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How cooler, shorter days can trim your spending

Kelly Dilworth

Don’t let the season’s shorter days get you down. There’s an upside to the dark drives home and frigid winds forcing you inside: An earlier sunset and cooler weather could help chill your overspending.

Research from the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute shows that people tend to spend significantly less money after Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends and people’s clocks spring backward by an hour. Credit and debit card charges, for example, drop by roughly 3.5 percent after the end of DST, the study found — in part because people are less inclined to stop at a store when it’s dark outside.

The drop in spending runs counter to some DST advocates’ claims that Daylight Saving Time is good for encouraging consumer spending. According to “Spring Forward” author Michael Downing, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has fought hard for Daylight Saving Time, in part because the extra hour of daylight in the spring encourages people to shop more when returning home from work.

“Daylight Saving has never been authoritatively proved to save anyone any significant amount of energy, but it has proved itself to be the most significantly useful spending plan in American history,” said Downing at a book reading filmed by C-Span.

But according to the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute, the pop in spending that retailers typically see after Daylight Saving Time begins isn’t enough to counteract the drop that happens in the fall.

“Our unprecedented view of spending around the beginning and end of DST does not support consumer spending claims of DST advocates,” the researchers wrote. Spending in the spring only increases by around 0.9 percent.

A winter freeze on spending
In addition to shorter days and dark commutes, cooler weather could also nudge you to stay home more often — especially if you’re dealing with icy roads and snow. Bad weather is often blamed for unexpected dips in consumer spending — particularly when people are kept out of restaurants and stores because of a major event, such as an extended snowstorm.

A 2015 study by the payments company First Data, for example, looked at the economic impact of a snowier-than-usual winter on the city of Boston and found that retail spending plunged after the city’s first big snowfall of the year.

The season’s chilling effect on shopping is bad news for Boston retailers because they depend on regular foot traffic to fuel a steady stream of sales.

For consumers trying to rein in spending, though, the shorter, cooler days could help them trim their budgets and avoid heading into the New Year with unexpected debt.

The less enticing it is to stop at a store on your way home from work, the less tempted you’ll be to pick up more than you intended.

Icy roads cut short my shopping
I know that’s true for me. I personally hate driving home in the dark – especially when it’s icy – and miss the warm summer days when I could walk through an open-air shopping center in bright sunshine at 8 pm.

When I lived in the Midwest, I rarely ventured farther than my neighborhood grocery store when the sides of the roads piled high with snow, and I often left a store when it started to get dark. Impromptu shopping isn’t nearly as fun when you have to worry about winter traffic.

I made an exception for holiday shopping, but I probably would have saved more if I just shopped from the comfort of my computer. Shopping for the holidays online, rather than at a store, makes it easier to comparison shop and search for better deals.

Now that I live in California, I don’t have to worry about winter weather spoiling a trip out. But as the days get shorter, I’ll still embrace my impulse to zip home rather than linger at a shopping center.

The extra time at home, with my purse hanging safely in a closet, will help me rebuild my emergency fund and start 2018 in a better place.

See related: My don’t-wait-until-the-last-minute holiday checklist, 3 easy ways to stick to your holiday budget

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