3 Ways to Be a Smarter Shopper

Marketing expert suggests carrying a timer to the mall.

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Today's guest post is from AnnaMaria Turano, coauthor of Stopwatch Marketing: Take Charge of the Time When Your Customer Decides to Buy. She explains how to outsmart the marketers:

Being a savvy shopper means measuring the "success" of our shopping by more than just the cha-ching of the cash register. In our stressful lives, how we spend our time and energy should be as important as how we spend our money.

Based on studying consumer shopping behaviors across a number of categories (from buying padlocks to purchasing mattresses), I have three tips for how you can be a savvier shopper and better manage your resources—the time, energy, and budget you spend shopping.

Set the timer. You want to maximize any amount of time you spend shopping, whether you sneak in 10 minutes comparing airlines tickets or take the afternoon off to attend the Barneys Warehouse sale.

Once you realize you need to buy a specific item, give yourself a specific timeline, such as 30 seconds, five minutes, or two hours. You don't want to lose precious time sifting through options when your instinctive reaction will probably end up being the best decision.

This technique makes sure that shopping doesn't end up consuming you, your time, or your budget, even when you're shopping for something you enjoy researching, such as an upcoming vacation, a new videogame, or the perfect pair of shoes for your Saturday night outfit.

Reward your effort. There are plenty of items we would all rather not buy, or spend any time researching the details involved with the purchase. Remember the last time you bought insurance? Or a software upgrade? Since the purchase is probably not top-of-mind and put off as long as possible, I call this situation "reluctant" and recommend you to focus on the ultimate benefit of putting the dreaded purchase behind you.

Promise yourself a reward after struggling through the details involved in making this kind of purchase decision. Just like diet and exercise, slogging through the details of dreaded, uninteresting purchase decisions is hard work and requires some investment of time and energy. Set up the amount of time as well as the actual time, such as 2:30-3:00 p.m. on Sunday, that you will solely use to focus on evaluating the purchase details. Note this in your calendar along with a "treat" for sticking to the details and honoring your time commitment. Knowing that you have a reward for a job "well done" (or at least, "done") will help motivate you through the nitty-gritty of this kind of shopping situation.

Enlist an expert. None of us can be expected to know everything about every purchase. Remember the last time you bought a new piece of furniture? Hopefully, you still like the new sofa years after your purchase. Since these kinds of purchases probably involve much time and energy in shopping and eventual usage, I call this situation "painstaking" and recommend that you try to lessen any anxiety you have in making the purchase.

Solicit advice from enlightened experts. People who know you well (friends, family) might help you up to a certain point. Professionals who know the marketplace (designers, decorators, consultants, or planners) will be very helpful in both educating and enlightening you, while addressing the anxiety you have in the decision. The time, energy, and money spent on an expert (whether connected to a retailer or independent) will most likely save you time, energy, and money on the actual purchase.

If you are interested in writing a guest post, please E-mail alphaconsumer@usnews.com.