These days it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to keep expenses down to an absolute minimum. That’s why many of us develop our own rules of thumb when shopping. Personally, I’ve developed an almost intuitive strategy which I practiced to help keep me on the good side of my bank account. However, a recent venture to a home goods store left me completely helpless, despite all of my highly-advanced cost-trimming tactics.
My tale begins as most do, with a flyer. A flyer that featured a 20% discount coupon on any item purchased. I thought to myself that I did need a few things. I had just recently moved into an apartment downtown, and I was merely open to the idea that maybe my new place should be up to par.
So let’s just take a look, I thought as I skimmed through the flyer. Well, well, would you look at that? Is that not a coincidence? They actually have chrome air-lift stools on sale. You know, I must be lucky because I need a stool just like that for my living room. And at $90 plus 20% discount...well, I’d be stupid not to buy it. The universe has aligned itself to meet my specific needs, and I’m supposed to say ‘no thanks’? I don’t think so, it would be almost blasphemous.
Low and behold, I found myself driving precisely to that store to get my $90 plus 20% discount air-lift stool. Now in the past, I’ve learned that if you know you’re heading to a store where you have a tendency to spend more than necessary on unnecessary things, you shouldn’t give yourself too much time in that particular store.
Rule #1 – Give yourself a time limit. That’s why before setting-out I make sure to only give myself 30 minutes. How do I stick to this time limit, you ask? By going to the store with only 30 minutes before it closes. Store employees love me. Some call it procrastination; I call it ‘strategic’. But beware, this rule can backfire on you. Some people break under pressure and rather than buying the single item they’re looking for they rush through the store buying everything in sight, in fear that the store is going to close.
Because of this rule I’ve become a pro; a well-practiced efficient shopper. The secret is to develop tunnel-vision where the only thing you see is the item you came to purchase. So when I get there I completely by-pass the welcome mats on sale, and the turbo juicers, even the cappuccino and espresso makers. I went directly to the chairs, saw the one I wanted, put it into my cart and did a u-turn to the cash register. I came, I shopped – ladies and gentlemen – I conquered.
Or so I thought.
When I got to the cash register there was a line-up, so my tunnel-vision was disabled. I was unarmed, and started feeling...curious. I looked around and then I saw it: a kitchen sponge holder made from red rubber that saddled over the sink partition, so that it could hold not one, but two sponges at once. I casually made my way over, picked it up and saw the price tag. $5.99?! For a sponge holder?!?! Oh wait, it’s on sale...it used to be $7.99. Well, $7.99 is just crazy for a sponge holder, but $5.99 might be reasonable. I was torn, but when I saw that it had little drainage holes to prevent the dreaded smelly-kitchen-sponge, I think I fell in love a little. In that instant I made a seemingly innocent purchasing decision on a whim.
Rule #2 – Never make a purchasing decision “on a whim”. If it seems like a whim to you, that usually means you haven’t given it enough thought. And if you’ve given it enough thought but purchasing it still feels like “a whim” then you are no longer considering the item; you are now just going against your better judgement. If you need to talk yourself into a purchase, you need to walk yourself out of the store.
On the one side I was thinking, “Come on, do you really need this? It’s a tacky red rubber sponge holder.” But that was immediately countered with, “Tacky? You mean Euro-chic.” Then I started thinking about the cool bar stools I have in the kitchen (chrome and red leather barbershop chairs), and the framed photo of Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #30; it all just seemed too perfect. The shade of red in each of these items would complement one another to the point that if I purchased this sponge holder, I knew my kitchen would be the epitome of cool artsy kitchens in all of downtown! It even matched the kitchen towels. I finally surrendered. Not only did I want this $5.99 sponge holder, no – I needed it.
Rule #3 – If your purchasing decision has become an egoic vendetta, it is no longer a mere purchase...it’s become an issue. Issues are not healthy to budgets. They’re more like kryptonite – not even Superman stands a chance. That’s why it’s important to know what purchases carry emotional baggage and to always approach these with extreme caution. Remember that these also change over the years. For some people it’s electronics, for others it’s shoes; it doesn’t matter what the guilty pleasure is, they all lead to your financial demise.
I ended-up buying the thing, and I was even still a little excited by the time I got into the car. But on my drive home I just kept on thinking that I just spent nearly $7.00 (with tax) on something that’s just going to hold a sponge...a kitchen sponge. Oh yes, it could hold two, but I didn’t even have two sponges. The thought haunted me all the way home. Images of the hundreds of other sponge holders I could have bought from the Dollar Store flashed through my mind. What annoyed me most was that I had just spent the last 40 minutes of my life contemplating a sponge holder.
By the time I got home I decided to just forget about what it cost and use it. If it would make me even slightly smile every time I washed a dish then it was money well spent in my books. So I happily placed it on my sink partition and...it didn’t fit. It looked like a badly shaped saddle with both sides turned-up.
Rule #4 – Return policies are a shopper’s best friend so remember, always keep your receipts.