Is Traditional Spending Advice Leaving You Frustrated?

When it comes to stopping splurge spending, we’ve probably all heard the basic advice; “don’t shop while hungry”, “make a list”, etc., but if you’re anything like me, that advice does diddly squat.

I do try to eat before grocery shopping, and I do make lists, but neither of those things really stop me from walking out with at least one item more than I planned. Stores are structured to keep you, the consumer, inside and spending money; they put milk at the back of the store so you have to walk past everything and see something you want/need. While I don’t have all the answers to impulse buying, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful.

1. Bring a Limited Supply of Cash.

            This is most helpful for making sure you stick to your shopping list. Before you go to the store, estimate the total cost for all items on your list, and double check your items. When you have the estimate, bring only that much cash with you and leave your debit/credit card at home. This means you’re limited to only purchasing $____ worth of product and, unless you’ve grossly overestimated, means you can’t impulse buy. If it’s something you really need, you can always return to the store later.

2. Don’t Hold Impulse Items.

            The more time you spend holding an impulsive or splurge item, the more likely you are to buy it. As you hold it in your hands, you smell/feel/see it and start to develop a bond, especially when you carry it in hand. The best idea is to put it back onto the shelf, take a note of its location, and continue collecting the items on your list. If you’re still thinking about it by the end, you can go back for it, and if you forget you didn’t really need it anyway. Another option is to put it in your cart and before check out, stop and ask yourself if you really need this. Will this item enrich your quality of life? Is it really worth $___? Will you use it more than 3 times? If you can answer no to any of these questions, you might not need it.

3. Keep a Running Total of your Items.

If you’re anything like me, you look at an item, ask yourself if it’s really worth the dollar amount, and throw it in the cart without looking back. Even if I genuinely feel that each item is worth the price, I’m not thinking about the collective total I’ll be paying until it’s too late. Before I know it, I have 50 bucks worth of things I didn’t really need and too much anxiety to ask the cashier to hold them back. When I keep a running total on my phone, I’m aware of how much each item I put in my cart is costing me, which makes it much easier to prioritize and put items back.

4. Think in Hours not Dollars.

            The next time you look at a price tag, divide the cost by your hourly wage. Say it costs $40.00, and you make $10.00 an hour; so it costs 4 hours of your life. If you feel like you really deserve a splurge item for working so hard, you’ll probably buy it. And it’s okay to treat yourself, too. Saving for a car or buying jeans occasionally can help keep you motivated for long term saving.

It may be helpful to think how many hours away from your “SO” (significant other)/children/pet equal that price. Framing it toward something you love can illustrate the price and change your definition of worth.

 I find this shift works well when clothes shopping and when I can compare prices.. “Are these jeans really worth 8 hours of my time? That’s a full work day! Not worth it, especially since I see 2 hour jeans over there.” Being able to compare quality and fit with price helps me evaluate quality and worth.

Find the question or setting that works for you. And when you do buy that splurge item, make a point of enjoying it. 

Written for Women's Money by Mckenzie Candelot, Staff Writer 

Mckenzie Candalot is a recent graduate of the College of Idaho, with a B.A. for English Literature, and is currently working on a Masters in the Art of Teaching. When not studying for classes or blogging, she enjoys reading, walking her dog, and embroidery.