Your Pre-Shopping Coffee Run Could Cost You More Than You Think

After recently learning of its link to improved heart health, there’s even less reason to feel guilty about our daily coffee habit. Especially around the holidays as for many, it’s a habit to grab a quick coffee before or during a shopping trip. But it turns out this seemingly harmless ritual could be costing you a pretty penny.

Research published this year in the Journal of Marketing has linked caffeine to impulsivity, which might explain why coffee-loving shoppers have trouble controlling their spending. Here’s what you need to know about your pre-shopping Starbucks run and how it may be causing you to shell out extra cash.

Researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) performed three studies that looked at more than 300 shoppers in home goods and department stores in France and Spain. Half of the shoppers received a complimentary cup of caffeinated espresso, while the other half received decaf espresso or plain water. 

The researchers asked customers if they could check their receipts as they exited the stores.

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The researchers performed their experiments at different times of day and also questioned the study subjects about their moods, to make sure these factors didn’t skew results.

After factoring in all of their data, the researchers found that consumers who drank coffee containing between 25 and 200 mg of caffeine overspent by a whopping 50% and bought 30% more on average than those who drank decaf coffee or water. In addition, they found that caffeine affected the types of products shoppers opted for: The coffee drinkers were more likely to be drawn to nonessentials (e.g., candles and fragrances). 

Interestingly, a fourth arm of the study produced similar results with online shopping.

In the online experiment, half of 208 student participants received caffeinated coffee while the other half received decaf. After waiting 10 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, they asked the students to select items they’d purchase from a list of 66 products.

Much like the previous experiment, caffeinated coffee drinkers tended to buy nonessentials like massagers whereas decaffeinated coffee drinkers went for more practical items such as notebooks. 

So why does coffee seem to cause this impulsivity? According to Dipayan Biswas, the Frank Harvey Endowed professor of marketing at USF, it’s directly related to how caffeine affects dopamine levels in the brain.

“Caffeine, as a powerful stimulant, releases dopamine in the brain, which excites the mind and the body,” he said in a USF news release. “This leads to a higher energetic state, which in turn enhances impulsivity and decreases self-control.”

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Basically, caffeine makes you spend a latte (sorry, we had to). 

How To Avoid Caffeinated Overspending

Avoiding a caffeine pit stop is easier said than done, especially if you’re in dire need of a little energy boost before or during your shopping trip.

If you’d rather not opt out of the habit, being mindful of how caffeine can affect your shopping decisions and mentally curbing those impulses can help. Simply being aware of caffeine’s potential effects might allow you to make more responsible, well-informed choices.

But if you can manage it, rewarding yourself with a cup of coffee after shopping might be better. Eating a healthy snack before leaving the house can also help stave off any cravings. Getting enough sleep, creating a budget, and shopping with a basket instead of a cart are other ways to avoid buying anything that’s not on your list.

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