high as 50%, even in grocery and hardware stores! If you buy an item on impulse, chances are you didn't really need it (or it would have been on your list) and you paid much too much.

Notice that food stores are starting to accept charge cards. Why? Studies have shown that people spend approximately 20% more with charge cards than with a check or cash. This is perhaps the worst way to use a charge card since you are charging a short term purchase and paying it off long term. In 1999 you could be paying for a meal you ate in 1995.

After shopping I went to a fast food restaurant for a small soda and a burger. "Don't you want some fries with that?" "No." "Or how about a large drink? It's just a few cents more." No, I didn't.

At the fast food restaurant, they used "suggestive selling," asking me to buy something I hadn't ordered. An employee once told me the restaurant made 10% of its sales this way.

But wait, there's more!! Advertising tries to get us to spend extra money on our kids, since we feel guilty about not spending more time with them. (Of course, if we spent less money, we'd have more time.) A host of products from deodorants to laundry detergents and softeners tries to convince us that we can avoid embarrassment if we will only buy their product. Advertisers know that people fear embarrassment even more than death. (That's really true.)

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Products lure customers with rebates. Companies know that many will take the bait but never get around to actually sending off for the refund. (It's called "slippage.")

Who pays for all of this? You do. When you buy a heavily advertised product, in a shiny box, that you always find at eye level on the shelf, you are paying for the advertising, the packaging, the shelf space and the special promotions.

Magazine subscription companies offer tempting sweepstakes and seemingly good prices, but a little quick math should tell you that a company without the sweepstakes will charge less. For example, Delta Publishing, mentioned in the Free Sampler issue (Tel. (800) 728-3728), has no sweepstakes and sells magazines subscriptions for much less.

So what do you do? You can't avoid the stores or advertising, but you can be aware that merchants want you to spend more than you mean to. Just a few dollars a day adds up to tens of thousands of dollars over time.

It's a small fortune that could be saved for your child's college, or your new house, or your retirement, or your dream vacation, or something that you really want. tm
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