Yesterday, I went shopping. I didn’t want to go, but my new little soccer players needed shin guards for their first games today. Kohl’s department store loomed across the parking lot from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I brought the 30% off coupon that arrived in the mail, just in case. That coupon nearly burned a hole in my pocket until I could resist no longer.
The thing is, I detest Kohl’s (rather, I detest myself in Kohl’s). They lure you in with their sales and coupons, only to deliver mediocre merchandise, most of which I end up returning. You see, I never go to Kohl’s just once. First, I buy something(s), then I experience buyer’s remorse and return it, only now I have merchandise credit or Kohl’s cash, or another sale will catch my eye, and there I am buying something else. And so the cycle continues.
The real loss isn’t in the quality of what they offer, or even the money I spend; it is in the precious time I lose, transfixed in its aisles, entranced by the Clearance, Bonus Buy, and Early Bird Specials signs that decorate every other display rack.
Today, I steeled myself against its wiles, determined to only look at the items I needed: pillows and sheets. In the process of cleaning out the bedroom cupboards last week, I disposed of a couple tattered sets of sheets, leaving me in need of two new, spare sets for the boys’ room. I am embarrassed to admit how long it has been since they received new pillows; theirs are flat as pancakes.
With three of my children in tow, we homed in on the back of the store, where the bedroom linens are displayed. Immediately, I found pillows on sale for $3.99, so I gathered up five and threw them in the cart. I also located a masculine, striped sheet set on sale for $17.99, plus that 30% off. Five pillows, one set of sheets: $20. Mission accomplished.
Only, my eye kept catching those pesky Clearance signs at the end of each aisle we passed. It wasn’t too long before I had a pretty, pink, floral wreath for the front door and a vibrant, impressionist-style tablecloth for our basement table in the cart, too. And now, we were admiring kitchen gadgets. Oh, the deals I was scoring!
It was then that I became aware of a strange sensation in my body. I suddenly felt overheated, and I noticed that my heart rate was higher than normal. Anxiety had creeped into my body like a slithering snake. It has been weeks since I shopped “recreationally,” and these symptoms caught me by surprise. Is this what shopping feels like? I used to do it so often that I had become desensitized to the internal stress caused by making decisions over inconsequential things.
Consumerism, the “need” or impulse to buy something, is like an addiction. All reason flies out the window when those sale signs flash before our eyes. It reminds me of that delightful film Confessions of a Shopaholic, where Rebecca expresses how shopping makes her feel: “When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.” The need, the high, and the crash that follows- just like a drug. What did all the shopping bring her? Happiness? No. More like a mountain of unused, high-priced items and thousands of dollars of credit card debt.
But for the grace of God, that could be me, too. So, right there in Kohl’s, I talked to myself (it helped that I had children with me): “I came for pillows and sheets. I do not need a new tablecloth or a wreath for the front door, no matter how perfectly adorable or on sale they are. Put them back.” And I did, with more than a twinge of regret (I never said it would be easy to say no). I mean, a great, decor-enhancing, stain-resistant tablecloth for $7.75? I’m still a little sad about it, but I am more proud of the self-discipline it took for me to return them to their sale bin.
Every dollar counts for and against something. We are just beginning our road to financial freedom at forty, having both come from financially irresponsible families marked by debt, bankruptcy, excessive spending, and sale addictions on both sides. We were never taught how to manage our money, or how to maintain a budget. I, at least, never understood the connection between writing a budget and sticking to it. It was more of a loose guideline to follow; any whim could override it.
We have a ways to go to be debt-free, but even in small steps, like retracing my steps to replace the unnecessary items in my cart, we gain small victories that add up and inch us closer to our financial goals. The more I say no to impulsive, emotion-driven shopping (or shopping at all, for that matter), the more I engage my rational mind to differentiate between true needs and wants. That excites me.
What are your shopping weaknesses? What can you do to take control over them and resist the impulse to buy?