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You Need a Shopping Conscience

By Kira Botkin

woman browsing shampoo aisleI enjoy the “thrill of the hunt” when shopping, but sometimes by the time I’ve gotten home, I can’t even remember what items I bought, nor why I thought they were a good idea! The four questions below will help you develop that little voice inside your head that cautions you about bad purchases before they’re made. Before you buy, ask yourself these questions and avoid the regret:

1. Is it on my list?

Even if it’s only a mental list, it’s a good idea to have a list of things you are looking for. I tend to do a lot of shopping at estate sales and thrift stores for example, and at these kinds of places you’ll see anything and everything for sale. Having a focused list helps you remain disciplined and enables you to avoid all the shiny, pretty things that you’d buy for no reason. For example, since I know that I want a shower organizer, I can snap one up if I see it for a good price while avoiding that “really cool” mantle piece that actually has no use to me at all. And your list doesn’t have to be just specific items; even a thought like “I need something to hold my cooking tools” helps you stay on track too.

2. Am I buying it only because it’s cheap?

Sometimes we buy things because it seems like a good idea at the time, and hey, it’s only a couple bucks so what could that hurt? The problem with this approach is that you end up with a bunch of stuff cluttering up your house that you didn’t need or want enough to specifically go looking for in the first place. I admit that this is frequently why I end up checking out at Target only to be surprised by the total price when I only came in for laundry detergent! This is why I do not ever go into the dollar section, because I’ll pick things up and end up with $10 extra on the bill that I don’t even remember buying. Even cheap items can add up in price!

3. Am I buying it only because it’s on sale?

I’m particularly bad with clothes in this regard. Even if it doesn’t fit all that well or is a weird color, I think, “Well, it’s only $6, normally costs $24, and I could use some more shirts, so I guess it’ll do.” But that means it ends up at the bottom of the shirt pile over and over and I never wear it. It’s only a good deal if you’re getting a discount on something you have been looking for and would have bought anyway. My mother would come home and say, “I saved $50 on this!” And my father would say, “Show me the $50.” Big sales are a signal to get out your list and see if anything matches – just because it used to be expensive doesn’t mean it’s a good value for you.

And another note about sales – while you are frequently under lots of time pressure because this sale is “ONLY TODAY!” and “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” and “THAT LADY MIGHT TAKE IT!,” sales will happen again. The world will not come to an end if someone else takes that amazing jacket that you didn’t know you couldn’t live without ten minutes ago. And if you found this item on sale once, you’ll probably be able to get a pretty good deal on something similar later. This is especially true if you are shopping online – join the store’s mailing list and I’d be surprised if you don’t get an email about another sale in a month that’s just as good if not better.

4. Would I buy this tomorrow?

Sometimes, I’m just cranky when I’m shopping, and I think, “Wow, this would really hit the spot right about now.” But by the time I get home, I’m not cranky anymore and I wish I hadn’t bought it. Especially for big purchases, make a note of the item and how much it cost, and then decide later if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. All it takes sometimes is a good night’s sleep and an honest answer to the question, “Do I really need that?” in the morning. At the very least, hold on to the receipt and don’t open the product until a few days later so you can give yourself a chance to realize you don’t need it, and then you can return it.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Kira Botkin
Kira is a longtime blogger and serial entrepreneur who enjoys gardening, garage sales, and finding stray animals. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where football is a distinct season, and by day runs a research study for people with multiple sclerosis. She hopes that the MoneyCrashers team can help you achieve your goals and live a great life.

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  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Stella

    Love your Dad’s comment. My mom used to do the same thing–come home with bags of stuff from the grocery store and crowing about how much she saved with coupons. Except most of the coupons were used on stuff we usually didn’t eat. I’m trying to be more conscious of my purchases–especially when shopping for clothes (my financial Achilles heel!). If I can’t see myself wearing something regularly and getting a lot of use out of it and/or if it doesn’t look FABULOUS on me, back on the rack it goes–no matter how cheap it is!

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