I’m usually very good at shopping with a list, knowing exactly what I’m going to a store to get, and coming out with only those items. But every now and then, like this weekend, I’m assaulted by the “I want it now monster” and I’m forced to fight my way through the impulse. I have to fight the primitive “gimmie” portion of my mind and make the rational portion prevail. More often than not I succeed, but sometimes I fall and fall hard. So how did I do this weekend?
I went to Best Buy because I needed a new flash drive and they had the one I wanted on sale. Unfortunately, the computer stuff is in the back of the store, past all the fun DVD’s and CD’s. They know this, which is why the store is laid out like that. Anyway, as I’m sauntering past the DVD racks, there it is. My temptation. A certain set of DVD’s that I’ve been wanting forever is on the end cap and look — it’s on sale! The regular price is $180. It’s on sale for $100. I drool. I’ve wanted this set for quite some time. I’ve been looking for it, haunting the used dealers hoping for a deal. Today is my deal. Or is it?
I stop. It’s $100. That’s still a lot of money and more that I was hoping to pay. I was hoping to score a used copy for around $50:
“Yes, but it’s almost 1/2 price” screams the gimmie monster.
“It’s $100 that I could better use elsewhere, like on a trip,” says the smarter part of my brain.
“But you’re getting a tax refund that could cover it without tapping other funds,” says the gimmie monster.
This back and forth goes on for a while until I push on and go to the computer section. I pick up my flash drive and try to head for the cash register, but the gimmie monster and the frugal part of my brain are still duking it out. I figure it won’t hurt to go back to the DVD aisle and look at it some more. So back I go.
I pick it up and flip it over to read the back, even though I have it memorized. I’m stalling for time, trying to see which side of my brain will win this war. Secretly I’m hoping I can banish the frugal side and give the gimmie monster free reign for once. But it’s too ingrained. I wander around the store for a while, still clutching the DVD and looking at other things, still stalling for time. I start toward the cash register twice, before backing off to think some more. If anyone could hear the war inside my mind, they’d have me instantly committed.
I go back to the DVD shelf to put it down. It looks like the battle is won. But then, another customer comes up, sees the set, says, “Ooooh,” picks up a copy and goes immediately to the cash register. Why can’t I be like this person, I think? Why can’t I just pick up some expensive item and buy it without a second thought? Sometimes it would be nice to do so. I have the money. I could just go right up to the register and buy it, no problem. But I’m not built that way. I know when I get it home I’ll assault myself with guilt, thinking of what else that $100 could have (and should have) been used for.
Now I’m tired. I’m tired of thinking, tired of wandering around, tired of trying to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make today. I have a headache. I’ve been in the store for forty minutes for a trip that should have taken five. I put the DVD down and go to the register, purchase my flash drive and leave. But even as I’m heading to the car, my gimmie monster is screaming at me that it’s not too late. I can still go back! Fortunately, I have somewhere else to be so I need to get a move on. But even as I’m driving away, there’s a tiny part of my brain that’s saying, “It’ll still be there tomorrow.”
I’ve temporarily won the battle, but I know I’ll be fighting the war all week. That’s how long the sale is good for. I’ve already checked the store’s website twice, checking store inventory and fantasizing about store pickup. Hopefully it will be a busy week and there will be much to distract me from this consumer mindlessness. I hate it when I feel this way, which is why I try to plan my purchases and avoid temptations. I hate feeling out of sorts, out of control and, frankly, obsessed by something that is just a thing. Yes, it’s a very nice thing and one I’d like to have, but it shouldn’t have this kind of power over me.
So why didn’t I just buy it? I had the money and it wouldn’t be a hardship. How did I talk myself out of it? Here’s what I told myself: First of all, $100 is a lot of money to me and well over my comfort level for impulse purchases. That $100 would buy quite a bit on my upcoming vacation so I really need to think about it. Second, I think I’ll be able to get it for less on the used market, I’ll just need to be patient. Third, if it comes down to it, there are special occasions like Christmas or my birthday for which it might make a nice gift. Fourth, if it’s on sale today at Best Buy, the chances are very good that someone else will have it on sale some other time. Besides, since DVD’s constantly go down in price as their popularity declines, this one will probably go down as well. I just have to wait it out. I’ve gone this long without it, I can go a while longer.
The mistake that almost cost me was allowing myself to think about it at all. I should have just gotten the flash drive and gotten out of the store. I could have thought about it at home, away from the store. But I stopped, I looked, I wanted. The longer I thought about it, the harder it became to put it down. So the next time you’re confronted with consumer temptation, what can you do to get past it?
1. Tell yourself all of the things I listed above. You don’t have to buy it today. It will be cheaper later. You can ask for it as a gift. Let your rational mind be heard.
2. Walk away. Don’t do what I did. Don’t carry it around the store and don’t keep looking at it. It only makes it harder. The longer you look and touch, the easier it is to see yourself owning it. Walk away and do your thinking outside of the store where you can do so with a clear head.
3. Consider what else that money can buy. If you have a vacation or other special event planned, think about what the money would buy. If you’re saving for a specific goal, think about delaying that goal because you spent this money today.
4. Ask yourself if this thing will be used or sit on a shelf — and be brutally honest with the answer. I know that I will enjoy watching those DVD’s. But after I’ve seen them once, I know it will be a while before I watch them again. In the meantime, they’ll gather dust. Yes, I’d like to own them, but $100 is still too much for something that won’t be used often. I need a lower price to make myself comfortable with that.
5. Find another way to satisfy the gimmie monster. If he just won’t shut up any other way, find something that satisfies the urge to possess and consume without breaking the bank. My solution was twofold. Fist, I put the entire set of DVD’s into my Netflix queue. The first should be here tomorrow. That will quiet some of the urge I’m having to own this set and, probably, convince me that I don’t really need to own it until it’s less expensive. Second, I went to the library and loaded up on books and DVD’s. No, I don’t own them, but I have a whole bunch of “new to me” stuff in the house to look at. It tames the monster a bit, knowing that I have some things I’ve never seen or read before to look forward to.
6. Write about your struggle. Writing this article has put the whole thing into perspective for me. It’s given me a chance to see how out of control I was (which is the way retailers like you to be) and given my rational mind a chance to be heard. If you don’t have a public forum to confess to, write in a journal or just write it on a piece of paper and throw it away.
It’s now two days after my shopping trip. How am I doing? So far so good. My urge is in check and I’ve stopped checking Best Buy’s website. I’m feeling more in control. To make the point, I took $100 out of my regular account and put it in the vacation account. It’s safe and I like the visual of seeing that account balance jump by $100, thanks to my control. I’ll probably make it through the week without buying that DVD set. Probably.
Image courtesy of evilnick