How many times have you made a purchase you didn't really need or couldn't really afford because you were getting something free? Did the item seem like too good of a deal to pass up, or did the freebie sweeten the deal so much that you couldn't walk away?

That's the whole point of sales, freebies, and other marketing gimmicks. People have been studying buying behavior for years, and companies target consumers with sales and specials that they know will speak to their weaknesses. Yes, our brains may be flawed in that regard. We can get tricked into making an ill-advised purchase with these psychological games.

I'm not immune to them, and I don't know many people who are. Good deals make us happy. We love feeling like we got something for free or for an extra special price. What's the key to NOT getting hoodwinked by effective marketing tactics? It's all about self-control. Knowing your budget and sticking to it is, of course, important when you're out shopping. And if you can't stick to your budget when shopping, then you either need to stay home or leave the credit cards at home.

We're in scary financial times, and I don't think that consumers should put themselves in situations in which they might blow their budgets. You better believe that retailers are going to be pulling out all the stops (especially with the upcoming holiday season) to get you to spend your money. Don't fall prey to clever marketing. Be more aware than you ever have been about tactics designed to get you to buy things you don't need.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.

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