By Cherie Lowe
I’ve come to the point in my life where I recognize most of the habits that lead me down a road to overspending. If not careful, I tend to fall into the same traps over and over again. When it comes to the grocery store, I know what causes me to spend more than I’d like.
But temptation sneaks into my cart from time to time. So this year, I’m returning to the basics. I’m getting back to what I know works and has proved the test of time. I’m zipping up the process and locking down the bank account. If you’d like to return to square one and quit spending so much, let’s make wise choices together.
I’m not sure where the acronym originated; however, we never make a major financial decision in our household if we are H.A.L.T. and neither should you. If you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, you’ll make unwise choices both in life and at the grocery store. Sure, you can’t control outside factors but recognizing these behaviors and checking your motivations works wonders in your finances.
Before you head to the store, have a small snack. You’ll cut down on impulse buys and junk food purchases. Minimize your anger by taking a few minutes of gratitude in the car before heading into the store. If you feel lonely, bring along a trusted friend — one who won’t tempt you to overspend. And finally, if you are human and heading to the grocery store you probably already feel tired. At least I typically do. Remedy the situation with a quick burst of exercise, such as 30 jumping jacks, 10 pushups or running in place for 30 seconds shocks your system better than your favorite caffeinated beverage.
Break out the calculator
My mom whizzes through mental math like no one I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, I did not inherit her penchant for quickly adding facts and figures. While I have an uncanny ability to remember specific unit prices at the store (it really is scary), I can’t seem to add them together without assistance.
This year, I’ve returned to using the calculator app on my phone. I’m carefully adding each item as I place it into the cart. Not only do I have a better idea of my running total before I hit the register, I also begin to contemplate my choices with a clearer head. I question if every item is essential.
The physical act of summing each of the items I place in the cart works as a stop mechanism to eliminate things I don’t really need.
Cash, always cash
While we were paying off debt, we operated on a weekly grocery budget of $80. With that $80, I bought all the food we need for the week along with toiletries, paper goods and even diapers for a season. Wiggle room didn’t exist and every penny felt pinched. To aid me in my efforts, I chose to use only cash when grocery shopping. This practice provides a boundary on your spending. If you don’t have it, you can’t buy it. It’s as simple as that.
Since March of 2012 when we made our final student loan payment, our grocery budget has flexed. We now spend $115 per week and I find myself occasionally splurging on items like fluffy toilet paper, fresh herbs or ice cream. I feel so fancy. While the budget guides our spending, in the past couple of years I slipped back into the habit of using our debit card in the grocery store.
This practice hasn’t led to gross overspending or doubling the bill. But after evaluating our 2017 spending, I realized the totals creeped ever so slightly over budget. And while $5 here and $10 there can seem like no big deal, over the course of 52 weeks that adds up to a pretty nice chunk of change.
So today before I went to the grocery store, I went to the bank. I withdrew the exact amount and stayed on target. I even came in a little under budget. It’s amazing that even when you know something to be true you can drop into unhealthy patterns again. If you struggle to hit the ATM or don’t have a bank near your grocery store, consider using your debit card to make a small purchase and then get cash back as soon as you arrive at the store. You’ll be amazed at how this simple practice transforms your spending.
Perhaps most essential way to combat losing focus at the grocery store requires self reflection. We all need to take inventory of our weaknesses. Which areas and aisles conjure malcontent? Which stores cause you to veer off course? For me, it’s wise to set a time limit for each shopping trip I take.
Studies show the longer you spend in a store, the more money you spend, too. If you can, schedule an appointment or meeting immediately after your grocery shopping trip to keep you from sinking too much time in the store.
Return to what you know and what’s worked in the past to get the leverage and margin you need. The next time you see me at the grocery store (or anywhere else for that matter), ask me if I’m sticking to these principles. I have way too many financial goals to waste money through less than careful practices. I want to make every penny work for me in 2018.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org