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Day 19) The List — An Approach to Buying What You Want

Welcome to Day 19 of Where’s My Money Going? Month! This February 2009, I’m challenging readers (and myself) to track spending manually for 28 days. Don’t worry if you’re late to the party, you’re still welcome to join. Consider tracking your spending into March.

One of the things that intensive spending tracking has made me aware of is that a couple times a week I get an urge to make a completely unplanned purchase. Until now, my general method of handling it has been to evaluate whether or not I think we have enough money for it and I’d really like it, think about it for a day or two, and make a decision whether or not to buy. If we don’t have enough money this month, I may make plans and budget to purchase it the next month.

That’s not a bad system and hasn’t resulted in budget chaos, but it doesn’t have a real rhyme or reason. So this month, I’m trying out a list. When I want something, I just put it on the list. At the end of the month, I’ll take a look at what’s left in the budget, what’s in each category, and make my decisions on what gets spent and what gets snowflaked into our debt repayment.

Right now, the list consists of funny t-shirts from Cafe Press and 5 mp3s. I’ve had two t-shirts wear out this month and we have a clothing budget. We also have an entertainment budget. The question is how much of either I’m going to use this month.

I’m hoping that making the decision near the end of the month will help me figure out what I really do what and what I don’t. First, it’ll give me the chance to compare all my wants with each other. Second, it’ll give me time to live without any of them and have a better perspective on what I still want.

By giving everything equal treatment, I also hope to avoid a problem I’d run into on the previous “system.” Sometimes I’d plan to buy something at the end of the month, but something that got considered for only a couple days would eat up the funds because I wan’t thinking about the two together. Having them all in one place and at one time should help me prioritize what I really do want and what I don’t.

What about you? How do you handle impulse buys, even ones you’ve budgeted for? Has making a list worked for you?

This post was part of Where’s My Money Going? Month.

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Saver in the City» Saver in the City’s five for Friday
February 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm


the weakonomist February 19, 2009 at 10:31 am

For many months now i’ve really wanted a tshirt from I’ve almost made the purchase a few times but after waiting a day or two I always back out.

When I want something I van likely afford but I can’t seem to part with the funds, it goes on a list for birthday and Christmas presents. “Han Shot First” will have to wait until then I guess

mrsmicah February 19, 2009 at 10:39 am

I try to steer clear of ThinkGeek because I’m always wanting their t-shirts. Though since I’m in the market, I should comparison shop there and see how much funny I can get for my buck. 🙂

“Han shot first.” It’s true!

Dawn February 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

I like the list idea. Mostly I am just trying to get by right now, so impulse purchases are squashed as much as possible. However a list would let me put those items somewhere so it wouldn’t feel like a “Never” – more like a “Not now.”

mb February 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm

if its not on my list for at least a month, i dont buy it.

Diane February 19, 2009 at 7:31 pm

I maintain a long-term list of “wants” that I might consider, either for myself or as gifts (mostly for my sons). That way I can refer to it if I suddenly have some spare money that I’m willing to part with – LOL!

Mostly things on the list go by the wayside and are rarely purchased… If I REALLY want or need something I will remember it without putting it on the list.

Somehow, just having the list makes me feel like I haven’t given up on something I want, but kept it as a possibility for the future. Now and then I purge the list when I realize I really don’t care enough to purchase an item.

The larger items, like a nice bike or a treadmill, I consider starting a fund for, which is something I think I will do now that my credit cards are all paid off.

DIY Joe February 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I was thinking to myself that this article was a nice thought, but not useful to me because of where I am in my finances. Then my blessed brain said “dude. check your email. you have a list of stuff right there.”
It’s true. I was doing it and not even realizing it. The item at the top of the list is a Uni-ball Kuru Toga mechanical pencil. They are imports only and hard to find.

Laura In Atlanta February 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I’ve pretty much eliminated impulse purchases, thanks to the power of my NSDs. I have been tracking my spending to the penny since Nov 1, and I LOVE seeing NSDs (no spend days) listed. I had 7 in Nov, 5 in Dec and a whopping 12 in Jan and Im already at 10 for Feb. So . . . I look at the challenge now of collecting many NSDs and trying to increase that number each month. My impulse buys tend to be meals – I love Mexican food – and since Im single and cooking alone is boring, that is where a lot of my money went – to eating out. Now, though . . . with my NSDs being tracked, goodness, I can pass on the meals out more so. I find that the more time I spend not buying anything, that the harder it is for me to buy, when I acutally want to. I mean, its almost a habitnow, not spending money.

Diane February 20, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Laura – I love the idea of tracking the number of no spend days per month! Super idea!

Because I work at home I automatically have some NSDs due to not leaving the house (unless I shop online…). I make an effort to group errands to save time and gas, so in a way, my spending days are grouped as well.

I do find that the less I spend the more reluctant I am to spend – it’s like I don’t want to ‘break the spell’. Also, once I spend it’s easier to keep spending. Strange psychological phenomenon, but true!

DIY Joe February 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm

@ Laura/Diane
I dig on the NSDs. 🙂 I have 4 so far this month. I have to put the reins on some lazy spending anyway, so maybe this will help me do it.

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