In one of my previous Frugal Habits posts, I talked about how to stop stopping as a way to be more frugal. While I think that’s an excellent strategy, the reality of life is that it’s not always a plausible one. There will be times in life when you need to acquire things you do not already have. New (or new to you) clothes do not magically appear as your old ones wear out and the fridge does not tend to stock itself. So, there will be times when we need to shop. When that happens, it becomes really important to shop intentionally, rather than impulsively.
So, you’ve identified a thing that you do not have and need to have (groceries, 1 million kazoos, etc.), or a thing that you have an want to replace. Now, the first step towards intentional shopping is actually not shopping at all. Remember that you do not need everything you think you do and that you do not need to shop to meet all your needs. The first step is to check in with yourself and make sure that this is a thing or things that will actually meet a need in your life. Groceries? Yes. A million kazoos? Maybe not so much. So check in with yourself and anybody else directly affected by your financial choices. Make sure this is actually something you need to acquire and/or replace. If the answer is no, then don’t acquire it and pat yourself on the back for having the sense to realize that. If the answer is yes, move on to step two.
Step two is to think about is there any other possible way that you could get this item besides shopping (in a reasonable time frame)? Can you grow it, make it, or borrow it from someone else? Can you make do by adapting something else you already have? Can you find it for free? I find that the more I ask myself these questions, the more creative I get. Now, instead of buying new cookbooks, I check them out from the library and photocopy the recipes I want to keep. Last year I borrowed a party dress from my best friend rather than buy a new one, since I only needed the dress for one night. These are all ways to think about how to meet that need with low/no cost and reap the frugal benefits. However, if there is no other way to get the thing you need other than shelling out your hard-earned dollars, it’s time to move on to step three.
Step three is where the actual shopping comes into the picture. In step three, you actually need to go to a store/marketplace/bazaar and give your money to someone in exchange for a thing. However, it’s important to still be as intentional as possible here. Lists are an intentional shoppers best friend. Literally. Make a list and buy only what is on that list; nothing else. Period. This stops you from getting sucked into the dollar leaching trap that is impulse buys. Get in, get the items on your list, and get out. Then go home and treat yourself by looking at your net worth, decreased debt balance, or whatever other financial goal you are making progress on.
Intentional shopping can also be about planning for the future. If you know you will need something in the future (i.e. more toothpaste) start keeping an eye on the prices now. That means that when you see the cheapest toothpaste you have ever seen, you will know it’s the cheapest toothpaste and stock up accordingly. Then you can have happily clean teeth at a reduced cost for several months. This also works with other items too. Last year I knew I needed new winter boots (hello prairie winters) and found a pair on sale in September for 1/2 the price. I sure grabbed those fast! Doing this means that when you need the thing, you will already have it around and can happily remind yourself of how frugal and far-seeing you were to buy the thing in advance when it was on sale.
That’s it for me folks and now I turn it over to you. What are your tips and tricks for shopping more intentionally?