Bargain shopping is great for finding great deals on items. Yard sales are a wonderful place to save tons of money and still find what we want. But how often do you walk into a sale “just to browse” and walk out with a bunch of things that you probably did not need just because they were a “good deal”?
I was a victim of a buy 4 get 5! bargain just a couple of weeks ago. I really only needed three items at $10 each, but I walked out with five items for $40. Lost $10 and gained two items I had no need for -– just to get a “good deal”.
As I thought about my spending behavior that day, I started to notice a number of reasons we overspend, when in reality, we are most earnestly trying to save money.
Here are some pointers to make sure you do not become a victim of slick marketing — or even your own good intentions.
1. Plan – Know what you need and want.
Not knowing what exactly I need is the most common reason I overspend. A quick run into the grocery store turns into a big bag of “nice-to-haves” every single time I let my mind estimate what my pantry needs.
Plan as many of your purchases as possible. Planning your weekly menu really helps with grocery shopping. Plan your gifts ahead of time so you can take actually take advantage of sales by buying the things you really need.
While I use Remember the Milk to organize my lists online, I always have a running pen-and-paper list handy. Paper lists really help to ensure I do not miss capturing the things that come to mind while I feed my kids, shower them, and so on.
2. Compare – Do your comparison shopping.
As prudent spenders, comparison-shopping is a prerequisite to smart spending. With great tools online, it is getting easier and faster to comparison shop.
Make a habit of searching your newspaper fliers for your weekly grocery items. Most recently, I have started using Bing, a site that compares prices and even estimates probability of prices going up/down on travel deals.
3. Budget – Set a financial limit.
A couple of times every year, I let myself just enjoy shopping for myself without a plan. Without a budget or an upper limit on these kinds of purchases, I am always likely to overspend. No matter what kind of spending, always budget for it, so you have an upper limit for every thing.
You can set a limit for your shopping in a number of ways. Use the envelope system, buy yourself a gift card for a certain amount of money, or use the zero-based budgeting system. Knowing that I will certainly NOT overspend even makes for a more enjoyable shopping experience for me.
4. Use cash – Credit cards are dangerous.
Photo by Martin Kingsley
Pulling your card out too many times could desensitize you to the money you are spending every single time you swipe your card. In order to prevent that, be sure to keep cash handy. Pay by cash as much as possible – it hurts more and feels like real money when you hand out those notes.
My husband considers it a little strange, but I have an online pay system set up where I need to approve all the payments before they go out. It is way for me to make sure I am consciously aware and take a moment to reflect on some of the spending in the past month.
5. Save first, spend later – Put away money before you spend.
When I got my first job, it took me a while to understand that savings is not the money that I am left with after I am done spending. In fact, my spending money is what I get after I am done putting a certain amount of money into savings.
By having more spending money, you are more likely to spend more. Be sure to challenge yourself to save as much as reasonably possible. In fact, put away a little more than the last month every time.
6. Keep busy – Fill your day with interesting activities.
Boredom was often the cause of my spending before I had my kids. This has changed quite a bit since I had kids, and shopping or strolling in shopping areas became more and more inconvenient.
Keep a deck of index cards on your table, in your car, or in your bag with activities written on them. Browse these cards when you are bored or need to find something to do with your kids. We keep a deck of cards in our car with ideas for childrens’ activities, and it helps us immensely.
Regular exercise also is a great way to prevent shopping out of boredom –- be it online or in real life. Use websites such as Meetup or Twtvite to find local people meeting around interests and passions.
7. Be rational – Emotional spending is almost always bad.
Every time I shop for food when I am hungry, I buy at least three items because my stomach (and not my mind) thought I needed it. I rarely shop when I feel low, but my buys prior to vacations are rather impulsive — a sign of my excited anticipation rather than fulfilling a need. A lot of my online buying decisions are often bad ones when they’re made under the stress of being late on a gift.
Be sure to understand your types of emotional spending. Most often, just understanding those patterns help you become more rational.
8. Be creative and flexible – There is very little you absolutely need.
Photo by M.A. Enriquez
Shopping with two little kids is incredibly hard. That, in turn, has made me rather creative. Before, I’d run to the store with a list of things to buy -– complete with art kits for every little project I had. Only recently have I realized how much I was spending by not re-purposing the craft material I already had.
These days, I heavily improvise with cooking recipes and crafts for kids. I often use our recycle bin as a craft resource. It is a lot more fun for the kids to find craft material at home than out at the local craft store.
9. Think experiences – Enrich your life without the “stuff.”
Buying gifts is great, but I have recently started gifting experiences to myself and the people that matter.
Make videos for people and share them online. Create a photobook for family and friends after they have visited you. Life gets richer with experiences, rather than commodities that cost money and pile up the junk at home.
10. Negotiate – Understand that you have a right to save your money.
Negotiating is not about fleecing another person. You have the right to seek out a good deal. Negotiating is not the same as haggling –- you lose nothing and often save more than a few pennies to put back into your savings account.
What tricks do you use to prevent yourself from overspending?