Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Observations from a Country Mouse

Recently Christine from Money Funk blog wrote a post about impulse spending and boy did she hit where people live…. There were many comments from readers who described emotional buying as their biggest challenge in bringing their budget under control. For those who don’t know Christine or her blog I have often enjoyed and praised her work as I have followed it through the blogisphere. (I admit, I sometimes like to make up words and pass them off as real; I learned it from my son when we played boggle.)

Personally, I don’t enjoy going to the mall unless I have $200 cash in my pocket and have some specific items I’m looking for. That right there makes me somewhat unusual. Around the time Christine’s post came out I received an invitation to go to the mall. Normally I would have begged off but decided to go just to see what the fuss was about.

Off we went to a gigantic outlet mall. We wandered and I watched and observed. Having lived in a small town for the last many years it was like country mouse headed into city mouse’s domain. Here are a couple of my impressions:

1. What if I get lost? I kid you not. The place was big and lots of people. I don’t have a cell phone. I spent most of the time trying to stay with the people I came with or looking around the stores to find them. At one point I ventured off by myself and spent the next few minutes noticing how many people were dressed similarly to the people I came with. I really thought that maybe I should hold someone’s hand. I wanted to ask but knew I’d get one of those “Are your crazy?” looks.

2. I noticed lots of people looking at t-shirts. This was surprising to me as I consider t-shirts to be just casual wear around the house clothing so if it’s clean it’s good to go. Sure, logos are cool but why spend more for them? If we are going to advertise for someone shouldn’t they be paying us?

3. Most shoppers had only one bag. I had already noticed that the variety of goods was exceptional with all the best brands, the prices were very good, and the sales were abundant so this could only mean that people were trying to economize on their spending.

4. There were a lot of exclamations of “This is so cute!” then, “Look at the price! I’m going to get this!” I said to myself, “Aha! That’s what Christine’s readers are talking about!” I had just witnessed the impulse purchase! It was a three-step process – 1. Cute. 2. Price. 3. Buy it.

Looking at the picture with all the pieces the country mouse conclusion I arrived at was that most of the people in the mall were shopping as a way to hang out for the afternoon and have something fun and entertaining to do. Some people were by themselves; some were mothers with children, and there were many couples so it must not be football season. The spending seemed secondary to the activity.

In The Trenches – Financial Survival has a chapter called If shopping is your passion then get another hobby. My trip to the mall confirmed for me that shopping was a hobby, a pastime, and a social activity. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with that. But for people who are trying to bring their budget under control it is like a dieter who wanders around a bakery just for fun. At some point they will blow the diet. Or, make themselves miserable looking at all the cookies, cakes and treats that they are not going to eat. Undoubtedly at some point they will wake up with the credit card or checkbook and run back and buy something. And, maybe not even understand why they did it. It was those sugarplums dancing in their dreams. Sorry, but for the same reason dieters don’t hang out in bakeries, and alcoholics don’t hang out in bars, emotional spenders will get themselves in trouble in malls. I know, it just seems so unfair.

The good news is that there are a world of hobbies and activities to choose from. Since it’s summer the first one that comes to mind is making a picnic, grabbing your sweetie and children, and heading to the park. And remember, you don’t have to go cold turkey. Instead of heading to the mall every weekend you could shoot for once a month.  Start bringing new enjoyable habits and hobbies into your life and the old ones will fade away.

Here is the link where Money Funk provides six solutions and the discussion that follows. Good job, Christine.

No comments: