I felt that the it warranted a blog post because I suspect that many of us can relate to the circumstances in one way or another.
They were discussing their love for the Ralph Lauren brand of clothing. The secretary indicated that her jeans were Ralph Lauren, and he was her favorite designer. The teacher agreed and then went on to say that she had been shopping in Macy’s that weekend.
At that point, the secretary commented that she was carrying so much credit card debt from that store that she “could not go back there for a long time.”
“Oh, I owe them money, too,” the teacher responded. “But they were having a sale on Ralph Lauren purses, so I just couldn’t stay away.”
She then continued. “So I saw this bag, and you know how it is when you see something in a store and it just speaks to you, and you just know that you have to have it?”
The secretary murmured her understanding and the teacher then went on.
“Well, then I saw that it was marked down from $380 to $135, and I knew I had to buy it. It was calling my name! I knew it was meant to be. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful it is -- too beautiful to bring to work, but I’ll take a picture of it and show it to you.”
I was just a little stunned by this conversation for a few different reasons, not the least of which were the prices my colleague apparently found completely reasonable, and the credit card debt that she blithely shrugged off.
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, made a beeline for their accessories department, and made a quick survey of their offerings.
But I did not find anything among the purses that met my needs in terms of size, functionality and price. Most of the bags were simply too large, but some were beyond my budgeted amount of $20.
So I turned around and headed down the aisle towards the exit door. As I did so, I happened to pass two women and catch an exchange between them about a handbag one of them was holding:
“Doesn’t it just speak to you?” one was asking the other, who enthusiastically agreed.
This almost stopped me in my tracks. It’s not every day that I hear about merchandise “speaking to” someone, and there I was hearing it about the same item in less than 2 days.
“I know I shouldn’t,” the first woman continued. She started to put the purse back on the rack, hesitated, apparently reconsidered, and proceeded to put it into her overflowing cart.
“Oh, what the heck,“ she said. “I want it.”
She started to push her cart towards the check-out registers. “I know I’m going to hate myself when I get my credit card bill, but it’s just too beautiful not to buy it, right?” She grinned a little and shrugged as they went on their way out of earshot.
I’m pretty sure I winced at this interaction.
After all, “hobby shopping”, as I call it, is one of the top leisure time activities in this country, and it obviously does not limit itself to items like handbags.
It can lead to impulse and budget blowing purchases of many kinds. It could just as easily be other accessories, or shoes, jeans, jackets, or other clothing. Or it could be tech gadgets.
Or just about anything that brings us a temporary rush when we purchase it. Until we get the bill. Or until the rush wears off and we seek out another material possession to give us satisfaction.
So here’s the obvious point in this. Most of us do not have unlimited funds, so if we have any hope at all of achieving and maintaining financial well-being, then we have to curb our spending so that we can save and put our money to work to achieve our own short- and long-term goals.
Regular and consistent saving and investing in ourselves is the only way we can be sure that we have enough money set aside for when we need it for, say, emergency savings, or a new (used) car, or a vacation, or the downpayment on a house, or retirement, etc.
Still, it can be hard to avoid impulse purchases, and even harder to get started on a regular savings plan, let alone maintain the discipline to keep it up month after month, year after year.
However, as a veteran penny-pincher who has seen the rewards frugality can offer in terms of financial security and peace of mind, I can tell you it’s worth it.
So here are some simple guidelines that I myself follow whenever I shop. They have proved invaluable in helping us stay on track.
Maybe others will find them helpful, too.
That includes stores of any kind, both the brick and mortar ones and the on-line version.
Never shop without a clear goal, or need, and a list, if it's several items you are looking for.
And that means you absolutely must fight any inclinations to aimlessly visit or hang out in the mall, or do any kind of browsing or window shopping “just to see what they have.”
No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Shop only with cash
Just leave your credit card at home. Decide on the price you are willing to pay for an item and bring only the amount you need to cover that cost.
Do not stop to browse when you shop
Be completely goal-oriented when you enter any store. In other words, laser focus on the items you need, head straight to that part of the store, and avoid visiting any other departments.
Be prepared to walk out completely empty-handed
This is very important.
The store may not have what you need, so be prepared to walk away without buying a thing if it doesn't.
Resist the urge to buy something just because you're in a store.
Leave the store immediately when you're done
Don't linger. Once you've made your purchase, or checked the department you came to check, just head straight back to the exit door.
Always keep in mind that stores are trying to separate you from your hard-earned money, so they will do everything they can to get you to slow down and make impulse purchases.
Don’t do it. Just get out once you are done.
Ignore specials or sales on anything but your target item
Always bear in mind that if you buy something you don’t need -- even if it’s on sale -- you are NOT saving money.
Get what you came for and ignore everything else.
Turn a blind eye to any items near the cash register
So you've found the item you needed and now you're waiting to check out.
Stores are very clever about placing things very "conveniently" where you will be standing and waiting. Candy, techie gadgets, toys, magazines - you name it, you'll find it at many a check-out.
They're usually small-ticket items, but they'll make a dent in a tight budget. And even if they don't, they're generally a waste of money for things that you just don't need that will end up cluttering your home.
These are placed there quite deliberately by stores to entice you to spend your money. Ignore them, pay your cash, and leave, budget intact.
Now, I know these are very simple guidelines. But if you follow them, you are well on your way to making your spending choices conscious and intentional ones that fulfill a defined and meaningful purpose in your life.
It’s a big start in taking charge of your finances and your life, and whole lot less stressful than worrying about your next credit card bill.