Years ago, with four children in tow, I spent one day a week doing the grocery shopping.
The night before I scoured the ads, marking this place for brown sugar and butter, that one for grapes and toilet paper, still another for vanilla extract. By the end of the day, we had hit pretty much every grocery store in the mid-sized town where we lived; the car was packed; the kids were tired; and nobody felt particularly good because lunch consisted of stuff off the cheap menu at the local Fast Fried Food Emporium.
Did I save money?
Well, I felt like I did, but I always knew that there was a lot more in the trunk than what was on my list (did I mention the four kids accompanying me?), and every time I entered another store, I left with more than what I intended to buy, often, significantly more.
And then one day, epiphany hit. We were in Store H, and the last item on the grocery list was at Store I, which had laundry detergent on sale (I make my own now, but that’s for another article). The Toddler was . . . acting like a toddler; the two oldest were skillfully manipulating my tired and distracted state; the four-year-old needed to use the bathroom, RIGHT NOW — oh wait, he didn’t need to use it anymore — and I thought, forget it. I’ll pick up the laundry detergent here, even though it’s $1 more.
And I did. We stuffed everyone and the groceries back in the car, drove home, and called it a day, that is, after we unloaded everyone, carted in all the groceries, picked up the ones that fell out of the bags onto the cement driveway (pickles, in a glass jar, I believe), changed the four-year-old — you know how this goes.
That night, when everyone was in bed but me and the Norwegian Artist, I thought about the laundry detergent. Yup, I paid $1 more for it, but I also didn’t buy anything else at Store I. And then I realized, whenever I walk into a store, even if I am only there to buy one thing, I never leave without dropping at least $25.
Okay, so that sounds really simple and obvious, but when it comes to saving money, it’s actually fairly profound. Maybe you have a willpower of steel, which is why your jeans are never too tight, but I don’t, and when I walk into a store — and nowadays I don’t have those four noisy, chaotic, demanding, messy, lovable companions pointing out all of the colorful items that were arranged expressly to attract their notice — it’s hard not to say, “Hmm, that’s a good deal; I’ll pick up two,” or “I forgot about peanut butter. Oh, and chocolate chips. And I really haven’t treated myself to a magazine for a long time.”
While it’s true that we do forget things on our list, most of the time we can function without them until next week — assuredly this is true about the chocolate chips, and the magazine’s generally free at the library. If I don’t see it, I don’t buy it; and if I don’t walk into the store in the first place, I don’t see it.
So here’s the weird idea that actually works: limit the number of stores you walk into each week. The dollar you would have saved by driving 6 miles to the next store (oops, there goes the dollar you saved) is rapidly consumed by the extra items you purchase, and if you don’t see them, you don’t buy them.
The money you save on understandable impulse buying can then be put aside for a more thoughtful, concerted purchase, one that will provide you with more pleasure, longer, than a jar of peanut butter.
This article originally appeared in ThoughtfulWomen.org.
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