5 Tips for Better Shopping Habits

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Ivelin Radkov/AlamyThinking big helps you spend small.
By Karen Cordaway

In a recent survey on back-to-school promotions, the National Retail Federation revealed coupons, in-store promotions and advertising inserts still carry the most sway when it comes to shopping for back-to-school. If you're tech savvy, maybe you're guilty of liking every coupon website page on Facebook. Perhaps, you even get a 140-character dose of the latest deal updates on Twitter to stay current on sales.

Whether shopping this time of year, for the holidays or any other time, ask yourself, does social media cause you to spend less when purchasing necessities or more? After all of this effort, if shopping still tends to throw a monkey wrench in goals for spending while at the store, consider forming new shopping habits. Instead of chasing every discount, consider linking your shopping to dream-based goals.

No matter what new habit you're looking to reinforce, Tom Corley, author of the bestselling book, "Rich Habits" and soon-to-be released book, "Change Your Habits, Change Your Life," emphasizes creating habits around meaningful goals.

Through his research, Corley discovered the reason why most people fail to achieve their goals. He explains that it's largely due to the goal-setting process. "In order to develop meaningful goals, goals you want to pursue, you need to create those goals around your dreams and wishes. So, the starting point to goal-setting is dream-setting," he says. Here are some tips:

1. Take your budget along for the trip. Dorethia Conner, financial coach, author of the book "Money Chat" and website owner at MoneyChat.com, understands traps that people fall into while shopping. She encourages her clients that use spreadsheets to print their budgets out and bring them on the trip to help them stick to their budget.

She explains that they can fold them up and keep them in their wallets, so they'll have a concrete, visual reminder to cue the new habit of only spending what they can afford when they go to reach for their money. Conner adds that crossing out the former amount and subtracting what you just purchased right then is vital, too. Updating the total keeps you from estimating in your head and potentially spending more than you planned. This approach is especially helpful if you need to head to another store. "It holds them accountable to themselves and helps stop impulse purchases," she explains.

2. Take time to get a discount even before you shop. Radio and web producer Joel Larsgaard for the Clark Howard Show and website owner at SaveOutsideTheBox.com also makes it a habit to keep a budget and emphasizes that not going over is key. After checking it, he makes an effort to maximize his dollars on a regular basis. Larsgaard suggests buying a discounted gift card to get anticipated purchases for less. He adds that choosing stores where you often shop from a site like GiftcardGranny.com can work to your wallet's advantage. You get the gift card at a discount so you are spending less before you even begin to shop. If you purchase an item on sale, you can stack the discount.

3. Take advantage of discounts where you shop on a regular basis. Larsgaard makes it a habit to buy gift cards when he knows he's about to make a big purchase. "For instance, I just bought some new windows for my rental home and I knew roughly what I was going to spend. So I bought a discounted gift card and saved an additional $45 on my purchase," he says.

4. Take a look at what you have before buying clothes. Kathleen Celmins, website owner at FrugalPortland.com, makes a clean sweep before shopping for clothes. She strongly believes that you shouldn't go shopping until you have cleared out room in your closet. She thinks this will give you a clearer picture of what you actually need. "You'll be motivated by that instead of being swayed by the more expensive fashions the store is trying to get you to buy," she says. This approach can also be applied to grocery shopping or stocking up on any other items needed for your household. Shop your pantry first. I don't know how many times we've purchased duplicate items unnecessarily.

5. Take a minute to shop online if it stops you from overspending. Though there are certain things I have to get in-store, I personally find it easier to keep better tabs on what I'm spending when I shop online. I can more readily click away from flashy sales and keep myself in the sections where I need to shop. I don't get lured into looking at items I wasn't intending to buy. I can also check in on my subtotal whenever I like to see where I stand without needing a calculator at a store. I find that I tend to be more efficient and can cut back on my shopping time.

Smart spending patterns can be established with a little planning and practice. Use these tips to better guide your spending when planning a shopping trip. Find a way to link your habits and purchases to dream-based goals so you're more likely to succeed. Remembering the big picture can help you avoid buying impulsively or overspending.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving tips on her website, MoneySavingEnthusiast.com.
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