Many of us need a few simple reminders of how to shop smart. As many of you know, I became something of a shopping champion (by ‘shopping til I dropped’) until it became a problem for me (my shopping started to become compulsive). I knew that I had to develop a healthier relationship to shopping and over the course of a year, I did just that.
These days, I don’t shop so much but I know what makes for a successful shopping expedition. Let me share my top ten shopping tips with you. I hope they help you to shop smart.
Don’t just get in the car and point it in the direction of your favourite shopping destination! Take a few moments to familiarise yourself with this list of savvy shopping strategies.
- Shop with a list. This is my number one tip for good reason. Many people overspend or buy things they don’t want, don’t need and never end up using because they haven’t prepared properly. This is your hard earned cash and precious time you are spending – it’s worth a few minutes of preparation, don’t you think? Sure it is (and remember, you’re worth it!). So, before you set off on your shopping trip, prepare. Review what you already have – in your closet, cupboards, home or garage, then write a list of the ‘gaps’ you have and the needs this item will fill. Make sure they are genuine needs – not frivolous wants (there’s a big difference between the two). And finally, remember to use that list when you shop! That list will be no good scrumpled up on the bottom of your bag or jammed into your pocket. Use it and only buy things that are on that list!
- Set a budget. Yes, oh yes – the “b” word. Budget. This is important. Many people overspend on things they don’t want, need or use because they had no parameters around their spending – they just went ‘hell for leather’. Not a smart way to shop. You need to set a ballpark figure (or a more precise one if you have the specific research on what you are shopping for to support it) on what you are going to spend on this trip, what is comfortable for you to spend and what makes sense for you to spend on this shopping trip. You want to feel great about this shopping trip long after the ink has faded on the receipt, right? And one way to do that is to make sure you don’t buy more than you can afford. Set your budget – and like the list – stick to it! Whatever your budget – $50 or $500 or $5000 – stop shopping once you hit that limit.
- Pay with cash. The research is clear: we pay 20 – 50% more when we shop with magic plastic, whether it’s using a credit or debit card. There’s something about that magic plastic that can make us feel like we’re using Monopoly money, play money. Like it’s not real. Unfortunately, those credit card fees are very real! So once your list is prepared and you have a realistic budget you can stick to, withdraw your funds in cash and use only that cash for this shopping trip. Paying with cash feels more “real” and that’s what we want – to reconnect you to this shopping experience so you only buy things you genuinely need and will use. You’ll save a fortune and those impulse buys will seem far less alluring!
- Set a timeframe. Don’t allow yourself to meander around a shopping centre in an aimless fashion. Many people use shopping in a lollabout fashion, whiling away an afternoon in their favourite mall. Not a strategy I would promote or advocate. If you want to shop smart, this isn’t the way to go – no meandering shopping! Set a specific timeframe that you will complete your shopping in, and once that time is over, it’s time to head home. Your time is too valuable to spend it mindlessly anyway – once you’ve bought all you need (and nothing you don’t), stop shopping and turn your attention to something else for the day.
- Pick the best time for you. Shopping can be a fatiguing and stressful activity if you don’t shop at a time that works well for you. Shopping when the malls and stores are most busy (such as late night shopping and Saturday mornings) can lead to shopping fatigue where you end up fractious and irritable – not a state in which smart shopping usually takes place. Remember that our physical environment affects us and overcrowded, jostling environments like congested shopping centres rarely bring out the best in anybody. So, pick a time to shop when you are going to be at your most alert and positive. And make sure that you take regular breaks or shop for shorter periods to avoid becoming fatigued.
- Shop alone. Many people find that shopping partners are more akin to accomplices in crime! They can egg us on to making purchases that we don’t want or need, and can have their own (sometimes unconscious) motives for encouraging us to shop. Perhaps they feel some sense of competition, or they want to live vicariously through us and our purchases. Whatever is going on for the other person, what they don’t have to live with is the consequences of your shopping – only you have to live with that. If you want to go shopping as a social activity, that’s okay – but make it a purely social activity with no purchasing allowed. Window shop, or have a bite to eat together, but don’t buy until you can go shopping on your own.
- Don’t shop when you are tired, hungry, lonely, bored or upset. This is not an exhaustive list of the emotional states that lead some people to overshop and end up buying things they don’t want or need. But they are some of the most common emotional triggers that prompt people to shop unconsciously and therefore not smartly. If you are feeling any of those emotions – you are tired, hungry, lonely, bored, and upset – don’t go shopping. Do something else until you feel on more of an emotional even keel.
Ask “where will I wear this?” Too many of us buy impulsively with no thought to what we’ll do with the things we buy. Our hard earned cash and even more precious time is wasted on things that have no place in our closets, our homes or our lives. One way to short-circuit the impulse buying cycle is to imagine you already own the item you are considering buy. Fast forward through the ‘thrill of the kill’ and imagine that this item, the one you are holding in your hand right now, belongs to you: you purchased it and now it’s yours. Imagine it in your closet/home, really see it there. Now consider: are you still excited about it? Or has the shine worn off it just a little bit (or a whole lot)? So many of us don’t stop for even a moment to consider if we really need this item, and so we end up taking home things we never use. What a waste.
- Remember that the sales person is there to sell to you! No matter how friendly or pleasant a sales person is, here is the fact you cannot avoid: they’re in it for the sale. Yes, they may care that you walk out only with items that suit you and that you will use. But they want you to walk out with something. That’s what they are there for – to sell you something, or to maintain a relationship with you whereby you keep coming back. That’s their business. Sales people, no matter how charming and helpful they are, aren’t there to be our friends. They may engage in friendly behaviours, but their purpose is singular: to sell us something. Today. Be mindful of this so that you only buy items you need and will use – not because an effective sales person talked (or guilted) you into it.
- Don’t buy just because it’s on sale. ‘Sale’ really is a four-letter word! Accompanied by the word ‘shoe’, it is possibly responsible for more impulse shopping than almost any other word! Remember that a bargain is not a bargain if it’s not you, doesn’t fit correctly, you don’t love it, or it doesn’t fill a legitimate gap you have and is therefore a real need. Spending money on a $20 shirt or shoes or make-up or a DVD or scented candles or a Batman clock or anything else that you never wear (or wear only once) or use is a waste of that $20. We justify it by saying “oh it’s on sale, it’s only $20” but those $20 add up. You wouldn’t throw $20 out the window, so don’t throw your hard earned cash out the window on items that appear to be a ‘bargain’ due to their discounted sale price. Only buy items on sale when it’s something that is on your list and is within your budget.