How a List Controls My Impulse Purchases

It seems like there’s a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about all the things we “want” to buy. I know I keep an ongoing list of items I’d like to purchase, but most of them are things I already own and need to eventually replace. The big ticket item, which I’ve mentioned a few times before, is my 12-year-old bed; that one’s on the back burner until I bring in some extra freelance income later this summer. There are smaller items on the list though, such as a new wallet, purse and running shoes.

The wallet has been at the top of my list for months. Mine – which broke just a few months after I got it 4+ years ago – got to the point where cards were falling out, because I could barely zip it up anymore. Have you ever tried to finish up a transaction, only to be stuck at the cash register because you can’t open or close your wallet!? You feel the heat of death glares radiate on your back, as everyone behind you seems to be late to the Oscars, and the wallet in your hands is making the seconds tick by slower.

It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Over the past few months, I’ve visited some of my favourite websites and walked through stores, in search of something new I actually like, and I kept coming up empty – until this week. One company, who makes this wallet I love but usually only in colours I don’t like, finally made a wallet I like in black. It zips around three sides, has lots of card holders and a change purse in the middle; basically, it ticked every box on my new wallet checklist. And it was only $30.

I found it online, but went into the store that night to check it out. (Plus, who’s going to pay for shipping, when it’s less than 2km away?) It was one of the first things I saw when I walked in, so I picked one up, tested the zippers and examined the pockets – it seemed to be good. But for whatever reason, I still wasn’t sold. Even though this exact item was at the top of my planned spending list, I wasn’t sure I should hand over $30 + tax for it, because I kept going back to one question:

Do I really need this?

I held it in my hands and walked around the store for a good 10 minutes, before I finally went up to the till and bought it. Of course, there’s been no looking back, as it’s safely held all my cards and coins ever since. But I’m still surprised at how many times I asked myself that question, before finally deciding to make the purchase. (Note: It was at least 6 times.)

The old me wouldn’t have thought twice about buying that wallet. I would’ve seen it, loved it, and bought that plus a couple other items (that I didn’t need) in the store. With my planned spending list, however, I’m that much more conscious of each item I purchase. Not only does the price need to be right, but it needs to meet a strict criteria, which is something my impulses never knew before. And, because I’ve already waited for a while, I’m ok with continuing to wait until I find the right item.

I do plan on buying new running shoes and a new purse this summer (before the strap finally snaps), and I imagine the shopping process will be similar for both items. It’s not the “fun” shopping trips I used to go on all those years ago, and it can take time to find the right thing, but my budget and bank accounts will thank me – one item at a time.

Do you keep a list of things you want to buy, or do you still go to malls without one?

avatarAuthor Bio ~ Cait (48 Posts)

Cait is a twenty-something personal finance blogger living just outside of Vancouver, B.C. At 25, she found herself completely maxed out with more than $28,000 of consumer and student debt. In less than two years, she paid it all off (and saved a little too!) by using some of Gail's techniques, as well as receiving continuous support from the personal finance blogging community. Cait is now saving for her future and is passionate about getting personal finance a bigger spot in B.C.'s Education IRPs. You can read more of her posts on her personal finance blog Blonde on a Budget.

15 Responses to “How a List Controls My Impulse Purchases”

  1. Well, you know all about my trashed wallet as well. I just upgraded on a shopping trip yesterday. I spent a bit on a very nice one, but it should last much longer than the crappy one I had been using.

    I do the same thing when I go to stores. It is much more difficult to part me from my money generally, which is really nice to know that I do have some sort of self-control after all (minus my near miss at Walmart last week). I have a running list including needing a new purse as well… but I am going to rummage through my closet first, so I can likely postpone that purchase for another season or two.

    Glad you found a wallet that fits the bill :)

    • We both got new wallets – love it.

      It’s definitely all about list last, eh? If I wanted to, I could probably go walk through a mall and walk out with 6 new tops. But do I NEED them? No. I do fine without them. So the list keeps me accountable and lets me spend when I can, not just because I want to.

  2. You’re amazing. Way to have the best will power ever! However I’m here to argue that you need to move your running shoes into the need category. When you’re as active as you are you need to make sure you have the right equipment. Walking (or running) on old shoes puts you at risk for stress fractures in your feet and hip/knee/back strain. Seriously…get new shoes!

    • Oh, don’t worry. I’ve had them on my “summer shopping list” for a while. My current pair of running shoes aren’t trashed yet, but they don’t have the same support as they used to either – definitely got a decent amount of km’s in their lifetime. I’m planning to treat myself to a new pair for my birthday :)

  3. I can totally relate to the list/priorities and process of looking around and questioning myself before making the purchase! I was laughing as I read the section of being in the store with wallet in hand walking around for a bit before deciding to buy – I do it all the time!

    One of the sections in my budget is planned spending. This is non-regular expenses like clothing, vacations, gifts, and furnishings. I keep a list that builds up those amounts.

    • I’m definitely bad about that – I don’t really have a planned spending account. I do always have a few hundred in chequing as a buffer, plus $1,000 in regular savings – just in case – but those amounts are just there now, so I don’t really budget for these purchases all the time.

  4. I have two lists. One is for large expensive projects which I research to death before getting quotes if and when I decide to proceed. The second list is for “wants”. Surprisingly; either I find I don’t really want these things after all or I find exactly what I want at a garage sale or thrift store.

    Your wallet adventure actually reminded me of what my father always said about tools. (which is what I consider a wallet to be) He said “buy the very best quality that you can afford. Shoddy products are never bargains”.

  5. I do the list thing too. It really works. And I have had my cards and coins in a ziploc for weeks while looking for the “right” wallet too!

  6. Hey Cait,

    While you’re shopping around, take a look at the thrift stores. I got a very gently used wallet at Value Village which lasted for years.

    I hear ya on the ‘need’ issue – in the strictest sense, most of our needs aren’t necessities, as in they don’t keep us from expiring. However in a professional setting there is a certain standard that people expect. It would not look terribly professional if your wallet was a Ziplock bag of cards and change, but you don’t need Louis Vuitton either. Make sure you look like the young professional you are!

    • Thrift shops are a good idea, Bonnie – something I don’t often consider.

      I think the wallet was the right purchase. But yesterday, my purse strap did end up snapping as I was walking to work (bag dropped to the ground) so I had to go shopping for one of those too. Paid a little more than the $40 I normally would (but not LV prices) and found something classic/professional. :)

  7. Your anecdote was SO familiar to me – I’m like that with everything nowadays. This way of thinking is allowing me to count down less than a year and a half now to mortgage and car payment freedom and thus becoming totally debt free, but on the down side, it has made absolutely every shopping experience miserable, even groceries. I now hate shopping for anything, and even when I need the purchase, research it, find the perfect thing at the best price, and have gone through the whole lengthy process that you did in the store, I come home angry that that money is gone. Sometimes I’d like to go back and experience the joy of mindless spending… then I think about being debt free soon, and it seems like a ‘small price to pay’.

    • Less than 18 months to go! That’s fantastic, Lee.

      What I find interesting is I usually have zero buyer’s remorse over how much I spend at restaurants each month, but I spend less than half of that on “objects” and always think twice (or six times) about each purchase. Anyway, all in how we prioritize things, I guess.

  8. I recently went to an outlet mall in the US with a rough list, but a strict budget. This is what I do if I want “mad money” or just want to add new things to the house, but don’t know what. I set a strict budget. I find this has me think very carefully about my purchases and keeps me debt free.

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