Seven Tempting Places – And Eight Ways to Minimize Their Impact

I’m often tempted to spend money that I shouldn’t.

I’m good at restraining my impulsive nature. I don’t simply go into stores and then emerge later with a hefty bag, a credit card bill, and a dazed look on my face. Still, in certain places, I am strongly tempted to spend. I look around and see tons of items that I’d like to have. Here are seven places that really fuel my spending desires.

Bookstores What can I say? I love to read – I read about ten books a month for my own enjoyment and probably five more for The Simple Dollar and other professional purposes. The smell and feel and sight of a new book is like manna to me. I usually resist most of my impulses by arguing to myself that I can get those books at the library or off of PaperBackSwap, but it’s definitely a struggle – one I don’t always win.

Williams-Sonoma As I get more and more adept in the kitchen, I’m slowly upgrading my kitchen equipment to superior versions of the cheap (and sometimes problematic) equipment I have on hand. Williams-Sonoma does an extremely good job of convincing me to accelerate this upgrade process, enticing me with better knives, a wide array of very nice pots and pans, and lots of other items.

Wineries If I stop at a winery and enjoy a tasting, I usually wind up buying at least a bottle. There’s something about the atmosphere of a winery that gets me into the right mindset, and adding onto that is the fact that I truly enjoy a glass of a distinctive wine, it’s unsurprising that I often leave wineries with a bottle or two in my bag.

Food co-ops Stores that put obvious care into their food selection often entice me to be much more willing to buy foods impulsively. At regular grocery stores, I usually avoid impulsive food purchases by knowing that the item is usually going to be full of ingredients I shouldn’t be eating or won’t taste all that good. At a food co-op, that’s often not the case at all – and thus I’ll find myself picking up items like feta made from sheep’s milk.

Gaming shops I love playing games against family and friends and gaming shops tend to bring out my strongest tendencies. I particularly like board games, and if I witness a game demonstration and the game seems fun at all, I’ll often be very tempted to talk myself into buying it.

Art supply stores My biggest weaknesses in art supply stores usually come down to notebooks/sketch books and writing implements. I can easily fill up notebooks with jotted notes, quotes, ideas, and other things, and the feel of a good pen in my hand is almost intoxicating and actually does a good job of fueling my writing tendencies.

The Apple Store I usually don’t buy anything at Apple Stores. Instead, they just do a great job of convincing me to save up and spend much more than I should to buy a MacBook Pro or a new desktop machine or an iPod Touch. Apple puts a lot of care into the little details of their devices and, after spending a lot of time using them, I’ve come to really miss them when I use other devices.

There, my confessions. Putting them all down on paper like that is fairly refreshing for me, as it helps me to realize that I use quite a few different techniques to minimize the temptation to spend in those places. I’ve mentioned some of these tactics before in various other articles, of course, but here are eight different tactics that I use to minimize the negative influence that these tempting places have on my wallet.

Avoid them entirely. The easiest way not to be tempted is to simply not visit these stores at all. This works to a certain extent. For years, I had a routine of going to a bookstore each Tuesday (to check out the new releases) and each Friday (to “celebrate” the end of a workweek). This routine usually meant that I would wind up buying a book or two at each visit, which could easily add up to $40 a week.

By simply breaking that routine, it was easy to see a tremendous amount of financial benefit – as much as $2,000 per year. While I still do visit bookstores on occasion, they’re no longer part of any sort of routine. This makes the individual visits much more enjoying, since they’re more infrequent and not based on any sort of schedule.

Take notes. If you visit a store, fall in love with lots of items, and are tempted to buy, stop. Pull out a notepad and write down all of the things that are tempting you. List the books, food ideas, clothing, games, or other items that are really intriguing you.

This serves two purposes. First, you can take the list home and do further research on the item(s) and some comparison shopping. Second, it allows you to utilize the “thirty day rule,” where you agree not to buy the item for thirty days and then re-evaluate at the end of the period whether or not you actually want the item.

Go with only cash. If you visit a place with such obvious temptations, leave your wallet behind. Just take in a small amount of cash, whatever you’re completely comfortable with spending there and won’t feel guilty about afterwards. So, if you’re going to a bookstore, take a $20 bill. This allows you to splurge a little, but prevents you from spending more than you should.

The real key here is to not bring in plastic, which effectively gives you access to far more money that you might otherwise have. Without strong willpower, credit cards can be a real danger, so it can be good to avoid them until you do have the personal fortitude to avoid over-the-top spending with them.

Go with the right kind of friend. Some friends encourage you to spend. They talk up the items they see, complement you on your choices and taste, and encourage you to splurge a little. Those kinds of friends will almost always cause you to have a bigger bill than you want.

I prefer shopping with either my wife or my closest friend, John. Neither one of them encourages me to spend more than I should. My wife usually makes no comment whatsoever if I choose to make a purchase. John usually just criticizes items in a humorous way, making them seem less appealing while also being entertaining. The end result? I buy less than I would if I were there with a heavy-spending friend.

Set an explicit budget. Each month, I allot myself a certain amount of money to spend on whatever I wish. Since I plan for it, I can spend that money without guilt, and this money is often spent at the places I described above.

Since I know what that limit is, I can spend up to that limit without any sort of guilt whatsoever. If I’m at Williams-Sonoma and see an item that costs two or three months’ worth of free money, I’m patient with it. I’ll wait two months without spending much “mad money,” then pick up that item without any guilt at all.

This is perhaps my most-used technique, and my wife uses it as well.

Use the ten second rule. Sometimes, on an impulsive whim, you’ll pick up an item and make the split-second decision to buy it. As you head to the cashier, stop for ten seconds and ask yourself if you really need this item after all, or if you couldn’t get a better deal on it elsewhere.

For me, this works quite well to at least slow impulse buys. I’ll usually put the item back and add it to my list (see the earlier tip). It doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t end up with the item in the future, but it will be bought with a rational, not an impulsive, mind.

Never go without a purpose. And, no, social engagements aren’t a purpose.

Why are you shopping? If you’re doing it just to spend time with a friend – or even mostly to spend time with a friend – your wallet will thank you if you find something else to do. Why not go through the stuff you already have? Why not spend time in a public place that’s not designed to convince you to spend money?

If you actually do go shopping somewhere, particularly in places that you know tempt you to spend money, make sure you’re going with a specific purpose. There’s a book you want to pick up. There’s a French oven you want to look at. You have some technical questions about your MacBook. You get the idea.

Find a substitute. Remember above, when I mentioned that I’d buy three or four books a week at the bookstore? Sure, I did read most of these books, but very rarely more than once. So, why not use the library?

Most of the big temptations above have great substitutes for me. Instead of going to game stores (usually to talk and browse games), I visit a few community gaming websites to get most of the same effect. Instead of hitting food stores, I use farmers markets for the same effects. This helps me stay away from many of my worst temptations.

What places tempt you the most? And what techniques do you use to control your spending there?

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