The Frugal Shopper’s Golden Rule

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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.  🙂
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
So, there are my five reasons to stick to lists and keep the lists from taking over.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am in charge of the list, not the other way around!  Now, I’m off to make a list for this month’s trip to Target and CVS.  Here’s hoping I score some incredible ECB deals like Finance Gets Personal did this week!
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6 responses to “The Frugal Shopper’s Golden Rule

  1. Thanks for the mention! I like your idea of not going into a store unless you have a list. That would definitely reduce my “browsing.”

  2. Pingback: Carnivals, Festivals and Linklove — Almost Frugal

  3. Last weekend I made a list of items I needed from Walgreens and put off going all day. I rewrote the list several times based on “wants & needs” and truly thinking about the items on the list. By the end of the day I had nothing left on the list, hehe. As the day went on, they became wants instead of needs. I did end up getting a couple of things later in the week that were on the list, but by waiting and rewrintg I think I saved myself a lot of money.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this. It was certainly a duh moment for me! I shared a link to your rules and talked about them on my blog. I can be disciplined about the list and the budget, but not every time I go shopping. I’m going to be rereading numbers four and five each week as I plan my week and my shopping.

  5. mydailydollars

    @ Bobbi, Good for you! I’ve noticed that if I let things sit on the list, sometimes four or five weeks will pass before I even buy them.

    @ Barb, Thanks for the nice mention! I love your blog. I’m looking forward to the Carnival of Home Preserving this week!

  6. Pingback: 152nd Carnival of Debt Reduction | LivingAlmostLarge

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