Woman looking for frying pan

Ask yourself these questions before making a purchase.

Have you ever gone into a store for one item and find yourself leaving with a cart full of items? It used to happen to me every time I visited a certain store. I would get home and eventually feel guilty about how much money I spent unnecessarily. To fix this impulse, I’ve started asking myself these four questions before swiping my card.

How many hours of work will this cost me?

When shopping, I used to only view the price in terms of dollars. Once I started converting dollars into hours, I realized the true costs of my purchases. For example, if my hourly wage is $20, then a $100 purchase will cost the equivalent of 5 hours of work. If I were to get paid with the item instead of cash after a day of work, would I rather have the item or the cash?

Do I need this?

Oftentimes, the joy of a new purchase quickly fades away after a few days. For me, buyer’s remorse sinks in once I discover I already own something that provides the same function, or I realize I could live happily without it. A follow up question is “how long will I use this?” If the item will be used for years rather than a few weeks, then I can justify the purchase.

Where will I put it?

Do I have room in my small apartment for yet another item or will I eventually have to rent a storage unit for all my junk? Over the past 10 years, the self-storage industry has boomed into a $38 billion industry. There are more self-storage facilities in America than there are McDonalds. I remind myself that I don’t want to contribute to the boom, nor do I want to be featured on an episode of Hoarders.

What if I wait?

If I am about to purchase something I did not intentionally go to the store to buy, I stop and make myself wait 24 hours. This is enough time to go home and ask myself the other questions I listed above. I’ve found that once I remove myself from the setting strategically designed by marketers and the pushy salespeople, I can make sound decisions. It also gives me time to research the product and find better pricing.

If all else fails, find an accountability partner who is willing to ask you these questions on your next shopping trip.


Written by Andrea Finley for cuna.org Guides to Money enhanced by Credit Union of Denver.