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How retailers use psychology against you

Remember the old adage about a fool and his money? It's difficult to be pound or penny wise when retailers spend countless hours researching the consumer mind and the triggers that tempt people to spend.

Want to recognize these tactics so you can avoid them and keep your saving account intact? Here are some principles to keep in mind.

A bargain isn't always a bargain. "For some shoppers, clearance racks are like catnip," writes Kit Yarrow, author of "Decoding the Consumer Mind," in a recent piece for Time. "The impressive differences between the 'original prices' and the dramatically marked down rates draw them in, leaving the impression that these deals are just too good to pass up."

According to a recent piece in Science News, many of these so-called bargains are the result of "'fake prices," the ones that customers see but rarely pay because of coupons and sales." Setting an inflated original price is known to marketers as "anchoring."

Since most shoppers are unaware of the inherent value of many retail products, the anchor is offered to give shoppers a bit of information to evaluate a purchase. Typically, the anchor price is artificially increased to give consumers the perception of a bargain once the item has been marked down. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, retailers may "work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want."

To avoid the psychological draw of a bargain too good to pass up, Patricia Nelson, founder of the community outreach program Wise Women Workshop, suggests shoppers create a budget before leaving their homes. "Write down what you need and only get what's on your list."

Further, writes Yarrow in the Time piece, "a 'deal' isn't a deal when you buy things you don't end up using, and you spend money you wished you hadn't."

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