Sale Brain: How to rewire yours

Sale Brain: How to Rewire Yours

Don’t let discounts blind you to hard numbers. We have become obsessed with the word, “sale.”, that 21st century OED we don’t have to find on the shelf, defines sale as a noun, with three related shades of meaning. Sale refers to:

  1. the act of selling.
  2. a quantity sold.
  3. opportunity to sell

Steven, our Program Manager, and I are scratching our heads as we write this. That’s certainly not how either of us would define the word “sale.”  However, the more we researched it, the clearer it got.

Sale, defined as a period during which a retailer sells goods at reduced prices is a relatively new meaning of the word. Prior to 1866, the word sale had nothing to do with reduced price, as you read in the definition above.

What could have happened in 1866 that erupted in this conflation of sale with reduced price? 

“Why did “for sale” become “on sale? We’d love to hear your ideas. We invite you to share them on our Facebook page.

Charlotte Cowles has incorporated that more recent definition of sale into a term she has coined, “sale brain.” In How Can I Shop a Sale Without Losing My Head?, she refers to the “cognitive backflips” we do, when confronted with an opportunity that seems scarce, and all the more valuable because of that perception.

If sales are such an obvious trap, why do we continually fall for these not-to-be-missed opportunities to spend money that almost surely could be better spent in another way? And how can you limit the risk to falling prey to some seemingly tantalizing bargain.

We each have agency, we each have control over the shopping decisions we make.

Shop mindfully by creating a plan.

  1. Here’s a link to Plan the Purchase, our particular version that’s yours to use, if you’d like.

  2. Write down each item you plan to shop for and assign each a necessity score either 0 (essential),  1/3 (not very necessary), 2/3 (very necessary), or 1 (essential).

  3. Next list what function the item will have in your life.  For example, if I’m buying a Father’s Day gift for my dad, I know what the function is.  If I’m buying yet another pair of black casual summer shoes, I may be less clear on where and when I’ll wear them. If you’re not clear, honor your doubt.  Doubt is a red flag. Think the purchase through further.

  4. Then write down the maximum amount you can comfortably spend on each item on your list.

  5. Finally, note when you’ll shop, where you’ll shop, with whom you’ll shop, how much time you’ll spend, and how you’ll pay. Rate your risk of over shopping with this plan. If it’s more than 30%, create a new plan. If you’re stuck, ask a friend or loved one to help.

Always take your emotional pulse before making a purchase, especially for something on “sale.”  Shopping provides a quick and convenient, but temporary distraction from unpleasant feelings and emotions such as sadness, anxiety, fear, or hurt.

Find a way to ride the wave of your urge.  Take a walk.  Watch the sunset.  Nourish yourself. Here’s a link to a short and valuable piece about surfing your urges.

Another strategy:

Tempting Online Sale? Combat The Urge To Splurge argues for “combatting the urge to splurge” by regulating your time on the internet and avoiding the temptation altogether by removing yourself from the computer.  Find some alternative that is tailormade to meet the same underlying authentic need that the shopping was a misguided attempt to fulfill. The dominant ones are the needs for love and affection, the need to belong, the need for self-esteem, the need for the esteem of other people and the need for autonomy.

Someone who has recently been investigating her own sale brain is Sara Radin, a freelance writer, producer, community builder, and recovering shopaholic. Her recent article in Fashionista HOW I’M CONQUERING MY COMPULSIVE SHOPPING BY FOCUSING ON MY MENTAL HEALTH is so compelling that we’ve reached out to her to do a Facebook Live event, which we’ll announce as soon as we have the details.

Nature nurtures very fully.  Find a way to be the kind of friend to yourself that knows just what to say to you to help you get grounded again.

We at Stopping Overshopping hope that instead of shopping for ever more meaningless stuff, that this summer you shop for ideas and experiences that feed your soul and connect you with our common humanity.  We need each other more than ever.

On the horizon:


What is mentegram?

Mentegram is a self-monitoring tool that can help you to significantly reduce your overshopping and overspending.

When you have an urge or you find yourself beginning to shop, you open your Mentegram app in real time and begin to  assess the strength of your urge, identify your mood, and take proper steps towards avoiding overshopping. We have developed a unique tool that will be launching very soon. Please stay tuned for more information and sign up details.


By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Read More

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