Task 1: Keep a shopping log.
Use my shopping log tool to track every nonessential purchase (everything but food and medicine) you make in the next two weeks. At the end of the two week period, you'll get a much clearer picture of how much impulsive or unconscious spending you're actually doing.
If you're married (and can get your husband to do this exercise, too), you might find that you are not the only one who has a problem controlling impulse purchases.
Task 2: Create a shopping diary.
When you're shopping for recreation, you may buy something simply because you feel guilty not buying. You want to join your friend in the fun. Or you feel bad the salesperson spent a half hour to help you pick out the perfect pair of black slacks. To give yourself a little distance, keep a small notebook with you and write down how you're feeling before you actually make a purchase. This will give you something else to do besides plunking down the credit card, and it may give you the perspective you need to see objectively that you don't really need another pair of black slacks.
While you're writing in your diary, ask yourself these five questions to help get at your true motivations. I got these from April Benson, a psychotherapist who specializes in helping people stop overshopping! (Interesting fact: She, like many shopping therapists, used to specialize in helping people overcome eating disorders. The link is that if you overdo it in one area, you're likely to overdo it in others.)
- What am I doing here?
- What was the trigger that sent me here?
- How do I feel?
- Is the thing I'm about to reach for something I need? What happens if I don't buy it?
- What happens if I do buy it?
If you're spending your nights surfing the Internet and making purchases you don't really need, be sure to get yourself off of those website's e-mail lists that give you a heads up on sales and new promotions (same goes for catalog mailing lists).
For items you truly must buy—your son just joined the baseball team and he needs gear, your coffeemaker has hit the skids and you need to replace it—the Internet can be a great source of bargains. Use shopping sites such as Shopzilla.com or Bizrate.com, which scour the Internet for the item you want and then list, by price, all the Web retailers that carry it. (That's the beauty of these sites, they work best when you know exactly what you want; they're no good for random browsing.) And always look for special offers for the merchandise you need. Many retailers and services (such as airlines) offer discounts for using their sites.
Task 4: Find a great shopping alternative.
One of the women I coached recently was tens of thousands of dollars in debt because of what she called her compulsive shopping habit. I needed to get her out of the stores and doing something else with her time. So I gave her a pedometer and set her off to walk 10,000 steps a day. Extreme? Yes. But exercise is a great alternative to a trip to the mall. It makes you feel good (like shopping) and it's good for you (unlike shopping). So is reading a great book from the library. Or trying a new, elaborate recipe. The trick is to replace your shopping reflex with a new habit. And research has shown that you have to do something 21 times in order to make it a habit.
Task 5: Get a great deal—buy like a man.
Men are more efficient shoppers than women, according to a study from Brunel University in London. It all goes back to our hunter/gatherer roots, say the researchers who conducted a 14-country study to come up with their findings. Females gather by searching and comparing, while men go straight for the kill.
What's more, men are far more likely to negotiate and haggle for the best price, having no qualms about the feelings of the person behind the counter. For them, bargaining is part of the fun—and it's often quite effective.
So next time you're shopping for something you really need, don't be afraid to get aggressive, the way your husband or brother might. You'll get a great price, and save time too.