Uh oh. It seems like only yesterday we were fretting about the proclivity among a certain few of us to drink a few drinks and go home and get online and, well, yes, isn't it the perfect time to finally stock up on new summer clothes, or to buy all the books we've been meaning to read, or to purchase some really bargain-priced tickets to Tibet? Then in the morn we wake and realize we accidentally spent some outrageous amount of money (on our credit cards, no less) on something we may not even want, and probably do not actually need. The dangers of Shopping Under the Influence (SUI), Buying Under the Influence (BUI), or Shopping While Intoxicated (SWI) have been fairly well-documented, including what may be the definitive modern-times piece in 2011, "Online Merchants Home In on Imbibing Consumers," in The New York Times.
But the dangers of SUI are not confined to 2011, or even, for that matter, to the Internet. Everywhere the opportunity to drink and shop encroaches, sometimes under the same roof! As reported today in The New York Post, an Urban Outfitters hopes to offer goods, food, and drink in the store they plan to open soon on Williamsburg's North Sixth Street. They've applied for a liquor license and everything. Now, the real problem with SUI is the "I" part. In the moment, after a couple of beers, after a Long Island iced tea, after whatever it is you drink, it really does seem that whatever purchase you're about to make is a good idea, even if it's a garden gnome that costs $3,000. That's exactly what the retailers, online or off, want you to think, too. And that's exactly how this writer once ended up with quite a few different very fashionable hats one bleary night on 8th Street.
While stoical types will tell you that the only way to SUI well is to not do it at all, I believe there are some tips that can help you do it better. Because chances are, you are going to be exposed to a drink and a store, or a drink and your computer and an Internet connection, at some point in the very near future. You might as well be prepared, or as prepared as possible. Follow these rules:
Eat First. As with any sober trip to the grocery store, you should not be hungry when you go. If you're Shopping Under the Influence in your local market, you can be certain that if you're even the slightest bit hungry you'll buy all the Doritos under the sun, and then you'll eat them all, because Doritos are made to make you eat them. Last night, after after-work drinks, I went to the store under the auspices of "putting some food in the house" and brought home a large amount of brie, tamari almonds, and several bottles of wine. So you see. Clearly, before FSUI (Food Shopping Under the Influence) you should make sure you've dined properly. But this is also true of Clothing and Product Shopping Under the Influence. The fact is, food in your tummy helps take some of the oomph away from the booze, and that's good for your purchasing decisions. They say coffee helps, too.
Bring Friends. There is safety in numbers, but make sure these numbers do not work on commission. The retail employee of the store where you're SUI-ing will, chances are, tell you what he or she wants you to hear. And if you've had a bit to drink you may not be able to tell the difference between an honest recommendation ("That skirt looks amazing on you!") and a baldfaced attempt to sell you something ("Why doesn't everyone still wear Blossom hats? You have just the face for it!"). If you're going to SUI, particularly in a physical retail location, bring along a friend. If you're doing it online, or you just happen into a store alone on the way home from work drinks, you can always gchat someone links or text a trusted friend pictures of what you think you might buy. Or crowdsource it on Twitter! Just don't put the decision in the hands of the store clerk who's eyeing your credit card.
If It's a Gift, It Doesn't Count as SUI. As an anonymous source confesses, "Once I got drunk at some makeup thing and ended up buying my mom some exorbitant face cream. NEVER AGAIN." Not to worry: This is like appetizers eaten with friends, a no-calorie boon, not something to regret. Her mom loved the gift, and all was well in the world.
Hide Your Credit Card. There's a benefit sometimes to operating on an all-cash basis, and that's the fact that your funds are limited to precisely what you have already withdrawn. Of course, this takes some self-control and ahead-of-time prep. But if you withdraw only a certain amount and leave your credit and even your debit cards at home, you will not be able to buy any more than you have money for, and that can be a very good thing the next day.
Vet Return Policies Beforehand. If the store's policy is "exchanges only," find another. If you're buying online, make sure "free returns" are an option.
Only Shop Where (and When) You Can Walk. This is good for a lot of reasons. Because you shouldn't be driving a car if you've been drinking. Because proximity will make returns easier. Because you won't have to spend some of your hard-earned, much-needed shopping money on a cab, and because you won't fall asleep on the subway and have all your new duds stolen. Also, yes, if you are able to put forward money in exchange for goods, you should be able to walk. Otherwise you should be home asleep with your eyes closed. In the cases of online shopping, of course, this does not apply. I do urge you, again, to check the return policy before you press "buy."
Have a Safe Word. If you really, really, really do not want to be shopping under the influence, pick a word, and when things get out of control, say it over and over again until you are led from the store and, perhaps, to a nearby facility of some sort. (This word should probably not be "fire." I like "butterfly.")
Avoid Trouble-Spot Stores (and Ugly Things). Certain inexpensive retailers may lure you like a beacon, but their cheapness is really to your detriment, because you will buy with abandon. There is also a theory that goes that those under the influence may be, like magpies, more attracted to colorful things. One frequent SUIer who must remain nameless admitted the following: "I used to regularly go to happy hour, then saunter over to the Forever 21 on Broadway where I would buy trendy cheap shit. Never tried anything on. When drunk, I gravitate to colorful clothing. I have a neon green cardigan, a tropical print swing tank, a red blouse, and a burnt-orange mini skirt ... the blouse is gross and seems flammable."
Try Things On. C'mon, we're all professionals here.
Consider the Time. The best time to shop under the influence is really probably right after brunch, on a weekend, when you've eaten and enjoyed a bloody Mary or two but haven't spent hours of the evening sidled up to a bar before wandering into a Barneys Coop with your credit card out. Usually also the case with brunch is that you will be with companions who can, one hopes, be a stabilizing influence.
Savor Your Multitasking Spirit! So, if you're drinking at night, or in the day, chances are, you probably aren't, or shouldn't be, going to the gym (falling off a treadmill while intoxicated is worse than nearly any sort of SUI) or working on your home improvement plans (no climbing ladders), or operating heavy machinery. So why not shop? This is also your rationale for when the credit card bill comes. At the end of the day, drinks or not, you really have to be who you are. As a friend put it, "God, I'm realizing that I basically ONLY shop while drunk." Well, you have to do stuff sometimes!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.