In our society it often seems that consumerism has been raised to the level of an Olympic sport. We seem to be in competition with each other to see who can fill their homes with the most stuff. Consequently, most of us have much more than we could ever use, need or even want.

If you want to avoid buying things you don’t really need, ask yourself these questions:

Do I really need this or do I just want it?

If it’s only a want, you can live without it. It’s too easy to buy things we crave only to have it end up buried in the back of a closet, forgotten. Do you really need another pair of shoes to add to the ten pair you already own? We can invent all kinds of reasons why we absolutely have to have them, but the reality is we could go on living comfortably without another pair of footwear.

Can I pay cash for it or will I have to use a credit card?

Buying something on credit, even if it’s a great deal, only makes sense if you can pay off the balance at the end of the month. Otherwise, monthly annual interest charges of 19 per cent or more will soon eat up any savings you initially had and you’ll end up paying a heavy premium on your “bargain” purchase.

It’s much better to stick to using your debit card or cash. Don’t have enough in the bank account to cover the cost of that new 50-inch TV? See point number one. This is a luxury item, not a necessity. If you want a new TV, find a way to save up for it.

This takes time, to be sure, and modern thinking doesn’t lean toward patience, but consider. By the time you have enough money saved up, the TV you want will probably have come down in price or maybe you’ll see something you like even better for around the same price.

Credit cards encourage overspending. It’s too easy just to whip out the plastic on impulse, with no thought of how that bill will be paid at the end of the month. [See: Use Cash Back Credit Card to Improve Your Finances]

Will I Make Use of It?

We seem, on the whole, to need to have the newest technology, even if we’re not sure why or how we will use it on a daily basis. That is the siren call of clever marketing strategies and perhaps, the need to have what all of our friends have.

And that thinking can apply to other purchases as well. We see something we like, so we buy it. Then, after the initial thrill of the purchase wears off, that brand new tablet or whatever it is may be all but forgotten in a drawer and that’s a waste of your hard-earned money.

Set a Discretionary Spending Budget

Some people use the envelope method to rein in spending. That is, they take out a set amount of cash from each pay cheque to spend on eating out and other non-essentials and put it in an envelope. When the cash is gone, they simply stop spending.

Using strictly cash and seeing it deplete with each purchase makes you think twice before buying something.

Get in, Get On With it, Get Out

That’s my husband’s shopping motto. Most men I know aren’t browsers. They go to a store knowing what they need or want, head straight to that item, pick it up and head to the check-out. They aren’t distracted by anything else they may pass on the way. Most women love to browse and we often head to the mall just to “look.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with finding entertainment in browsing, as long as we remember our budgets and aren’t prone to impulse shopping. However, when you have a specific need in mind, “get in, get on with it and get out” is a good rule to keep in the forefront of your mind.

Bottom Line

Here are six basic rules to keep in mind before you head out to the mall:

Make a clear distinction between needs and wants.

Think twice before using your credit card.

If you do use a credit card to make a purchase, be sure you can pay it off at the end of the month.

Ask yourself how the purchase will be used on a regular basis and don’t buy anything you haven’t got a clear answer for.

Set a discretionary spending budget and don’t go over it.

If you’re shopping for specific items, pay for just those items and then leave the store.

Having a lot of stuff doesn’t necessarily equal happiness. In fact, just the opposite could be true. Subjecting each discretionary purchase you’re considering to a few simple rules will help you to avoid buying things you don’t really need.


Marlene Alexander

Marlene Alexander

Marlene is a freelance writer and blogger. She maintains a free budget decorating site called Dollar Store Style and writes content for client websites.