Parceling out holiday shopping in small amounts and completing it in a realistic schedule helps people maintain the self-control needed to avoid being swept away in impulse purchases that can wreck budgets, a study to be published in January said.
The study from Texas A&M University researchers looked at how well people complied with maintaining self-control for tasks such as making purchases and found that people should pace themselves if they want to accomplish larger goals.
"Try to conserve your energy. Don't try to make it too hard on yourself because it is going to backfire," said Marco Palma, director of the Human Behavior Laboratory at Texas A&M and co-author of the study called "Self-control: Knowledge or perishable resource?" It will be published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.
Palma recommended making a list and dividing it into sub-goals of small purchases. Shopping online and shopping early in the day can help conserve energy, which can also help people exercise self-control.
"Committing to a shopping list will help you stay on budget," he said in an interview this week.
The worst shopping scenario in terms of self-control is waiting until the last minute to make the bulk of holiday purchases, he said.
The study used biometric data including eye tracking and brain scanning to measure how well people complied with easy and difficult tasks that required self-control.
It found that an initial moderate self-control act enhances subsequent self-control ability by increasing confidence and motivation, but exerting too much self-control drains subsequent self-control ability.
But humans are humans and even when they are nice, they can be a little bit naughty. A person who completes a holiday shopping list as planned may splurge with a little reward for themselves, Palma said.