I still have the list in my purse. It reads, in its entirety:
- Laundry detergent
- Light bulbs
- Brita pitcher
The receipt from my trip to Target last night, however, bears only a passing resemblance to that shopping list:
- Laundry detergent
- Light bulbs
- Brita pitcher
- Aubergine V-neck T-shirt with gold thread detailing at the neck
- Slate gray tunic top with detailing at the neck and cuffs
- Slate gray fitted cotton three-quarters-length sleeve sweater (looks awesome over the tunic)
- Pale yellow light cotton shirt seen as I was rolling toward the cash register (I didn't even try this one on . )
- Blue cotton layering tank top
- Seven candles of varying sizes and (cute!) containers
One-hundred and forty-eight dollars and eighty-one cents later -- $102.90 of which went to what we in finance circles call "non-essentials" -- and I was on my way.
I looked around, hoping that no one recognized me as the lady who was on the local news earlier giving money advice. (Thankfully, the jester's hat obscures my features.) But that didn't matter because in an earlier article when I offered advice for a gal who liked the finer things in life even though her paycheck was screaming "Tilt!," I said I'd come back with some tips for cash-strapped glamour girls.
Tip No. 1: Target has some really cute stuff!
Scratch that. It is true, but what's important is that lists (for money tips, Target trips, "to dos") are easy to write; sticking to them is not.
Money mind games
My colleague, Robert Brokamp, recently interviewed Eric Tyson, author of Mind Over Money, about the faulty money mindsets we have and how to overcome our hang-ups. (I recall heading to the bookstore to buy it, but instead I ended up with the latest issues of Elle Decor UK and Time, a new day planner, and three birthday cards.)
Guess what was the No. 1 faulty mindset he described to Robert? "The Shopper."
Here are nine tips (a list!) to help me and my fellow glamour girls and guys curb the urge to splurge:
Cash is queen. The advice may be obvious, but curbing credit card use is one of the best ways to squelch a spending problem. Keep the cards at home and carry cash, checks, or a debit card. An obstacle? Yes. But so is excessive spending and racking up high-cost consumer debt, which Tyson says is by far the biggest personal financial problem he's seen over the years.
Do some shopping soul-searching. When you grab that slate gray tunic, even if it looks fabulous when you try it on, don't put it in your cart until you ask yourself this one important question: Do I need it? C'mon. Do you really? Author Pamela Danziger (who wrote Why People Buy Things They Don't Need) says that we shop to gratify a desire, and the actual act of consuming (strolling the aisles, trying things on), rather than the item consumed (actually buying the tunic), satisfies our emotional needs. She's right. Often when I walk out of the store empty-handed, I feel perfectly sated and proud about the money I "saved" by not spending it. Which leads us to...
No funny math. There are lots of ways we convince ourselves that buying is better than putting back on the shelf. "I get miles or cash back for this when I put it on my credit card!" "If I amortize the price of these shoes over the number of times I know I'm going to wear them, they're practically free!" "I just returned three rolls of shelf liner, 'freeing up' $22.02 to spend on candles!" Had I stuck to my shopping list, I would have been out of there spending less than $50 (which is really just $27.98 if you factor in the shelf liner I returned).
Unsubscribe. Stay out of the hot spots. Don't go to the mall just because you're bored. When you do run out of detergent and light bulbs, steer your cart clear of the clothing department and go straight to household goods. Online shoppers can find themselves deluged with "Special Online-Only Sale Now, Yes We're Talking To YOU" emails. Take your name off the mailing lists. Or if you can't ...
Institute a waiting period. Bookmark or use the email-a-friend (meaning yourself) feature before you click buy. Let it simmer for a while. You'd be surprised how after a few days that must-have item isn't as necessary as it was when you clicked on it the first time. If you're in a bricks-and-mortar shop, don't put it in your cart the first time through. In fact, don't even grab a cart or ask a salesperson to hold something. Take a breather, pick up your light bulbs, and if you really, really, absolutely need whatever it was you saw, the next day, go back. But pay cash. And stick to that list!
Use visual reminders. A shopping list is great if you have the willpower to stick to it. Even better is a frugal, nagging friend. But she might not be available every time you need someone to play bad cop. So try this little trick. In that cute little day planner, write down everything you purchase over the course of two weeks. Just the act of noting the "non-essentials" will likely curb your enthusiasm at the checkout counter. If after two weeks you find yourself going back to old habits, reinstate the exercise.
Shop at home. I have a few friends who are great at reconceptualizing outfits by making "new" ensembles from what is already in their closets. Find a friend like that and invite her over. Find a few more who are your size and have a clothing-swap party. If you find yourself growing bored with perfectly good items you already have, sell them at a consignment store and get a little coin for your good taste.
Accessorize! Find smaller ways to satisfy your fashion plate (or electronics geek or bookworm) desires. Complete denial can lead to all-out splurges. Think of ways to give yourself a little lift every once and a while. A new belt is a lot cheaper than buying an entirely new outfit.
Shop shop stocks. Had I paid a little more attention to Urban Outfitters'
You don't have to let the boys in on our secret. In fact, with a little at-home accessorizing, strategic belt-tightening, and a portfolio rejuvenation treatment, it'll be no time until your Target shopping list includes all the cute stuff in the clothing department.
This month's Rule Your Retirement issue features interviews with Mind Over Money and Personal Finance for Dummies author Eric Tyson and Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry. Extended versions of both interviews are available on the Rule Your Retirement website, where you'll also have full privileges to all back issues (which are chock-full of tools and tips). Like any good department store makeup counter, we offer free samples (well, a 30-day free trial) and a money-back guarantee if you don't feel fabulous after our little financial heart-to-heart.Click hereto get started.
Dayana Yochim (sadly) owns none of the companies mentioned in this article, but she knows a few of the store clerks by name. The Fool's disclosure policy insures that all our writers dish about their personal (financial) lives.