Updated on 08.26.09

Seven Tempting Places – And Eight Ways to Minimize Their Impact

Trent Hamm

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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  1. Molly says:

    I make a master “Molly wants” list. Anything and everything that I could/would buy, without discriminating, goes on there. My wish list.

    Then I realize how long and ridiculous it is. And I don’t buy any of it.

  2. Hannah says:

    What keeps me from going crazy from my favorite stores is the knowledge that I can always get a better deal online. Either through online sales, coupon codes, or just shopping through my credit cards’ reward point stores, I can always get some kind of deal if I make the purchase online.

    As for shopping online, I subscribe to your ten second rule before I make a purchase. I fill up my cart on websites frequently before just closing the browser and deciding I don’t really need it. If I have to pay shipping I always consider online purchases carefully.

  3. Krista says:

    I have a very similar list! One tip for wineries is to know that you can often find the wines at local grocery stores (or liquor stores, depending on where you live) for less than the price at the winery. Often the pourer will tell you if they distribute, and if so, how widely. A related strategy we’ve developed is to take notes at wineries, and then go into a specialty wine store and ask the owner/clerk for budget wines ($10 or less) that we might like if we liked X wine.

  4. marie says:

    Every time I go to a restaurant, I want to splurge. I can never get a plate and glass of water. I want to try more expensive things, and have a drink or dessert which ends up being pretty expensive.

    To help out with this, I simply go less often , but don’t minimize my spending when I do.

  5. akb says:

    resolution to buy no books for a year, and to read the ones i own (or ditch them, no use owning books/reading books you’re not going to enjoy) before beg/borrow/stealing anything I’d like to read. success means I get to get myself a kindle and shelf space. failure means i bought myself a book.. win-win, no?

  6. Meg says:

    I actually had a similar problem with the cookware section at TJMaxx. I finally had to just stop going. I’m a bit better with bookstores because I know if I wait I can probably get a coupon, and by the time I get a coupon I’ve forgotten what I want unless I really really want it. Currently my problem is JoAnn Fabrics remnant section. I now have a ton of fabric and I need to get working on projects. On the up side most of the fabric for my mom xmas gift quilt was 40 to 50% off.

  7. Karen says:

    Bookstores are the place I go to write down all the books that I want to check out from the library. :)
    I have been avoiding malls for awhile, I used to get depressed if I went into one, now I just don’t go. I never was a big shopper but would always feel inadequate if I didn’t buy something. Now I realize its ok to look, then see what I can put together cheaper by recycling, reusing or re-purposing.

  8. leslie says:

    Meg! I’m the same way. I used to live within walking-distance to a Jo-Ann’s and whenever there was a sale, I was there! Now, I don’t live anywhere near a Jo-Ann’s and probably won’t run out of fabric for crafts for a while still!

  9. Gwen says:

    Whole Foods. That is where I want to splurge. I love the atmosphere and I appreciate the corporate philosophy. Like you and the co-ops, I’ll pass a bin of fresh mozzarella and think, “I have always wanted to try that,” and dump it in my cart. I like your wish list idea. I’m going to try it. I’ll just write down those food items that look tempting and incorporate them into recipes for the upcoming week.

  10. ethel says:

    I’m tempted by a lot of the same places that you are. I always tell myself that I am willing to pay more for quality and that I will actually really enjoy this super nice thing that will last forever or be supremely delicious, etc.

    One of the best ways I’ve found for controlling my spending at these places (in addition to the tips you’ve mentioned here) is I ask myself: “Is this store trying to get me to buy a lifestyle?” So, the Apple Store is trying to sell me the supremely designed/efficient lifestyle. Williams-Sonoma is trying to sell me the fancy gourmet dinner party lifestyle. But these are images, not realities. And you can do wonders by focusing on the images in the stores that are trying to sell that to you. So, for example, when I walk into Williams-Sonoma, rather than going to the kitchen implements first (which are admittedly very nice and top quality) I focus on the stupid items in the center of the store–you know, the hot cocoa makers or the cookbooks without recipes but lots of pretty photos. In other words, I focus on the material marketing element–kind of like the distinction you make between watching the Food Channel and actually cooking the food. Focusing on that stuff turns me off the entire attempts of the store and leaves me with a negative enough taste in my mouth that I’m vigilant against spending. It makes the 30-day rule much easier to follow.

  11. We have a book problem as well. One thing that’s helped me a lot is asking “Coud I find this info on the internet for free?” That has cut down my book purchases significantly.

  12. Norman says:

    Williams-Sonoma: You don’t need a slew of new knives. As tempting as a knife for every occasion might sound (especially wrapped in those big blocks of wood), most cooks/chefs use their all purpose chefs knife 90% of the time.

    I had the same problem before I bought my one good chef’s knife and learned how to use it. It’s definitely kept a handle on my kitchen splurges!

  13. Joanna says:

    Bookstores are VERY TOUGH! We have Half Price Books here & the Clearance section in the back gets me just about every time. $1 to $2 for a book is too good a deal to pass up. I stay away & do PBS for the books that I actually want (and keep on my Wish List).

    But two thumbs up to the resolution to read the books you have. I’m not nearly as fast a reader as Trent & tend to pile up if I don’t watch it. I currently have a very small “books to keep” shelf and two shelves of books to read, one for fiction (and memoirs) and one for non-fiction.

  14. Mike C says:

    “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it… I can resist everything but temptation.” Oscar Wilde

  15. Marsha says:

    Your food coop lets you choose? Mine is a “here’s what you get” coop – which works fine for me, but I think some people find it a big challenge. (This week we got butternut squash; I’m sure many people have never cooked one.)

    I would think that by now you (Trent) would be getting complimentary/advance copies of personal finance books – which should cut down on some book expense.

  16. Keith says:

    One can cure the Williams-Sonoma urge by visiting your favorite restaurant kitchen to see what the real professionals actually use. Then go to your local used restaurant equipment store and buy the high-quality but less glamorous pro equipment. It won’t decorate your kitchen the way Williams-Sonoma will, but your food will come out just fine.

  17. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    Convince yourself that most things are worthless junk that do nothing but create clutter, and you’re 90% of the way past this problem. The problem is that I don’t know how to teach this to people, but I know I’ve done it (for most things).

    Books are just paper, which is essentially worthless. They’re easily replaceable, and there are places that will loan them to you for free. You only need a book for a few days while you read it, then you can give it away, or return it to the library. You probably wont want to read it again for years, no point wasting floor space in your house to store something that’s already stored in your head.

    I can actually go wine tasting without buying anything, but I normally will get a few bottles, but really, how often do you go wine tasting? Wine and food have the distinction of not being clutter because they’re consumable. You only keep them a short while, then you use them and they’re gone.

    Some of the places that are high on your list I never even go. A game shop isn’t a temptation in the least for me, or an art supply store. I do like the Apple store, but I really only need one laptop computer, and the one I have is only a year old, the new ones really aren’t much faster, and this one still works fine. I’ll eventually replace it, but it’s not like I stop by the Apple store every Friday to drool over new laptops. I’ll stop in once per year or so when I specifically need a new computer or accessory.

    What are tempting stores for me? I can’t really think of any, I don’t go to stores for fun, because I try to avoid accumulating stuff in general. I go to the grocery store. Some restaurants. Other than that, I mostly only go to stores when I’m looking to buy something specific. If I’ve got two free hours and can’t think of anything else to do, I’ll go surfing, or work on the back yard, or go for a bike ride. All of these are really inexpensive, and not tempting in any financial way. Sure, occasionally your bike needs new tires, but you don’t go on a bike ride thinking “man, I really need to buy new tires” until yours are actually worn out.

  18. My favorite places are Best Buy and The Apple Store. I can go into Best Buy and wonder around for hours looking at all the stuff. My strategy to avoid temptation is not to go in there at all.


  19. Wal-mart is my main trap. I tend to be tempted in several of the sections. Organizing what I have has helped a lot, I don’t buy doubles on accident anymore. Writing a list, and making it a game to stick to it as much as possible has helped a lot as well.

    I’ll have to try that list of things that are impulse I wants, and see if that cut’s things down further. It will eliminate the excuse of “I might not remember to get it next time, if I still want it.”

  20. Lee says:

    I went to the new Apple store near where I work with a friend a few months ago that was having an Grand Opening. What enticed us to go was a free Apple t-shirt for the first 1,000 customers. Dangerously, I also went with my credit card.

    How much did I spend? Nothing. Nada. Not a bean! The queue was along the mall aisle, round the corner, down the steps, and looped half way round the lower level, too.


  21. Kevin says:

    I’ve applied the 10 second rule in reverse. Within 30 seconds of an impulse buy (in a bookstore, a ‘bonus’ get another book cheaper), I was feeling guilty because I really didn’t need the book. So I went straight back into the shop to return the book & get a refund. I explained truthfully that it was an impulse, I didn’t need it & could I return it. The store had no problem with me doing this, and I walked away happy with myself.

  22. Rosa Rugosa says:

    I was always quite the recreational shopper, and I think I’ve improved enormously over the past two years. Some of the strategies that have worked best for me:
    1. Keep out of the stores – can’t fall in love with it if I never even knew it was there.
    2. Do more of my shopping online when I do need something. My online shopping is much more focused and objective.
    3. Discretionary purchases now have to come out of my allowance – not using a debit or credit card. Like most people, I find I’m much more tighfisted with my cold hard cash.
    4. Save up my allowance for truly enjoyable shopping opportunities. We’ll be spending a week in the Berkshires at the end of September, and I know there are some shops out there that I really like. So I’ll sock away my allowance until then, and be able to do a little bit of guilt-free shopping with my saved cash.
    4. I do keep a wish list of things I really want or need. I can anticipate buying them when I find the perfect item, have some free cash, or I can refer to the list when Mom or sister want to know what I want for my birthday. Anticipation can be enjoyable in itself, and can help take the sting out of delayed gratification.
    5. Refer often to my lists of the things we REALLY want/need like an updated kitchen, new roof, etc. to remind me that silly little purchases will impede our progress toward these more important goals.
    6. Take stock of what I already have – which is way too much stuff – like so many Americans. Less stuff>more space>more money>less time dusting, cleaning and moving stuff.

  23. brooke says:

    I really like Tyler’s first line!! #12 says to convince yourself that most things are worthless junk, and though I chuckled at first, I realized I really have done that!! There are so many times I know turn things down thinking, “I don’t want that crap that really is just going to be clutter.” Way to put it bluntly Tyler.

  24. guinness416 says:

    Just not going to places that are tempting is best for me. I used to spend time waiting for trains to Connecticut in grand central station, and would regularly drift into the bookshop or the magazine place and buy something, with the inbuilt excuse I’d be reading on the train. As soon as I moved back into the city that spending was gone. Similarly, if you visit those silly blogs that fetishize moleskines and similar hipster notebooks and obsess over the “best” pens for them stationery will be at the forefront of your mind, that’s for sure!

    I think Molly’s idea is good too. I do have a running list of “stuff I want to buy” on google docs which I add to whenever the fancy strikes – from baseball tickets to a particular game to subscriptions to certain websites to home improvement items to any amount of other things – and on payday open it up and see which if any of those things I wish to get this month. This combines the notes, budget and ten-second wait ideas. It’s amazing how much of the items can wait.

  25. Tina says:

    I’m with Tyler, too. Most stuff is garbage waiting to happen. When I am tempted to buy, I imagine that I’m getting ready to move — do I really want to pack this thing, haul it, unpack it, and find a place for it? And then dust it every week? That usually does the trick.

    My trick for the grocery store is to pay in cash. Can’t explain the psychology, but I’m more reluctant to part with cash than pay an equivalent amount with a debit card.

  26. guinness416 says:

    Also, hope you find this funny, my husband just cracked himself up noting that your list of tempting places is like a post lifted straight out of stuffwhitepeoplelike. It’s just missing how you’re tempted to spend on “the idea of soccer” or “not having a tv”! As a yurpean yuppie the same could be said of walking cliche me ;)

  27. janet says:

    Hi Trent,

    I use to be a victim of Williams Sonoma also. I got over it by becoming a professional chef. This is what I mean. When I upgraded all my personal cookware/bakeware, I did it at a restaurant supply company. I don’t know if they have any near where you live, but they are worth finding. Professional cookware is superior and way less expensive than WS. Just a thought you may want to consider.

  28. Fifi says:

    When I’m tempted with food, clothes or anything else that I don’t really need, I tell myself that days, weeks or months from now, either that item will still be around or I will find something else I decide “I can’t live without” so it’s not that important.

    I also ask myself before buying something, whether I already have something that does the job sufficiently. This cuts down on specialty cooking items which are a particular weakness.

    Sur La Table is my favorite browsing place.

  29. valletta says:

    Funny! Your list is exactly like mine but without the gaming store.
    I work at Apple (cool perks!), my husband is a chef (so his company buys all the knives and kitchen equipment:) and my family is in the wine business, the best freebies ever! :) Not that I don’t do my share of manual labor as needed…

  30. Michele says:

    First, its important to live in an area that is remote and has very few stores (like Klamath Falls, Oregon) so you have to subscribe to and drool over catalogs that carry the stuff you DESIRE but can’t afford. Especially the shipping! I won’t order something when I have to pay shipping.
    and In my family, we hate to give gifts that people don’t want or didn’t specifically ask for, so we are list makers.
    When I go into a store or read a catalog that calls to my weakness (bookstores & kitchen supply comes to mind) I make a list. Then, in November, I email it around to everyone who wants to send me a Christmas or birthday gift (my birthday is in January! Lucky me) and so I get something I WANT and have been coveting, but can’t really bring myself to spend the money for the item.
    My sister gets the Williams-Sonoma catalog and she always chooses something that I’ve listed and sighed over.
    Works for me!

  31. SwingCheese says:

    For me, it is Sephora (not for make-up, but for fancy, imported skin care products) and my Aveda salon (where I only allow myself to buy shampoo/conditioner/paste, but where I ogle and sniff everything else). :)

  32. Jenn says:

    Trent, forget Williams Sonoma. that’s just overpriced crap that you don’t need.

    Instead, go to a restaurant supply store. They’re open to the public, and you get GREAT quality at low prices. Plus, you’re upgrading to “professional quality”.

    For example, I paid less for two stainless steel baking sheets than I would have for those flimsy cookie sheets you buy at Target, Walmart, or wherever. NOTHING will hurt these pans! No warping, no annoying cracking while they’re in the oven, and they look as spectacular as they did the day I bought them.

    I don’t know if there are any stores out by you, but you can order from BoxerNW (here in Portland OR) online, and you can also use their site to comparison shop. http://www.boxernw.com They are the nicest people; if you have any questions, just call them.

    Good luck!


  33. Heather says:

    I have a master wishlist on Amazon, and some Amazon gift certs I’ve earned through swagbucks, taking surveys, etc. When I see something I want, I add it to my wishlist. I then search my library website to see if I can get it there, if so, I add it to my “library wishlist” on Amazon. The other books stay on the list until I decide I must have them or I can live without them – and I am very stingy with my Amazon credit, because I like the possibility of what I could buy with it. Once I use it, I don’t have that possibility. So I usually decide I can do without almost all that stuff.

  34. Kayla says:

    Re: taking notes:

    That works for me too! When I see something I want to buy, I want to _do_ something about it, so writing down an item’s name on paper is a way of tricking myself into pretending I actually own the item.

    So I can carry around a list of $1000 worth of furniture, feel the thrill of possession, then go home and realize I don’t actually want most of it.

  35. jess says:

    I’m a victim of yarn stores… I’m a knitter, and of course, yarn is consumable… after it has been made into a sweater or scarf or whatever, it can no longer be knitted. The cruel joke is that knitting a garment is often more expensive than buying it. I only buy yarn if I have a particular project in mind, it is something I can’t buy (i.e. I’ve just bought some yarn for an exquisite lace cowl), and I will really enjoy the process of making project (said cowl will be challenging and fun).

    My general anti-impulse-spending trick is to ignore sales: I ask myself “would I buy this at full price?” and if the answer is no, then I don’t need it.

  36. I get the most satisfaction actually GOING to these stores and never buying anything. Call me weird, but it feels so great to experience the product and walk away without spending a dime.

    Window shopping is one of my favorite guilty pleasures and it doesn’t cost a dime. Buying unnecessary things feels bad.

    I have a friend who works at Williams-Sonoma, and she can get me everything for 50% off. I still don’t buy, it feels so rewarding.

    Frankly, I’ve declared September “austerity month” anyway :)

  37. Oh yes, you guys should read my co-writer’s article exactly on this topic,
    “Controlling The Urge To Splurge”

    It’s a very novel way to shop and enjoy things without going broke.

  38. Susan says:

    You should make your own wine… you can make a bottle for a small percentage of what you would pay retail for. I would think it would appeal to your culinary interests.

  39. Jennifer says:

    hoo-boy, Half Price books is such a killer for us! There is just something about the feel of the book in your hands when you /own/ it instead of borrowing…maybe my husband and I are just wired funny, but library books do NOT feel the same somehow! Anyway, we’ve instituted a hard and fast monthly budget on what we can spend there, but we also have to limit ourselves to no more than one trip per much, because we are almost garunteed to spend our limit on the first trip of the month. A second trip would likely see our will power FAIL.

    Besides that… We keep a spreadsheet for larger purchases, and review it from time to time. We re-order the items on it by cost and priority. Putting something on the wishlist helps us make sure we don’t buy something before considering the other things we are saving for – do we really want one particular item more than anything else on that list?

    We live in a /nice/ part of town and the Goodwill here really has great stuff, so I often head there first when I’m looking for soemthing for my son or new clothes or furniture. He goes thru clothes so fast and I know I’m not the only one who has bought something for my child and then has to get rid of it after only a few uses because he grew too fast! But sometimes I’ll find myself starting to go wild even there, and stuff that is insanely cheap is STILL more expensive than not buying at all… so I have two things I do to help curb buying there. One of my New Years goals from the past two years is “Net Loss of Stuff”. I totally succeeded in 2008 and the extra space and actually knowing where stuff was found was great! Besides just clearing out old junk, anytime I wanted to buy something, I tried to find soemthing it was replaceing that I could get rid of. So, as I start piling up cute clothes to try on at Goodwill I make myself think of what similar items I plan to ditch to make room… and that puts the brakes on my buying a bit. Another thing I do is save up for a shopping spree by just collecting my husbands spare change in a piggy bank for a few months, then go shopping with my son and try and spend just exactly the amount of change I have. (Try NOT to do this on a weekend, go when the store is less busy so the cashier doesn’t have a heart attack when you pay all in coins… :)

  40. You can also put your “temptings” to two other tests. One, the “Do I really need it?” test. This usually helped me avoid most impulse purcahses.

    If that didn’t work, remember to research your purchases. Just tell your subconscious that you are going to buy the item, you just need to make sure you’re getting the cheapest price. by the time you get home to scour the internet, for me at least, usually, the temptation faded.

  41. There is not enough money in the world for me to buy all the books I want. I must stay away from all bookstores.

  42. Denise says:

    A fancy yarn store and those homesteading, on-line stores that sell stuff you might need to be totally self sufficient. Also, anything Amish. I have to remind myself that if I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis that I don’t need it.

  43. Jojo says:

    My kryptonite is a private clothing store. The owner and I have an excellent relationship and I can call him and tell him I have a clothing emergency. Since I’m switching jobs, I needed interview and work attire.

    The bad part, I spent over JA$20,000 (about $250) on clothes. When I got home after all the shopping, I cried. I had been doing so well not buying impulsively that I felt like I had failed my great task. I love the things that I bought but most have to be altered to fit me perfectly. But the panic I felt! I could afford it (thanks to my emergency fund) but having just lost my job and not having one immediately lined up has panicked me. I was doing so well avoiding his store too. In fact, he turned me on to personal finance after I left his store in JA$60,000 (about $750) worth of debt and I had just started a job.

    Minimize the impact of these stores by avoiding them! Or make really small and lovely purchases if you can afford it so that you do not end up bingeing.

  44. Ravi says:

    I have a big problem. I love movies and have this addiction to buying DVD’s(I hope to have a library of at least 3000 over the next decade and a half) Most of them are now selling at 50% off their list prices and this triggers in me an urge to buy/hoard. Over the past few months I have controlled this impulse to some extent by setting myself a ‘beginning of the month budget only’ and also by researching for movies on the internet before I buy.

  45. Trent – Why do you run ads for credit cards on your site? Doesn’t it go against everything you preach?

  46. Ann says:

    Joining the ‘Boycott Whole Foods’ movement because of their corporate philosophy (and near complete lack of local foods) has helped me immensely: after all, it was food, not some tschotke! Just very exotic food I’d never get around to using!

    Williams Sonoma is so overpriced you can always find the good tools cheaper – more than half off for a Ken Onion Shun knife, for example. But mostly W-S counts on good displays of a not very good piece of equipment in a unique color: a low end mixer in ‘cinnamon’ at the very top of the (usually imaginary) Manufacturer’s Suggested List Price. Or standard tart pans that you could get from any restaurant supply store – but they look so exquisite in the W-S store!

  47. BD says:

    LOL, I hear ya on the Art Supply Stores.
    As an artist, that’s my weakness. How do I combat it? By only shopping at them once a year. I go armed with a list, plus the acknowledgment that I will be spending ‘extra’ money as well. I usually set a cap on my spending though, less than $200. Plus, since art is one of my freelance endeavors, the spending is a tax-writeoff, so it’s not bad.

    I combat any other *unnecessary* spending by simply never going into any stores. I never go to the mall or any fun stores by myself, and only rarely do I ever go with friends (we’re talking just a few times a year), and even then, I just tell myself there’s no way I can afford anything anyway (which is true).

    The only stores that I do shop at are the SuperWalMart store for groceries (and I go with a list), and Staples, to pick up the absolutely needed things for my business that I can’t get at the SuperWalMart (and again, I go with a list and buy only what is absolutely necessary). I also try to buy needed things (like ink, or work clothes) on eBay, where they are far cheaper than stores.

    I just do NOT ever go into stores out of boredom or for recreation. That really helps cut back spending. Never ever shop out of boredom. (or as you said, never go without a PURPOSE!).

  48. littlepitcher says:

    My next resolution will be to sell enough to pay for my future purchases.
    I used to volunteer at a food co-op and I spent more money than the co-op saved me. Of course, I ate very well for a while…
    Flea markets are my other Big Temptation. They do save me money, though, if I leave the antique tchotchkes alone.

  49. In the Money says:

    I’m the same way. I try to completely avoid all those places as well. I also always ask myself if I really need the item and how often I would really use the item.

  50. Laura says:

    It all comes down to values. Spending money on feta cheese made from sheep’s milk would be a waste of money for me, because that is not something I place any sort of value on and I would not get much enjoyment out of it. I’m perfectly happy stocking up on generic processed American slices when it’s on sale. For Trent- gourmet cheese is something he values and enjoys, so it makes perfect sense for him to spend money on it.

    I will happily dump $15 to $40 once or twice a month to run a 5k or half marathon and go out for a big meal with my running group afterwards because I truly enjoy the race atmosphere and that time with my friends. My husband would much rather run around town for free and eat a bowl of cereal alone and spend that $30 to $50 on a video game, which is something he values.

    It comes down to putting the money where your values are. (Or- look at what you’re throwing money at to see what your actions say about what you value…)

  51. kristine says:

    Re: art supplies. Befriend the high school’s art teacher. Often, there are many sketchbooks never used (terrible!) and left at the end of the year. The teacher will save some for future students who may not bring one, but many get tossed in the daunting task of cleaning and reorganizing a huge studio. If you do not mind tearing out some used pages, and a gnarly cover, you can probably get all the sketchbooks you cold ever use this way.

    I save all art book leftovers from students, but in my well-to-do district, most of the kids turn their noses up at used. My own kids will never have to buy a sketchbook!

  52. partgypsy says:

    Husband’s weaknesses are bookstores, Wholefoods (cheeses, beer, wine, nice cuts of meat), art supply stores, comic books. Other than quibbles about how much we spend on groceries which I don’t know if we will ever come to an agreement on, he is not a big spender so I trust him.
    Myself, too many to mention, big ones being gemstones and stuff for the kids. The best way for me to deal with that is to keep busy with other stuff, not visit/browse on the internet, and as Molly does, write down all your “wants”.

  53. Gwen Jones says:

    I love older hardware stores. Something about the creaky floors and there’s *always* something I need for this vintage house we live in.

  54. Debbie M says:


    Book stores – I try to buy only what is on my list (things I’ve read at the library and will want to read again and again or lend out to everyone). And I go to Half-Price only when they’re having a sale or I have a coupon.

    Target – Everything’s so pretty! And they have lots of DVDs! Again, I try to stick to the list, and I also will look mainly at the clearance sections, ignoring the other sections.

    I’ve also learned to give in to certain things because I do occasionally regret not spending money. Like I’ve been wanting a few more awesome decorative things to put on my shelves. And so when I was at the gift shop at a Frank Lloyd Wright building, I decided to see if they had something awesome and affordable. I allowed myself to get a really great book end (which is actually a candle holder). Also, if I’m on vacation, I will spend money for experiences, like being able to actually go inside places or climb to the top of things.

    If I’m with friends, my goal is to be like your friend John and make up good stories about various items we find.

    Sometimes I’ll find something cool but useless seeming and ask my friend to please tell my why I need one. But usually they can’t, so I don’t get it. Every once in a while they come up with a use, and sometimes that use would actually improve my life and then I can have a pretty/cool thing that improves my life.

    Another strategy I use is to remind myself that it’s okay to admire something without buying it. Occasionally I’ll even take a picture of it (this is not acceptable behavior at arts and craft shows and some other places, but it’s perfectly fine at many places).

    By the way, I was just noticing that Williams-Sonoma is a king of one-purpose items. They are so pretty! So solid! But I don’t need a waffle maker because pancakes are just as good and don’t need as much butter to keep them from sticking, so they’re less fattening. Nor do I need a totally awesome safe-looking mandolin (hand slicer) because I really can just use a knife and cutting board. And I don’t need a tool for making very cutely shaped fried pies or pancakes. Regular pie and flat pancakes are just as tasty. (I have to keep reminding myself of these things, though.)

  55. I have the same issue with bookstores. Being an information junkie I’m drawn to all kinds of books. So what I do to control it is to never buy a book on a first discovery. (If I did, I’d have a couple rooms in the house set up as libraries.)

    Being a bookstore regular, I’ll read part of a book when I go, and if I find myself coming back to the book on subsequent visits, I’ll buy it the second or third time around.

    There’s just so much information out there and not all of it is necessary or desireable to own, but I figure if I come back to a book more than a couple of times, it’s probably one I’ll want to have around on a permanent basis.

  56. Lucy says:

    My downfall in shopping comes in thrift stores, consignment shops, flea markets and antique malls. I love looking at something used and trying to figure out a way to repurpose it in my home. Unfortunately, I have quite an imagination so I often walk out with many items to recycle. I figure a couple of dollars spent on an accessory or small table or even books is not much until I realized, in a fit of decluttering, that I was getting rid of much of what I had bought. I just didn’t want it anymore.
    So, lesson learned. Stay away from those places.

  57. Jill says:

    I love wandering around Williams-Sonoma, but my rule is to never buy anything there unless a) I’m using a gift certificate (we occasionally get those from a credit card program, and yes, that card is paid off every month) or b) it’s on the clearance table and what you’re looking at costs the same as something from Target but is a far better product.

    I just could never justify paying retail there, but we’ve gotten some wonderful things off the sale tables that we’ve harshly used for years. The $24 Le Creuset sauce pan that gets roughly used about six times a week for everything from sauce to oatmeal to rice and the $1.99 Rosle peeler that never seems to lose its sharpness come to mind.

    I’d far rather pay the $24 for that enameled cast iron sauce pan which I’m still going to have when I’m 70 than have to buy a new $10 sauce pan from Target every 5-10 years because the nonstick coating in it is starting to flake off.

  58. Chris says:

    Many times I follow the Alton Brown thought process of no uni-taskers in the kitchen. If it only has one purpose, it stays at the store.

    Williams Sonoma is easy for me. I haven’t shopped there in 7 years and still to this day refuse to. They were extremely rude to me one time, and since management decided not to do anything about it, not even a response to my concern, I refuse to shop there, or at Pottery Barn (they own pottery barn) to this day. Make a statement with your wallet.

    As for cooking, for the most part, I go to restaurant supply stores. Not only is the product cheaper, it is more durable and frankly has a more industrial look many times.

  59. Josh says:

    I am glad that I am not tempted by any of these material things.

  60. Good post! Abstinence and substitution usually help the most.

  61. chacha1 says:

    @ Jennifer, I love the “net loss of stuff” concept!! Must get DH on board.

    Kitchen equipment – I’m with the restaurant-supply group.

    Books, DVD, and music – 90% online. Wish lists help keep the acquisitive cravings down.

    My big downfall for a while was beads/jewelry-making supplies. I had to make a rule that I could not go into a bead store or to a show unless I had finished a project in the last month, and then I had a $100 budget. This has kept me under control.

  62. Claudia says:

    I ask myself if I want to work 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, however long it will take to pay for what I am buying. That really cute shirt is not worth working all day long for!

  63. Kathy says:

    @ jess #35

    I have the same “vice”. One thing I do to avoid impulse buying yarn or even going to the yarn store (because I can’t leave without something) is to only allow myself to buy yarn when I have finished what I am currently knitting. My big temptation happens because yarn is like crack, and like a junkie, sometimes I have to go “visit” the yarn. LOL.

    My other way to cope is to force myself to knit from my stash and find uses for the yarn I have already. I have some I bought for a project I ended up hating and will frog, but I am going to make myself find something to knit with it.

    Otherwise, I’m very careful to shop around to get prices on yarn brands and then figure out how much yarn I will need to knit a project and then how much I have to save up to get it. Yarn store yarn is not cheap, but it’s well worth every penny spent on it.

  64. Kathy says:

    My other weaknesses besides yarn stores are Half Price Books, Bed, Bath, & Beyond (although I spend more time looking than buying there), craft stores, and kitchen stores. I don’t go to Williams Sonoma, though.

    I will have to find a restaurant supply store. When I do, then I guess that will be my new weakness.

  65. Kathryn says:

    I adore bookstores, art stores and clothing catalogs. The best way to avoid impulse book buying is to go in and plan to spend less than $10 on, say, a novel. I take notes on all the rest that look interesting, then go to Amazon. If a book still looks good there, I put it on my wish list. That way, I can remember all the books that interest me and days or weeks later, if I still want something, I might get it, or I might not, because the impulse has cooled.
    With clothes catalogs, I dogear the pages of the stuff I like and put it on my stack. Then, I’ll go back a week or two later and see if it’s something I still want. Even then, I will only buy it if a) I have the money b)it goes with the rest of my clothes c) is not so trendy that it will be out of style next year. Lots of these catalogs go straight to recycling or I use some of the pix for collages.
    I have yet to come up with a way to avoid impulse buying at the art store, other than just not going!

  66. Kate says:

    #56: Make a statement with your wallet
    So true. Boycotting businesses has saved me a lot of money–even with sometimes having to buy the same item at a higher price at another store.
    My impulses used to be books and fabric. I can trace a big credit card balance to a fabric purchase (and I never even made anything with it) and books were something that I often could ill afford but still bought.

    I made a pact with myself years ago that I couldn’t buy fabric unless I was going to make something with it immediately. I have broken the pact a few times but the fabric purchases have declined dramatically.

    Books are something that I do not buy anymore–I have difficulty using gift cards now. When I see books at bookstores I write down titles and try to get them from the library but I never buy a book without checking reviews first. If there is a book that I really want I ask for it as a Christmas or birthday gift. My husband and I recently went through our book collection and whittled it down–books were taking over our house.

  67. PF says:

    Nobody mentioned my biggest weakness: Outdoor shops like REI. Talk about selling a lifestyle. Oh how I love that store…..and it loves me! LOL! I can honestly say, however, that I have never purchased anything from REI that wasn’t used many times for years and years, so maybe it’s okay.

    The amazon wish list is a godsend.

  68. ethel says:

    @PF (#67): Yes, REI is another good example of a store selling a lifestyle. Everything looks so good; it makes me want to believe that we don’t actually live in a thoroughly flat place that is too hot 6 months of the year for me to want to do any outdoor activity. I begin to think “But if I had *that* beautiful widget, *then* I’d surely spend more time doing adventurous outdoor things.” So, I always check myself by trying to remind myself that very rarely does buying something new change your habits or activities. But that’s the allure that so many stores try to sell.

  69. The substitute concept is working well in my family. My wife and daughter like to shop for clothing, so we spend a lot of time in thrift stores.

    Not only is the clothing incredibly cheaper, but since every item is one of a kind, either it fits, or we can’t buy it. That makes it kind of self limiting. And we still find a bunch of good clothing, it just takes longer to find and costs bunch less.

  70. carmen says:

    To be honest, I don’t think you really do much damage in any of those ‘tempting places’, besides the Apple store. Part of me thinks it’s actually a bit sad not to be able to splurge on books and wine as part of an overall balanced lifestyle, although I agree with the posters saying most things are clutter (and provide little if any happiness beyond the immediate short term.) International travel, readily available online, is our huge (serious understatement) financial weakness. But worth every penny; so much to see and experience.

  71. Jill says:

    There are a lot of crafts I don’t get into because the cost per project hour is so high. My primary craft fun is needlework. For $50 or less, I can work on a cross stitch project that will take 8-16 weeks of occasional leisure time to finish. I was browsing around at the craft store and saw a kit to teach Swedish weaving. Sounds interesting but… $20 for a kit that’s advertised as ‘complete the project in a weekend’ is not a good deal.

  72. Going with cash when you go “shopping” is the best thing you can do. Even if you have the same amount of Cash on you as your Credit Limit. Why? It is Psychological.

    Physical cash is much harder to spend because you actually SEE the money leaving your hand. Plastic takes that barrier away and can lead to MUCH spending.

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