I used to fritter a lot of money away on random things. I didn’t realize that I spent so much, it truly was just a few dollars here and a few dollars there. But it does add up. When I started to really buckle down on eliminating debt, I started being more vigilant about tracking our expenses. And that is when I realized that my behavior needed to change. I wasn’t buying a latte every morning or eating lunch out every day, but I was spending money I didn’t need to. And my biggest culprit was just being in stores I didn’t need to be in, or wandering the aisles when I grocery shopped. Just going along my ordinary day, I was spending money that I didn’t need to spend, on things I wouldn’t remember a week later, and that I might have thought I could afford in singular, but added up, I definitely could not afford.
I began to employ two strategies that really helped me get my miscellaneous spending under control and make forward financial progress. They basically boil down to shopping consciously – making lists and sticking to them, and avoiding temptation by reducing exposure to things to buy.
If I enter a store without a plan, I am a recipe for disaster. I wander, I am attracted to random things, and I end up leaving with an assortment of items that I never would have missed if I didn’t buy them in the first place. So when I need to shop, I make a list. It doesn’t matter if I am shopping for groceries, toiletries, clothing, household items, or all of the above. I make a list, as detailed as possible, and I plan my way through the store by the list. I go to where the items I want are, I skip aisles or sections that don’t contain anything I need, and I try as hard as possible to stick to the list. Do I completely stick to the list? Well – most of the time. I find that if I stray, it is usually because I started a little random wandering. This, I think, is why stores move things around once and a while. Just to trick me into buying more stuff.
That leads to reducing my exposure to things I might want to buy. There’s a Target right down the street from my house. In fact, I’ve mentioned before that it was one of my favorite things about our house’s location when we were initially house shopping two years ago. I love Target. If there is a store I can find a way to spend money in, it is Target. So I just don’t go there. I have been there once in the past 4 months, and that time I went in to buy underwear for my son and left with not only two more packages of underwear than I intended on buying, but a shirt for my daughter as well, and I narrowly avoided buying a new set of bamboo kitchen utensils. I like way too much stuff in that store.
But reducing my exposure doesn’t just mean not going to Target. I try to limit my shopping altogether, and if I am not looking for something specific, I don’t go into a store. For a long time, I limited my grocery shopping to a few specific places that I was very familiar with, but I have started to open that up (because I seriously cannot resist free stuff). But even with going to more places, I try to limit my opportunity to buy as much as possible, by making specific lists from the circulars available each week, and sticking to the sections of the store that contain those items instead of wandering up and down the aisles. Every extra aisle I wander roughly equates to an extra item in my cart.
So if you’re spending more than you’d like at the grocery store or just in general – examine your shopping behaviors. You may be surprised at what a little conscious shopping can do.