Confession: I Broke My Number One Rule Of Shopping


My New Reminder

I know I cannot be trusted with credit cards; the temptation of overspending is just too much for me to handle. That’s why I will never carry them again.   But I would have never guessed the events that unfolded late last week as I was shopping for needed items for our annual Memorial Weekend Luau themed party.

The party was going to be a little bigger than it has been the last few years, because it was also doubling as our celebration for completing our Debt Management program. We’ve been saving up since the end of January to make sure we could pay for everything with cash in our pockets. We made a list of the things we wanted to get for the party and an estimated cost for each of them.   Then we broke the master list part into separate lists for specific stores.   We were happy that the total estimated cost was well within the amount we had saved over the last few months.

While on vacation for a few days last week to prepare for the event, I took the lists and went shopping.

It started at Costco, where I was picking up some pork shoulders to make in my smoker. I walked by a display of Hawaiian shirts. One caught my eye, so I threw it in the cart. It wasn’t on my list, and I already had several Hawaiian shirts that would work just fine for the party. But it was only $20 and barely even registered in comparison to amount of cash we had saved up for the party.

While at Walmart I found some new workout shorts that I really liked. I didn’t need any more workout shorts, but somehow they found their way into the cart. At the party supply store, I found some really cool lights that I thought would look great strung across one of the walls in our garage. Not one, but two packages of them came home with me.

I think you’re probably noticing a trend here. At just about every store I went, I purchased something that wasn’t on the list for that specific store. I justified each purpose with one of the following reasons:

  • We’ve got the cash
  • We’ve been limiting ourselves for years
  • I deserve it
  • It would look great at our party
  • It’s on sale

Hmph, interesting, those are many of the same ones used as we racked up a mountain of credit card debt. I was drunk on spending power, and plead temporary insanity. We had done everything right up until  I headed out with my lists. This experience was a friendly reminder that I need to remember my number one rule of shopping:

Stick. To. The. List.

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44 Responses to “Confession: I Broke My Number One Rule Of Shopping”

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  1. JMK says:

    It’s great that with your new perspective on spending you immediately acknowledge that those items shouldn’t have been allowed to follow you home. It happens. Hopefully before using/unpackaging/removing price tags you set them aside with the receipts and plan to return before they grow roots and refuse to leave your home. Yes returns are inconvenient, and maybe that’s a good thing. When I consider something non-essential I force myself to pause and ask the question “If I take this home and then come to my senses, how annoying will it be to return this?” It certainly keeps me from shopping while on vacation because a return would be nearly impossible unless it’s a chain store we have locally. I even think long and hard about purchases at stores on the other side of town. Wasting gas and time to drive all the way back to return something I shouldn’t have bought is doubly annoying.

    • Travis says:

      Unfortunately, JMK, many of the items were used for our party and are past the point of no return. I find that if I take my time, with my list in hand, when shopping I tend to not bring home with me extra / unwanted items. But in the frenzy of getting ready for our party, I was definitely NOT taking my time. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Sassy Mamaw says:

    Travis, if you paid cash, it’s not horrible. (I’m guessing you have already worn the shirt and strung the lights, but maybe you could still return the shorts…) However, you might keep this in mind the next time your wife buys a giant jar of candy at a charity event!

  3. Good for you for recognizing it before it got worse. The real question is, did you return the stuff before you used it?

    • Travis says:

      Unfortunately not, Lance….the realization of how far it had really gotten out of hand didn’t come until our post party analysis of how we did with our spending. Thus the new reminder in my Wallet. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Ha I think you answered the question in my post, which is do you spend more on holiday weekends? 🙂 I do think debt is slippery slope. You think you’re “cured” once you pay off your debt, but it would be like giving an alcoholic “just a sip” of beer. I could potentially be easy to fall into old patterns. I love the message inside your wallet! 🙂

    • Travis says:

      Exactly, Tonya – you’re never “cured” of overspending or the potential to go into debt….it’s a constant battle. Glad you liked my new reminder! 🙂

  5. I think I have successfully retrained my brain. I used to walk into the big stores and want everything. Now I just think of how much space it will take up and maintenance it will need and I walk out with nothing.

    • Travis says:

      Most of the time I’m the same way, Stefanie…..but here I was in a hurry scrambling in a frenzy to complete the shopping and didn’t analyze every purchase as I normally do. When I’m in that kind of state of mind, I need to just Stick to the list!! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Awesome post Travis. Sometimes we all need a reminder to kick us back into shape. In this case, it sounds like it worked out great, you had the cash to spend. So, it didn’t go on credit cards, and it reminded you that spending power comes with responsibility…win/win in my book!

    • Travis says:

      With great power comes great responsibility, right Josh??? From a learning standpoint it was a win/win…..but my checkbook wishes we had the extra cash back!

  7. I think we’re all guilty of doing that from time to time. I know I am. Unfortunately, all of those small purchases add up. =/

  8. I’ve been there too. I think it’s got to be hard when you finally get out of debt and start to feel like you can breathe a little bit. We’ve noticed things like that happening to us when we’ve gotten raises, etc. You tend to let your guard down and start justifying things more. At least you recognize it! Now you can be more alert to this going forward.

    • Travis says:

      The guard is definitely back up, Dee! I never want to end up back in the same position we were in a few years ago. We’re back on our strict budgeting train once again!

  9. Kathy says:

    Oh, I so relieved to read about this happening to someone else. Also lkke the analogy another reader wrote comparing this to a sip of beer to an alcoholic. Yes, this is exactly how it feels to me. Glad to see you’re recognizing this before it gets out of hand. Good luck!

    • Travis says:

      As Holly mentioned in a previous comment, this sort of thing likely happens to all of us from time to time…I wish I had re-evaluated each item again once I got home. Being busy is not an excuse for overspending – thanks for the well wishes!

  10. I can just see how easily that happened to you and I can imagine myself doing the same. Wanting to make the party ‘perfect’ with the lights, $20 for a nice NEW shirt for the party, on sale… yep. Great share, we’ve all been there and maybe will be there again. Except now I will think of you Travis, when I get there. 😉 Fantastic that you are having a little party to celebrate your debt payoff!

  11. I always have trouble sticking to the list when we go to stores. With that being said, it’s typically only one or two items and it’s almost always something I “forgot” to add to the list – or say I say to myself!

    • Travis says:

      Ah yes, the “Oh, I forgot to add that to the list” game….I know that game too, DC. 🙂 The question you have to ask yourself at that point is, does adding it break my budget, or do I need to remove something else from the list? Thanks for sharing!

  12. I’m going to guess that while you were getting into your big credit card debt, you didn’t often think, “I shouldn’t have bought that! I should write a list and stick to it.” Am I right? The fact that you are thinking this way now is a great sign – especially since you had cash to pay for these “off-the-list” purchases. I’ve heard it said that there is real power in having the money in hand, seeing something you want . . . and choosing NOT to buy it. I think that’s a power you are very close to having.

    • Travis says:

      Exactly right, Prudence…I never thought that, and the list was just a guideline of everything we needed, but we didn’t feel any restriction to stick to the list. I like your statement about the power of having cash in hand, and NOT buying it. It happens….and it feels GREAT. 🙂

  13. I think the big difference between now and your former self is that you recognized the spending habits right away. The fact that you used cash also limits you over spending. Hoping the party was a great one!

    • Travis says:

      It is good news that we didn’t go into debt due to the overspending…..hopefully the fact that it’s actually cash out of my pocket and not some magic number on a credit card balance will help prevent me from doing it again in the future. The party was AWESOME!

  14. I really had a big expenses last week, I bought some swimwear, rented a cottage in a resort and groceries. It’s hard for me to stick on my list whenever I will to grocery stores and shopping malls, especially when I saw some promos and packages.

    • Travis says:

      That’s exactly why the list is so powerful, Marie….if you can put on your blinders and purchase only what was planned, you can’t go wrong!

  15. Travis, I was just thinking ‘Oh, well. The Hawaiian shirt obviously was saying ‘I’m yours’; this happens to me as well you know.’ and got to the end of your message. It does creep in a bit, this old habit of thinking that you deserve things, you’ll earn the money etc. This is why I always say that we should work on our ‘wants’ rather than discipline ourselves (keep wanting and just not giving in). Paying off a large debt does make you reflective though, doesn’t it?

    • Travis says:

      It certainly does make one reflective, Maria. 🙂 I like your statement about working on our wants….what I interpret that to mean is that we should work at being happy with what we have, so we don’t make impulsive purchases. This is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. There’s a saying I heard recently – “Happy people are not thankful, thankful people are happy.” I am thankful each day for what I have been given in this life, and it helps make me not want for more. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  16. LOVE the note on your wallet Travis! It just goes to show you how easy it can be at times to trick yourself into not thinking through the purchases and then the math catches up with you. I know I’ve been there more than once myself as it can be so easy to talk yourself into something when you want something.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks ,John….I love the note too – it’s a great reminder! I can definitely talk myself into anything….but seeing that reminder should break me out of any spend fog and snap me back into using the usual logical decision making I need to apply to every purchase!

  17. jefferson says:

    Part of me would tell you that it this was a celebration, and that you shouldn’t feel bad about splurging after you guys have accomplished so much.. But I do understand your point. You need to decide and budget for the splurges ahead of time! 🙂

    • Travis says:

      Even without the “extras” we were already splurging on the party, Jefferson…..but don’t think I didn’t use THAT excuse too!

  18. The first step in overcoming a problem is recognizing and admitting it exists, which you’ve already done. Occasional reminders probably help though!

    • Travis says:

      Reminders rock, Kurt….I’m a “seeing is doing” kind of guy so seeing that reminder in my wallet will help me – I’m sure of it!

  19. Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go isle hopping in Wal-Mart when your budget is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha… (sorta taken from Princess Bride)

    • Travis says:

      LOL, thanks for the laugh Steve….at least never go isle hopping without a list, right? Next time we’re shopping and we’re in danger of overspending, I’m going to think of this comment and tell my wife we should “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” She’ll be quite confused. 🙂

  20. Crystal says:

    I’ll admit that during our really nice income months, last minute basket additions became a habit. Now that we’re having a slower summer, I’m reminded that I only need to buy what we actually need. I actually pause before finding a checkout line and make sure to remove anything from the cart that snuck in during a weak moment, LOL.

    • Travis says:

      I do the same thing, Crystal….I usually end up going through the store again putting things away, and deciding all over again whether everything is worth buying or not. Nice to know I’m not the only one!

  21. I am guilty of not sticking to the list, finding some justification each time. Long story, short, I am right there with you. I am constantly working on being better at this. I realize that the habits that I want to change, I have to br REALLY intentional in my approach.

    • Travis says:

      We all kind of kick in to “cruise control” at times just wanting to finish as fast as possible too….that’s why I try to never go grocery shopping when I’m in a time crunch! Great to hear from you Sherrian!

  22. Michelle says:

    I have been here and done that. I am spending only cash now instead of pulling out the handy debit or credit cards. I constantly have to remind myself that I only need to buy what I “really, really” need.

    • Travis says:

      @Michelle – I do think there’s a difference between buying what’s on the list (ie, what you planned to buy), and what you absolutely NEED. For example, if I’m going grocery store, maybe we’ve planned to have a special steak dinner. We’ve budgeted $x for the steaks, and I find some great steaks on budget. It’s not a “need” as we could have had a less expensive meal. BUT it’s in our budget and we planned for it. That’s OK in my book. What isn’t is while I’m looking at the steaks, I see that there are scallops or shrimp on sale, and decide to get those as well. Not on the list, not in the budget, and thus breaks our spending plan!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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