Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Avoid Temptation

If you've been following The Conscious Shopper Challenge from the beginning, by now your trash cans should be a little lighter and your energy, water, and transportation bills a little lower. Now it's time to trim a little more fat from our budgets by developing an attitude of non-consumption. Here's the first challenge in this series:


Photo by KitAy

A year ago, I wrote on my blog:

I had to swing over to Target today to fill First Son's school supply list, and besides glue, pencils, and crayons, I walked out of the store with a gift for my husband (that I'm holding on to until Christmas) and a silicone "brownie cup" pan that we're using to make popsicles. Because we were running late, we also had lunch at the little Target restaurant. Plus, any time I pass by the clothing department at Target, I feel like a total fashion dweeb and am reminded of how much I like Target clothing.

I'm sure it's happened to you too: you head into the store for one thing and come out with five or six. But don't feel bad - you're not completely lacking in self-control. Stores use all kinds of tricks to get you into the store, deviating from your list, and walking out with more than you had planned. Here are just a few examples:

  • Strategic pricing. Stores use a pricing strategy based on what they call signposts and blinds. Signposts are items for which most people know the going rate, like a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. Blinds are items about which people are less informed on price. Stores heavily discount signposts to get people into the store with the hope that they'll toss some blinds into their cart during the same trip.
  • Strategically arranged products. The candy and magazines next to the checkout lanes. The brand names at eye level and the cheaper generics on the bottom shelves. The "deal" displays at the ends of aisles. These are all strategies that stores use to get you to spend more than you had planned.
  • Set the mood. Many stores try to make you feel comfortable with the idea that the better you feel, the longer you'll stay in the store, and the more money you'll spend. This is a trick employed by stores like Barnes and Noble (think cafe and big comfy couches) and Ikea (think children's playcenters and restaurant). Other stores, like Walmart, go for the opposite mood: by making the store feel stripped down, shoppers get the sense that the store is cutting costs to save you money.

There are always going to be times when we have to go to the store, and in those case there are strategies we can use to beat the supermarket at its own game:

  • Go with a list and be strict about sticking to it. Get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.
  • Leave your kids at home if you can, but if not, keep them entertained and distracted. The more frazzled you get, the more you'll end up spending.
  • Be an informed shopper. Be aware of the going rate for items you typically buy so you can identify an actual deal when you see it. And for items you buy less frequently, shop around for prices.
  • Don't go shopping when you're hungry, bored, or in a bad mood.

Even with these tips in your shopping arsenal, I think the best tip of all is simply to avoid temptation. Figure out which stores are your downfall and go there as little as possible. For example, my weaknesses are Target and craft stores. Knowing this, I try to keep my Target trips to once or twice a month, and I avoid craft stores when at all possible. (Truth be told, I could stand to work a little more on my craft store addiction.)

What stores are your shopping weaknesses, and how do you avoid them?


swiggett said...

In theory, I know all of this, but still fall victim to the traps. My biggest downfall is not making lists. Or, when I do, making incomplete lists that require future trips to pick up what I forgot. (Thanks for the reminder!)

The grocery store is a big one for me. It is hard for me to pass up good chocolate and ice cream. (Conversely, I can cruise on by the 'lesser' chocolate, or home goods, provided I don't have a need for any item.)

My efforts to go more natural and avoid certain additives has actually helped eliminate what I am able to buy, thus cutting back a bit on impulse purchases.

Then again, I don't have kids.

SariJ said...

Costco is my weakness. I would stock up on canned goods then months later buy more. Two years ago I had to throw out a case of tomato sauce that had expired. I let my Costco card expire after that. I don't need to have my pantry look like I am ready for the apocalypse.

Ivy said...

My solution has been to radically avoid stores. Sure, I need to go one in a while, but I can't remember the last time I've been in Target. My mom thinks I've lost it, and the detergent may be a dollar more at my grocery store--but if I don't walk out with $50 worth of extra stuff, I consider it a win.

I still can't be trusted in a yarn store, however. It's all so pretty, and I have so many ideas....

Elle Bee said...

I am always so tempted when I go into any store. I feel like I lose all resolve and you can forget the shopping list I made--I'll add 20 things to it once inside! But lately I've been better. I try to breathe deeply :o) and ask myself "do I NEED this or just WANT it". That question, backed with all the reading I've been doing on consumerism seems to help. Lately, when I leave the store with only what I went for (or even empty-handed!) I've felt such a sense of empowerment, even pride!
A good book I just started "Serve God, Save the Planet" talks a lot about how making doing with less can actually enrich our lives. Check it out!

Daisy said...

Being an informed shopper is the best part. Buying a present ahead of time is not a problem - if the gift is just right and the price is a true bargain. Knowing if your purchase is a true bargain: that's the ticket.

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Before I changed offices, on my way home I drove right past a Goodwill + better was on the right side, NO LEFT TURNS! I had to change my route.

My BIG downfall is manager's specials in the health foods section at Kroger. Terra chips for .99 a bag!!??!! I'll buy 3 + it's still less than the original price of 1 bag. DAMN! They just got me. I shop with a grocery list, but it's the run-in-for-just-one-item trips that kill me.

I need to be more diligent because I just signed up for the 401-K which means I can't do this as often. Somewhere I read that a good deterrent from spending is to think about what you are taking away from your future when you buy unnecessary items now. OK, food is not unnecessary, but 3 bags of chips is.

So glad you are continuing on this blog, I do love your posts.

Ashley said...

Books... I can't get out of a store without searching for (and often walking out with) a book.

Since doing this whole cleanout thing (and finally getting through my stack of unfinished books) I'm starting in on reading Grandma's backissues of BH&G, Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal. She's got three years worth of each so there's plenty to read without buying anything new.

If I reaaallly have to, the library sells books for 10-cents a piece.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

swiggett - Oh, man, it's the lesser chocolate that gets me. I am totally a cheap chocolate kind of girl.

SariJ - Lol, isn't it hard to pass up a good "deal?"

Ivy - That's my strategy too, and I'm slowly widdling my Target trips down.

Elle Bee - Thanks for the book suggestion. I'll look for it!

Daisy - My hubby was happy to receive the DVD, but honestly, we could do without more DVDs.

Shona - Thanks! I do love blogging, but needed to find more balance in my life.

Ashley - It's the bargain books that get me. The ones they put right by the entrance. Of course, I don't need another cookbook, but it's only $5, right? (shaking head)

Lauren said...

My husband and I build in a little cheat room to our list. We factor in $5 each on our budget, and our grocery list is pared down to just the essentials. Then when we are going through the store and see something that is on sale (like the terra chips example above) or maybe some clearance onesies for the baby since she goes through them like there's no tomorrow, it is already budgeted for and we don't feel bad about it.

Condo Blues said...

I think the most interesting thing I learned in my college marketing classes is how they mapped the hot and cold spots of each store. Then they'd put marked down stuff or new items they wanted to move in those hot or cold spots.

I used to buy stuff if I saw it marked down like toothpaste, etc. until I did a clean out and realized I had 10 tubes of toothpaste for 2 people. I started writing the date I bought the item on the label. Yeah, it's anal but it made me realize how quickly I went through some things and not others. Now I know what I can afford to keep a backup item in the pantry in stock until we'll need it.


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