How To Spend Less Money Shopping

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Stick to your budget and resist impulse purchases by following these ways to spend less money shopping.

Sometimes, following a strict budget is the only way to make it from one paycheck to the next. Other times, people want to spend less money shopping to reach a savings goal, like making a downpayment on a home.

Tips to Spend Less Money Shopping

Plain white paper shopping bag against a pink background

1. Plan Your Purchases Ahead of Time

Using a shopping list may seem obvious, but so many people don’t take time to make one. They think remembering what they’re planning to buy is enough, but a detailed list also helps you remember what not to buy.

Whether you’re heading to the grocery store or your favorite clothing boutique, write a list of what you’re looking for and then stick to it. If it’s not on the list, don’t get it. (Related: How to Save Money on a Tight Budget.)

2. Don’t Wander the Store

Browsing stores and aimlessly wandering the aisles leads to unnecessary purchases. You can spend less money shopping by heading directly to the things on your list, then going straight to the checkout before you run out of willpower.

This direct approach is easy to do in familiar stores: organize your list by aisle, and stay out of the ones with nothing you need. Both Walmart and Target’s websites will tell you the exact aisle everything is on, and show it on a store map.

For less familiar stores, group things on your list by category. So, when shopping for school clothes, you’d list “girls’ shirts, boys’ pants, kids’ shoes” and so on. Heading straight to those sections means you won’t wander through the housewares area or browse through clothes in your size.

3. Shopping Sales is Still Spending Money

Discounts and sales exist to entice you into spending money. Period. So, don’t rationalize straying from your budget by telling yourself otherwise.

A buy-one-get-one (BOGO) offer on t-shirts may seem like a good deal, but if t-shirts aren’t on your list, you’re spending money on something you don’t currently need. How do you know you don’t need it? Because it’s not on your list. Resist the impulse to purchase such things. It really is that simple.

4. Check Online Prices First

Don’t just check online prices and reviews for big-ticket items. Spending a few minutes searching the internet for things on your list is a great way to learn of lower prices and discounts.

  • Starting at a site like Rakuten makes it easy to find online prices. You can often earn rebates on your purchases, too.
  • Walmart, Target, and many grocery stores now offer same- or next-day pickup for online orders. Using these services lets you compare prices and unit weights without distractions or pressure. They also make it much easier to resist impulse purchases.
  • Kitchen staples and dry goods from Amazon Pantry are often less expensive than at the grocery store, and you don’t have to leave home to get them.

5. Don’t Shop in a Bad Mood

You’ve probably heard that grocery shopping when you’re hungry will make you buy higher-calorie foods. More recent studies show that hungry people buy more non-food items.

Shopping to lift one’s mood is such a common problem that it even has a name: retail therapy. But, unlike actual mental therapy, a new purchase is only a short-term fix. Once the “high” of buying something wears off, you’ll feel bad for not following your budget. This cycle is how compulsive shopping becomes a habit.

Find other ways to elevate your mood that don’t cost money, like reading a good book from the library, going for a hike or playing in the park, or even getting some extra sleep.

6. Shop Alone

You probably know from experience that shopping with kids makes it difficult to compare prices or match coupons to items. Shopping with your friends isn’t much better.

Studies show that going to the store along with a friend can make a person spend more, especially if they’re trying to stick to a budget.

If your buddies don’t enjoy window-shopping, leave your credit and debit cards at home so you can’t spend any money. Or find something else to do together like a picnic or a walk in the park.

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  1. I’ve heard the rule of don’t shop while tired and hungry before. I found greater success when I shop under those conditions. I’m hungry and rather be eating; I’m tired and prefer to be in bed; I’m angry and would rather be at home dealing with the issue. Why am I here? To buy a gallon of milk, so do so and go home.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Different strokes for different folks.

  2. Kddomingue says:

    Yes to all of the above! Actually, the best advice that I ever got concerning shopping was from the hubs. I came home one day from shopping and was excited to show him all of the bargains that I’d found and was proudly telling him how much I’d saved over full price at my favorite store. He shook his head in exasperation and said “You know, you’d save even more money if you just DIDN’T GO INTO THE STORE TO BEGIN WITH!” . Lol! I certainly didn’t think it was funny then and I was kind of miffed. But he was right (although I’ll likely never admit it to him!). I now go into town once a week. I have an ice chest in my trunk for milk, meat, etc. I do ALL of the errands and shopping on that one day. I don’t go back into town until the following week unless it’s an emergency……doctor, vet, car problems, things of that nature. I simply don’t shop for fun or as a hobby or to pass the time anymore. If the urge to shop overcomes me, as it does every so often, then I pick a spot in my home to declutter. There are ALWAYS things that end up in the donate bin. And looking at all of the things in my donate bin makes me aware of how much money I’ve wasted on things that, ultimately, I didn’t like enough to keep. Kills my urge to shop 95% of time, guaranteed!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I live in town but, like you, run my errands only one day each week if I can. It’s just too tempting to pop in here and there when bored but then I walk out with all sorts of things we didn’t really need. Now if I’m bored, I garden or read or take the dog for a walk.

      Or I “window shop” online. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve filled up an online shopping cart with things then closed the browser tab without buying a single one. LOL