Thou Shalt Never Walk into a Store Without a List (and a budget).
Of anything that has helped my debt-reduction, I think this is the most important rule. Of course, I’ve broken it, to rather expensive results, but when I follow it, I find it much, much easier to stay on budget. Why does it help so much? Well, let me list the reasons! (You know that I couldn’t resist a list in a post about lists.)
- The more choices there are, the more limits you need. Especially at the big box stores and grocery stores, a list keeps you on track. Without a list, I often fall prey to what my friend calls “imagined needs.” There are always a ton of things (often in the beauty aisle) that I didn’t know I needed until I see them. A list reminds me of what I REALLY need, not what I imagine I need.
- The budget keeps the list realistic. At the top of my list, I always write my maximum budget for the trip. Sometimes the power of the list can overwhelm my feeble efforts to stay on budget. If my budget for groceries is $120, but the list of stuff ends up being $170, what to do? I’ve started keeping a running tally of purchases at the store. When I near my budget, I have to decide what on the list can wait until the next week. Perhaps we can just have one type of cereal this week or skip the fancy olives or buy root beer next week. At first, NOT buying things on the list freaked me out a little. If it is on the list, we must need it, right? However, I have found that we need some things more than others, so there are always a few non-essentials that can wait a week or two.
- It’s easier to use coupons with a list. With a list, I can plan out what coupons are good deals and take them into the store with me. While some people may feel comfortable taking all their coupons into the store and digging through them in an aisle, it just doesn’t work for me. Without a list, I’d never used coupons. These days, they save me $12-$15 a week. With that extra $48 – $60 a month, we can buy root beer or fancy olives. 🙂
- No list = no entry. I admit that I break this rule in the name of expediency from time to time, but many days it helps keep me out of Target or CVS. At the very least, I try to make a quick list in the car before I walk in the door if I’m out without the main list from home. Outside, writing a list forces me to focus for a few minutes, and that helps me resist temptation inside!
- Make the list wait until the budget is ready. I used to run to the store whenever the list looked like it had reached a critical mass. Sometimes, this would be two or three times a week. Clearly, I also went over-budget with those extra trips. Since my budget is organized monthly and weekly, I try to make the list wait for the next week’s grocery budget or the next month’s Target budget. Sometimes, I have to run in for milk or something urgent, but I’m really trying to wait. Olives are not an emergency (although my martini might disagree). If I run out of olives and have to wait a few days, I try to find substitutes. For example, a martini can be quite yummy with a little Triple Sec and a frozen strawberry rather than vermouth and an olive.