At casinos, you can’t tell day from night because of the lack of clocks and windows. The casino managers don’t want you to think about time, so you’ll gamble longer. Similarly, your favorite stores’ managers don’t want you to leave either. If you’re enjoying your shopping experience too much, you’re likely to buy an extra shirt you don’t need or an exotic vegetable you don’t even know how to cook. Focus your shopping with these five habits and you’ll put an end to impulse buys and save time lost to the mall.
It’s easy to wander off into the evening wear department and browse for a clubbing outfit while you’re supposed to be shopping for work clothes or to stray into the exotic fruits aisle at your grocery store when you just went in to buy that night’s dinner fixings. But if you’re reminded of your schedule, you’re less likely to spend hours shopping. Use the timer or alarm functions on your cellphone to challenge yourself to stay on a time budget. Once you see the minutes slipping away, you’ll avoid distractions and head toward your objective. Set your time budget based on activity. For instance, buying milk at the grocery store shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Shopping for a pair of shoes may take 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the style and size sought.
For those who aren’t disciplined enough to stick to the timer method, try setting up an appointment adjacent to your shopping. It’s easier to spend hours browsing when your schedule is free for the rest of the afternoon. Shop before your favorite workout class or on your lunch hour. If there isn’t a fitness class you particularly enjoy, make a plan to see a movie with a friend or shop before your favorite TV show.
Buy a $10 dry erase board and stick it on your fridge. No, this will not be to write down what you need, but rather, to detail your current inventory of frequently used food and household goods. Look at the board before shopping to create a list of what you need the most and the least. For instance, if you’re single and have 10 chicken breasts in the freezer, it would be absurd to buy more – no matter what the sale price. Add to your shopping list ingredients that will help you make use of all that chicken. Same goes for office supplies such as ink cartridges and computer paper and toiletry items like shampoo and Q-tips.
Frugality gurus are always demonizing the $4 coffee as a wasteful discretionary item that should be top of your budget hit list, but in some cases, indulging in a cappuccino can actually save you money. Have you ever gone to an office supply store for a packet of ball point pens and left with an extra tiny USB key, a new laptop case, and nifty headphones for your cell phone? Or stopped into a Macy’s for a pair of tights and left with a sweater and a new handbag? If you find yourself heading to the register with an unplanned purchase, ask the clerk to hold it for you while you treat yourself to a caffeinated confection. In the time it takes you to consume your coffee, the momentary fever of an impulse buy may pass and you can better assess whether you really need that item, and the frothy drink will help you feel a little less deprived if you decide to pass on the extra items.
Have you ever traveled to your favorite clothing store and they were out of your size in the outfit you wanted? Thus, you spent over an hour finding a different ensemble and two or three more, in an effort to justify the trip? Preview clothing on the store’s web site when possible. Call with the item number listed before you step into the shopping center. If you have time to wait, you could order the item online after searching for a promo code and then exchange items in person if your clothing isn’t on par with what you expected.
Stay focused with these five tactics for your day-to-day purchases, and you’ll save enough money to afford the occasional recreational shopping trip every now and then.
Reyna Gobel is a freelance journalist who specializes in financial fitness. She is also the author of Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.