Separating the impulse buys from the real deals

Help for the Unstoppable Shopper

TDS Reader Solutions

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Uncontrolled Spending

I have a question that I have not been able to answer myself. I am a one-store shopper. I love Wal-Mart SuperCenter. I like the convenience of buying everything I need at one store and I have comparison-shopped. No other store in my area has better prices overall. I am spending $300 to $400 a month in Wal-Mart and need to cut this expense, since I feel 20-30% of this is probably impulse purchases. Now $300 a month may not sound like much to most, but I am single. However, I do have a cat and a huge bird-feeding obsession. I am anxious to hear what other people do to avoid this trap.

I have tried the once-a-month shopping trip, but it never works. I live in an apartment and have little to zero room to store bulk purchases. However, I am open to some buying ahead ideas. I have thought about only taking a limited amount of cash and leaving the debit card at home, but it is hard for me to estimate how much money I will need beforehand. So rather than risk being short at the register, I take the debit card, the credit cards, the checkbook and the cash! I guess I just need to get tough on myself, but if anyone has any creative ideas to share, I would love to hear them!
Sherry in Knoxville, TN

Make a List and Stick to It

You can do once-a-month shopping. You just have to be creative about storage. For instance, a toy hammock hung from the ceiling will hold lighter weight supplies like paper towels and toilet tissue. Get some strong hooks for the hammock and hide the supplies with a pretty sheet. Store extra food under the bed. Make roll out shelves on wheels for easy removal. Put a piece of wood on the wheels and then screw them in place. Get some boxes with sides or old dresser drawers and store your food. Buy milk and freeze the extra. Let it thaw before use or buy powdered. Add shelves to your walls. Put extra can goods on them. Add curtains or doors to hide the food from guests. My end tables have space under them to store things. I cover the items so guest can't tell what is there.

To curb spending, make a list and stick to it. I add things as I use them. For instance, let's say that I use a can of tuna today and one three days from now. On my list, I add two check marks. Then the day before I shop, I count all the check marks and buy that many items to replace what I used. If you keep a price book, you will be able to recognize a good deal. I budget money for groceries and cleaning supplies. I use only that amount. Some months, I have extra which I save for future purchases. Other months, I run short, so I use my storage area to supplement my supplies. I will take a bit of extra money for bargains but that is it. You just have to be able to say "I don't need this today, I can make do" and then make do. If you run short on that trip, then don't buy something rather than pull out a credit or debit card.

Limit Purchases to Once a Week

I have often experienced the same problem. Some things I have tried are as follows:

  1. Limit purchases (all purchases) to one time per week. I try to limit all my purchases to Saturday morning between the hours of 9:00 and 10:00 A.M. If I do not manage to pick up everything for the week and get through the cash register before then, I cancel the whole shopping trip until the next week.
  2. I keep a running list of everything that I need throughout the week. As I run out of things or think of things to buy, I add them to the running list. On Saturday morning, I am arrow straight in only buying what is on that list. I do not add any other purchases and I try to get out of the store as soon as possible without engaging in any impulse buying purchases.
  3. If I feel I really need something in the middle of the week, I try to improvise or borrow from someone else until the shopping day comes up. One time I ran out of cream for coffee so I just drank it black until it I could buy some on Saturday morning.


If You Must Shop, Shop Smart

Wal-Mart accepts coupons. If you take an ad from another store to Wal-Mart, they will honor the lower price. Before your next Wal-Mart shopping trip, check all ads for the "things you need," cut coupons, and have your ads ready at the register before they start ringing. They will do a price override on any identical item. They do not match or honor percentages off.

Or get a part-time job at Wal-Mart and save 10% with the employee discount. You would be surprised at how much you can save.

Leave the Cards at Home

Are you heading for debt trouble? This simple checklist can help you find out and provide options for doing something about it.

I, too, shop at Wal-Mart and have found (in the past!) overspending there very easy to do. I suggest doing three things to control yourself:

  1. Make a list of your needed items and stick to it! If it's not on the list, it absolutely does not go in your cart, no matter how great a deal or adorable it is. Willpower needed here!
  2. Estimate the cost of each item on your list. Since this is the only place you shop, you should know the prices quite well. Having your list and estimated total in hand, you can then:
  3. Use cash only to buy. Your estimate will help you know how much to bring. Use a calculator while shopping to have an even more accurate total. Using debit cards or checks makes it all too easy to bust your budget, and freeze that credit card until a true emergency comes along!

You can overcome the many temptations while shopping, and the victorious feeling you have leaving the store knowing you stayed on-track will more than compensate for not having more stuff!
Tenley in Tucson

Enlist a Friend's Help

Try shopping once a month. When you realize you're running out of a necessary item before the month is up, ask a friend or family member to pick up the item for you. Even if you end up paying them a small amount for the favor, it will probably still be less than what you would spend on impulse buying.
Judy in ND

Take Time to Think before You Buy

I too, am a Wal-aholic. I love Wal-Mart, and I have a really bad habit of going when I am bored. I've found this to work. When I'm bored and decide to wander around the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in my town, I take a little memo book. If I see anything that isn't on my shopping list, I write it in the book. I should stress that the book does not become my shopping list for the next trip. It simply is a note of things that I thought I needed and couldn't live without, even though I've never thought of them before. Now, when I go back to Wal-Mart, I can refer to my notepad, and if I still see a valuable reason to buy it, then I'll think about the purchase by putting it in my cart while I finish my shopping. I've found that sometimes with impulse purchases, I make it to the end of my shopping trip and can't remember why I picked the item up in the first place. This way, I've had a chance to think about it and decide if I really need to spend that $8.88 before it becomes a permanent fixture in my home.

Swap Lists with a Friend

To avoid impulse buying, shop with a friend. Write out a list of things that you need. Have your friend write out his/her list. Swap lists. Meet later at the register to swap carts. Just stick to the list. Don't add things to the cart for yourself. If you shop because you have extra time on your hands and there isn't anything good on TV, find other ways to spend your time. Join a book club at the library, find out about community activities, go to some workshops, etc.

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