Impulse Spending vs. Smart Buys

Impulse Spending I consider myself a smart shopper. I’m always on the lookout for a bargain and I often deliberate for months over something as simple as new sheets or a water pitcher. Even so, occasionally I get caught up in the shopping fever and buy things without thinking them through. Sometimes they’re brilliant purchases and sometimes they’re not so smart. Either way, I’m still spending money that I hadn’t budgeted.

Today is a great example. I went to Ikea to find curtains for a few windows in the house. I also knew that I needed a shower curtain. We’ve been in this house nearly two months and I’m not even close to being organized yet. We’re having company on Friday and I’m hoping to get the house a little more together before then. So, on my curtain and shower curtain shopping trip, I purchased:

  • one pair of curtains for a room not on my list,
  • three sets of curtains that I planned to buy,
  • new curtains for my daughters’ room (not on my list but needed anyway),
  • three sets of tealight holders,
  • sheets to make curtains for another room,
  • lightbulbs for lights I bought last time,
  • a new slipcover for a loveseat (my daughter convinced me that $11 was a great price for “exactly what she wanted.” It’s not “exactly” right, but it will do the job.)
  • 13 new drinking glasses in the “as is” department,
  • some lucky bamboo,
  • and a six pack of cinnamon rolls, and
  • two new bathroom trash cans.

All told, we spent $190.00 on a trip for two rooms worth of inexpensive curtains. I even passed on the snazzy bathroom accessories that would have turned my boring downstairs bathroom into a showplace, and I still don’t have a shower curtain for one bathroom.

Each individual item that I purchased was affordable, and they are all useful. Windows need covers and pretty curtains make a room look decorated. Bathrooms need trash cans. However, I spent a lot more than I planned. A lot of my purchases could have been postponed until another day, but Ikea is so far away from my house that I figure I’m saving money by not driving back a second time.

How do I decide what is a smart purchase and what is just another impulse buy? For me, there are a few questions: Did I actually use it? Did I “need” it? Was it truly a good price? Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to answer those questions before I get out of the store.

How do you decide when to buy and when to pass? Do you always stick to a list? What are your criteria for making purchases? I’d love to hear what you think.

Follow-up Note: I’ve since decided that ALL the curtains are going back, except for the ones that I bought as-is and can’t return. We’ve eaten the cinnamon rolls and used the slipcover, the tealight holders and the bamboo. I don’t know how lucky it is but it does look nice. The trash cans, light bulbs and drinking glasses haven’t even gotten unpacked yet but I’m sure that they will be soon. Now how do I think I did? Some of the curtains I should have known wouldn’t work but I was convincing myself that they would be right once I got them home. Another set just looks too bright in my house. I’m not sure if these were avoidable shopping mistakes or not.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.