Updated on 08.12.07

Visiting Williams-Sonoma: How To Avoid Overspending On Something That Stirs Your Passions

Trent Hamm

w-sAs regular readers of The Simple Dollar know, I’m a food junkie. I enjoy preparing food from scratch, presenting it well on the plate, and using sturdy, quality kitchen implements to prepare the food. I have a library of cookbooks (even though I really stick with just a few of them for everyday use) and I’m unafraid to occasionally spend a lot of money on things for the kitchen that I know I’ll use, like my long lusted after KitchenAid stand mixer (which is my next “splurge” purchase – someday).

In other words, if you take me to a store like Williams-Sonoma, I can mill around for hours and easily find a dozen expensive things for me to spend my money on.

This past Friday, I found myself in such a position unexpectedly. My visiting family wanted to go wander around the new mall in West Des Moines, a mall that I had only visited once before, briefly. I knew where it was and I knew about four of the stores in it, but that was about it. I figured I would go with them and just mill around wherever they went and I wasn’t planning on buying anything at all. Until I discovered that it had a Williams-Sonoma, that is.

The second I walked in the door and started to look around, warning sounds began to blare in the back of my head as I could immediately spy about seven things I would love to have in my kitchen, from a KitchenAid stand mixer and an interesting cookbook to a particular knife sharpener and several food ingredients. I knew that if I was not careful, I would end up spending a lot of money that I didn’t need to spend.

Here’s what I did to keep my spending under control and still allow myself to wander around to my heart’s content.

I immediately set a spending cap. I knew that I would likely buy something there and if I wasn’t careful, I might buy several things, so I set a firm spending cap and made it a challenge to spend less than that. This cap made me carefully consider the items and how much I wanted them or not. My spending cap was $20, by the way, and it enabled me to buy two jars of pasta sauce (on sale) and a container of potlatch seasoning.

I whipped out my trusty notebook and noted things of interest. This way, I could decide later if the impulse to buy the item was actually worthwhile, plus I could do research and find other options for the items I liked. I ended up writing down several items on the list in great detail, along with some recipe ideas that popped up while I was in there.

I spent a lot of time there, meaning I spent less time in other places. Since I spent all of my time at Williams-Sonoma instead of in other stores, and I spent that time there with a tight spending cap, I ended up only spending $20 on the entire trip, by far the least of the people in my group. Stores in malls are designed to maximize impulse buying and by sticking in one store, you minimize the chances to act on such impulses.

I went home and did comparison shopping on the items of deepest interest. I fell in love with a cookbook there (if you’re curious, it was this one, from which I pillaged several ideas in just a brief browsing – I typically use cookbooks for ideas, not for detailed following of recipes), but I decided to wait until I was at home to research it. Good thing, too, because I found it for 40% less on Amazon. That doesn’t mean I bought it, just that I confirmed the fact that I could save quite a bit of money. I also found a virtually identical drink mixer for 75% less than the price at Williams-Sonoma.

In short, I let my impulses roam without whipping out the credit cards. I allowed myself to carefully examine all of this stuff I wanted, but by instituting a spending cap, I kept the spending down, and by keeping a list, I was able to research items of interest further. One could use these techniques at any store that tempts their worst buying impulses.

On a lighter note, the idea that I bought pasta sauce at a shopping mall amused my nephews to no end, and I also predict a gift certificate to the store in my future from some bemused relatives.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Joanne Reed says:

    I love your writing and ideas but denying yourself the Kitchenaid stand mixer is really too much self denial. I have had mine for more than 20 years and used it at least 3 times a week on a regular basis. I probably use it daily around holidays. It is not a luxury; it is a well worth it necessity. Believe me, I was in a much tighter money situation than you are when I bought it but have never regretted that purchase for even an instant. I thoroughly enjoy, learn from, and use your writings.

  2. Bellen says:

    That’s why I’m glad we don’t have a Williams-Sonoma store near us – just would not be able to stop the impluse buying. I do use their catalog.

    I also splurged on a KitchenAid stand mixer, about 20-25 years ago. I used it all the time when my 3 boys lived at home. I do not consider it a real splurge because I too cook from scratch including bread (don’t like bread machines) and the mixer plays a large part in being able to turn out great food.

    Oh yes, the set of 6 Williams Sonoma dish towels I splurged on (about $6 each while friends spent $1/3) about 10 years ago are still going strong, altho slightly faded and spotted. Friends replace theirs every year!!

  3. Pam says:

    One of my best friends recently married for the first time at 45 and I was matron of honor in her wedding. Even though it was a somewhat informal affair, this still meant buying a dress and all the related accessories, a shower gift, a wedding gift, plus travel to the wedding and weekend accomodations. All those things were planned for, I found some great deals/shared a room and travel expenses with a friend, packed healthy munchies for the road to avoid meals out and paid cash for everything. What I didn’t plan on, and what relates to your article, was the amount of extra money I spent simply because I was in a mall far more often that usual and actively shopping in preparation for the wedding. When I added up the little impulse purchases that were made over the past few weeks, it became glaringly obvious that I would need to count pennies for the remainder of the month to avoid completely blowing my budget (and reminded me why I avoid malls like the plague!).

  4. Kreblog says:

    In this specific case you should also channel Alton Brown… don’t buy uni-taskers!

  5. Kreblog, Alton’s a wise man in the kitchen. I take his advice too!

  6. James says:

    Good idea about shopping with a notepad… I usually don’t carry one around with me, but I use the camera on my phone for the same purpose. If I see something interesting, I take a picture and forget about it for a while. Then, when browsing my photos, if I still feel like I want to have it, I look for it online.

  7. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    James, the camera phone is a good idea. My many-year-old cell phone is about to die.

  8. Tim says:

    we like the WS celebrating the foods of the world series of cookbooks, because they are more than just cookbooks.

    if you like baking, definitely look at King Arthur’s Flour

    WS isn’t the cheapest, but they do have deals here and there. the WS labeled stuff tends to be cheaper and of good value, too.

  9. I [heart] WS as well… even though I know everything there is insanely overpriced. Try a restaurant supply place for kitchen stuff. 20-80% cheaper, and usually way more durable, since stuff there is designed for heavy duty use. It’s not displayed all pretty-like, though, and they usually smell more like warehouses than whatever seasonal bread WS is hawking at the moment.

  10. Susan says:

    One more vote for the KitchenAid – well worth the money. It is a work horse of a machine. I recommend watching Amazon for deals or QVC around the holidays – you will be able to get one for a great price. FYI – get the big one with the crank-up the bowl lever. It does double batches of everything much easier than the smaller tilt head model. Costs a bit more, but the larger capacity works better for a family.

    Absolutely addicted to your blog – many thanks!

  11. Here’s how my husband got his much-coveted KitchenAid mixer.

    About 15 years ago, I divided the cost of the KitchenAid by how many people in his family and mine who would be buying him Christmas gifts. I solicited both families and asked them, instead of buying individual gifts, to contribute to the KitchenAid fund. I think I might have had to put in a little extra to make up the difference between the cost and the donations. It was one of his favorite Christmas gifts ever!

  12. Bea Helf says:

    When My husband I split up, My much coveted kitchen Aid was given to him. I had bought it after attending a candy making class. In essence it was MINE, but it was a amicable divorce. No big settlement or alimony, and I am recently retired. The 2 splurge purchases were a Larger (5 qt.) KA mixer and a Cuisinart food processor. After that I didn’t need anything else.For my kitchen, everything else I bought at the dollar store with an occasional splurge with Pampered Chef and the outlet mall.

  13. Amber P says:

    These are great tips. One more tip that helps me in stores like WS is that I have to pass the “lifestyle test”. A mistake lots of us make is to buy things because we like the idea of the lifestyle that these things will enable for us. So I don’t allow myself to make purchases to support a lifestyle that I don’t already have. I rarely bake, so until I am making pies or cakes on a regular basis, I won’t allow myself to spend money on any fancy pie or cake baking tools. In your case though, I have to agree with past posters that since you already bake bread on a regular basis, a stand mixer might be a good investment.

    P.S. I stumbled on your blog recently and was so inspired by your bread making post that I tried it and now bake my own bread weekly. I never thought it was something I could do!

  14. Jaden says:

    Great ideas to keep the spending down… Love them! And I SO want a Kitchen Aid mixer… Someday… Someday. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *