My recent vacation — my first budgeted vacation — was probably one of my best. I found a really cheap all-inclusive hotel in Jamaica — I was so proud that I was only spending what I’d pay for two designer pairs of shoes on a ten-day vacation!
I was also proud that I didn’t buy anything while I was away. I was actually saving money being on vacation: no gas fill-ups, no Starbucks, no grocery shopping.
But then my plane was delayed on the way home, for three hours — in an airport with surprisingly great duty-free shops. And what’s a gal to do when stuck for hours at an airport with amazing duty-free shops but…shop?
By the time I got onto the plane, I had managed to spend, ahem, way too much money. No, I didn’t need a new watch — but suddenly, there was one on my wrist.
Yes, my friends, I have an “impulse shopping” problem, especially at airports. In fact, the watch I bought cost almost as much as my ten-day all-inclusive stay at the resort! I wasn’t feeling so proud of myself anymore — instead, I felt very angry with myself, and like a major idiot. I blew my cheap vacation at a duty-free shop on a watch that I didn’t need, didn’t actually even want, and couldn’t really afford.
To make sure that doesn’t happen again, I got advice from Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services (his title alone scares the crap out of me).
1. It happens to the best of us: Schwartz said that at some point, everyone impulse shops. “Women are targeted more by the media to go shopping on impulse for the family. When you feel your shopping is becoming a problem, put your credit cards away. When people are concerned about their spending appetite, we have suggested they put their credit cards in a container filled with water and put it in the freezer.” (Kind of hard to do in a Jamaican airport, but I see his point.)
2. Avoid your triggers: Schwartz said that “any place where you want to spend money you don’t have, or don’t need to spend, is an recipe for impulse-shopping disaster. I agree, there is nothing worse than being captive in an airport for hours.” He suggested that if you are traveling with someone (I was), get them to hold your wallet while you wander around. He also suggested always having a good book to read. “When you must grab a coffee, only take what you need to pay for it and leave the rest in a safe place.”
3. Keep larger priorities in mind: He says that I should think of, you know, important things like my child’s education or retirement. “Try downloading our iPhone app ‘Budget Tool’ on www.consolidatedcredit.ca. It will help you get a handle on what you are actually spending, and comparing it to how much you are earning will give you a better picture of your current financial situation.”
4. Give yourself room to breathe: I should — everyone should — give myself some “play” money each month. “I’m not talking about a huge sum, just enough to satisfy your urge to shop,” says Schwartz.
5. Go on a media diet: He blames the media for impulse shopping (Hey, if we have to blame someone…). “The media has given us their blessing to impulse shop. Many ad campaigns focus on the urge to buy on impulse. Retail therapy is an accepted form of dealing with an emotional crises.” They key, again, is to change your behavior and not wander around shops.
6. Learn from mistakes: I definitely had buyer’s regret. Schwartz says that sometimes can be good. “Is it a learning tool?” He suggestions asking this question before purchasing something at an airport: “Do I really love it?” If the answer is anything other than an emphatic yes, don’t buy it. Also ask why this purchase is a need, or how important it is to you.
So, yes, my budgeted vacation turned into a budgeting bust. Next time I find myself in an airport, you can bet your butt I’ll be reading a book. What about you? What’s the stupidest impulse purchase you’ve ever made?