The cashier said, “That will be $347.05.” I looked up from my wallet, pulled out my card and handed it to her. Inside my head, I was thinking, “$350?! I only came here for toothpaste! Crap! What happened?!” My heart rate increased, I could feel my blood pressure climbing and anxiety set in. $350 was not in my budget. It was too late now, I had gone too far and was checking out. I couldn’t stop and have her put stuff back because that would be super embarrassing.
After having a mental battle with myself for about 30 seconds, I decided it would be fine. I mean I needed that really cute outfit that spoke to me when I saw it, and I needed new decorations for Springtime. I couldn’t have my fireplace mantle bare of decorations when company came over, and people would definitely notice if I didn’t have a coordinating wreath on my front door. Besides, two of the items were 15% off so I actually saved money.
Have you ever been here? I know I have…too many times to count. This behavior pattern of rationalizing impulse purchases set me up for failure month-after-month. I would start my month with a perfectly planned budget all written out, and after one trip to Target, I had made a mess of everything. It only took me a few months of completely messing up my budget to get sick and tired of having to do damage control the rest of the month.
After some painful reflection on why I was struggling so much, I realized I was an impulse shopper. I never thought I was. Other people have that problem, right? Not me. However, receipts don’t lie. I had to face the truth and eventually I realized I was trying to find joy in purchasing things – you know, that awesome “high” you get after buying something amazing. Eventually, I would crash and burn into buyer’s remorse, but it was often too late to fix it by that point.
I knew the impulse buys had to stop if we were going to have any chance sticking to our budget. I had to stop sabotaging our plan. The solution I came up with to break my pattern proved so effective for me, I haven’t had an impulse purchase since I initiated it.
What’s the big solution?
You have to physically stop.
Meaning: You have to stop before you go to the checkout, (whether you are physically in a store or not) and ask yourself a series of questions before you commit to your purchase. If you can get past these questions (and I ask these questions about each individual thing in my cart), then the item can join you in the checkout lane.
Question 1: Do I NEED this? or Do I WANT this?
You have to answer this question honestly! If you try to lie and say, yes, I absolutely need this $70 purse because it is a different color than the three I have at home (I love purses so much, so I get this logic), you are not being true to the question, and you will continue to buy on impulse.
Is this essential to survival? If your answer is no, put it back. If you are trying to stay within budget, pay down debt or are saving for something else; you should not be spending money on unnecessary things. If you have tons of money and aren’t concerned with budgeting or saving, then, by all means, impulse buy all you want!
If it is, in fact, a true NEED, great! Move on to more questions and make sure it is going to be worth your hard-earned money.
Question 2: Do I already have something like this?
We are all creatures of habit with a defined sense of style and things that we are drawn to and like. I am a prime example of this. Somehow (maybe I was sleep shopping again), I have approximately seven of what appears to be the same sweater. I am not kidding. I love horizontal stripes and my favorite color to wear is black. If you open my bottom dresser drawer, you will find a stupid amount of black and white striped sweaters of different styles.
A couple months ago, I went shopping for a new sweater to fit my recent post-partum figure (I haven’t shopped for clothes in about a year), and I kid you not I held up this super cute black and white horizontal striped cardigan. My husband was like…. “Ummm… don’t you have something like that?” I must be crazy!!
Before you say yes to buying something, think about what you have at home and if you already own something similar. Nine times out of ten, you will probably have something comparable.
If you do have something very similar already, put it back.
If you don’t, move on to more questions. You aren’t in the clear yet!
Question 3: In one year, will I still be using this?
This question is a dream killer for me. I will be so pumped about buying something new because it’s budgeted for, and I have nothing like it. Then I think about if I will be using the item in a year, or if it will be lying around unused. Most of the time, I realize I won’t be getting enough use out of it to justify spending our money on it. I can typically come up with about 10 other uses for the money that would further us toward our goal rather than use it to give me 5 minutes of happiness when I buy it.
This can apply to really simple things like a foot spa kit at Bath and Body Works (good idea at the time, but am I really going to use this consistently for an entire year? Probably not.), or bigger items like $80, Moosehide moccasins (the husband HAD TO HAVE these, wore them for 1 month, then decided he didn’t like them anymore. Total waste. Don’t worry, I still love him.).
I’m not saying you can never buy things that aren’t used year round like seasonal decorations, sporting equipment, etc. The point of this exercise is to really make sure you are going to use what you are spending your money on. If you aren’t going to use it, you shouldn’t be buying it.
Now, on to the question that is most relevant to your budget.
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Question 4: Can I afford this?
This is my FAVORITE question! If you are having any doubts about your purchase, or if you are living in the “gray zone” on your answers (because you are trying to rationalize an impulse purchase), there is no way around this question.
Either this item was budgeted for, or it wasn’t.
There have been so many times I have been walking through a store and I see something on sale that I just have to have. Was it on my list? No. Was it in my budget. Absolutely not. This is the tough part where you learn to be an adult and say “no” to yourself.
My husband really drove this lesson home for me when we were just starting to budget, and I was having trouble with impulse purchases. I remember we were walking through Home Depot (we were there to get paint for our recently purchased home), and I spotted the cutest “Welcome” mat.
Me: “Oh my gosh! I just love this Welcome mat! Isn’t it adorable?”
Husband: “Ya, it’s really cute.” (insert sarcastic tone here)
Me: “This would look so good by our front door. Oh and look! It’s on sale for $12!”
Husband: “We didn’t come here for a Welcome mat.”
Me: “I know, but it’s on sale and we don’t have one.”
Husband: “I thought we were budgeting now? We didn’t budget for this, did we?”
Me: “No we didn’t, but it’s such a good deal! We should get it now while it’s on sale.”
Then something happened. My husband said something so simple, but so true. It stopped me in my tracks. It has since become our family motto when we shop.
Husband: “It’s not a good deal if you can’t afford it.”
I walked away from a $12 purchase that day, but it felt like so much more. That was my absolute turning point in stopping my impulse behaviors. I knew I could change and I knew how good it felt. Small victories will turn into huge successes. You just have to start.
If you make it through this question and know that you can afford this (ie. it has been budgeted for), you just have to ask one more question.
Pin as a reminder!
Question 5: Can I get by without this? or Can I find this cheaper somewhere else?
If you have made it this far, you really shouldn’t be feeling bad about your purchase. This question may motivate you to tap into your creativity or find resourcefulness you didn’t know you had. There have been so many things I was ready to purchase (my husband can attest to this because I actually frustrate him in the store when I put 90% of my cart back on the shelf), but when I really thought about if I could get by without it, find it cheaper somewhere else or come up with a homemade/alternative version, I would put it back.
This is an extreme example, but I guess it shows how far I’ve come. My oldest child is now 18 months and is freakishly tall. His height allows him the access to open all doors via doorknobs in our home. I only have two baby gates to block doorways and keep him out of two rooms. The rest of the rooms I want to keep him out of, I looked into buying the child safety door knob covers for. These are ~$4 each, which in the overall scheme of our financial life, isn’t that much. I recently had these in my shopping cart online and was ready to buy them, but I stopped myself.
If you are reading further, you have to promise not to judge my cheapness, and instead admire my creativity and dedication to frugality.
What we did instead of buying child door knob covers was lock the doors from the inside and we use bobby pins to unlock them when we need in. This works because they are the push locks; not the turn locks. I had a million bobby pins so we just keep one above the doors that we lock and use them as needed. No expense added!
I know this might seem crazy, but I don’t mind because we are saving money.
If you decide you can get by without the item or get it cheaper elsewhere, you get to bank what you would have spent! When I first started using this question system, I would keep track of the cost of things I put back, and after a shopping trip, I would add up how much money I saved. It was AWESOME! I would tell my husband how much we had saved by me not buying certain things, and eventually, it became a competition with myself as to how much I could save using self-control.
To take the impulse out of your shopping, stop before you head to the checkout lane and ask yourself these 5 simple questions. Become accountable for your financial decisions. The act of repeating this process with every shopping trip will begin to change your behavior. Every time you say no to purchasing an unnecessary “thing,” you will be winning and gaining confidence. Instead of feeling like a child who is being told “no, you can’t have that,” you get to become the self-assured adult who is making smart decisions for her family.
This is going to be a hard change at first, but I know you can do it! What I want you to do is download this picture and save it on your phone. The next time you are at the store, stop before you go to checkout. Get your phone out, and pull up this picture. Work through the questions one-by-one. I don’t want you to have any excuses for not asking yourself these questions.
Save or Pin for later!
Stop the behavior today that is sabotaging your budget. You got this!
Let me know how much money you are saving with each shopping trip!
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