There is a great little piece of advice that swirls around parenting books & mom blogs (& all of those fun and exciting places…) The setup is like this:
Parent takes children shopping for a birthday present or something else. Kids want their parent to buy something for them. Nagging & whining ensue. Mayday!!
The wise book author/mom-who-has-been-there suggests: tell your kids beforehand that the reason for the trip is to buy X specific thing, not for anything else. That way, when you’re there and the gimme request arises, you can remind wee Johnny/Jane/Harper/Emerson that you’re only there to buy Clover’s 4th birthday present, and nothing else.
Pretty good advice, I think. And it even (more or less) works!
Why is it that we, as adults on our own, forget this enormously simple tidbit all. the. time?!
I can’t tell you how many times I myself have done this, or have read friends’ status updates, strangers’ blog posts or comments, or heard said in passing something of the following nature:
“…Went to Target for dishwasher soap, left with new sheets, a bedside table, and toilet paper (those endcaps get me every time!!)”
“I just wanted to pick up a couple things at Ikea; how did I spent $85?”
“I go to Costco for the great prices on meat, and sometimes I buy other things like a blender, snow sleds (in August), book sets, office chairs, or interesting snack foods that I never see anywhere else.”
Are we out of our minds? Or just our money?
I have said before that there are times & items that are totally reasonable to buy immediately. Maybe a good price on a leather bag you’ve been eyeing, or (we see a lot), a perfectly colored kantha blanket (!), or, what can be the ultimate in crazy/not-crazy quick purchases: a house.
But, while all of these things might be speedy from sight to purchase, that doesn’t make them impulse buys. Buying something spur-of-the-moment when you have been planning, waiting, and looking is completely different than picking up something you never knew you wanted until you saw it.
I think that there are 3 factors that primarily influence our impulse purchases (particularly at these large stores that sell a variety of things):
A perception of urgency & the fear of missing out: If I don’t buy this right now, it might not be here (or be the same price) when I come back. This is particularly real at Costco, because it is literally true: if you come back tomorrow, they may all be gone.
Convenience trumps consideration: I don’t know when I will make it back to this place, and I’m already here, so I might as well just buy it now. Again, feels very true; but are we really as time pressed as we feel? If it wouldn’t be worth it to return to the store to buy xyz thing, how badly do I really want it?
The myth of the easy return: If I don’t like it, I can always return it. It's basically the opposite of the point above, though they march hand in hand. Simple returns may be true in theory, but in practice, return policies simply encourage you to purchase without barrier; psychological studies have shown that the more lenient the return policy, the more likely shoppers are to keep the item! What’s more, when we do actually return the item, don’t we often find something else to purchase instead? For me, returned-item money is like finding cash on the ground; I (re-)spend it with abandon.
Could we apply the same parenting tip to all of our shopping? Go for what you plan for, and nothing else? It’s very common in grocery shopping: make a list, stick to the list. Stores with ALL THE THINGS make it much more challenging, but I still think it is possible.
Which store is your overspending/impulsive shopping weakness? Share yours in the comments below.
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