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Personal Accountability With Shopping: Reducing Unnecessary Expenditures

Personal Accountability With Shopping: Reducing Unnecessary Expenditures
James Hirtz Aug 7, 2018
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

Today, I’d like to talk about one facet of personal accountability, which is simply holding yourself responsible for your own actions.

When looking into frugality, there’s many ways to earn money to combat via avenues like side jobs, surveys, or even games.

While all the above methods are legit, I want to talk about a different kind of active saving method rather than another way to earn. Let’s talk about an exercise in limitation through personal accountability once you enter any kind of store.

It’s going to take your mind and willpower, but I want to stress that you’re going to walk away with a better understanding of what’s necessary and unnecessary in your life.


A disembodied voice greets you with a very standard, “Welcome to so-and-so.” If you bother to look around for the voice, a smiling face might even enter your sphere of vision.

Even without, a major atmosphere change occurs the moment you cross that threshold into the sprawling layout of aisles and product.

My background lies in education where a morning greeting was especially stressed as an emotional linchpin for every student entering the classroom.

This was prioritized in order to ensure that somewhere beneath the surface they felt valued, safe, and acknowledged on a daily basis.

Stores, in a similar fashion, have spent an untold amount of money on research in order to make sure that you as a customer are bombarded with an appropriate amount of temptation to drive home a higher sales return.

To reach this goal, they just have to target you with what seems like a great deal.

Common examples of these deal types include “buy one & get one free” and “ten for ten dollars.” Think about how often you really need all those items: Did you need four packs of cookies or ten boxes of pasta noodles?

The answer should be no. You could have made the decision to get only what you needed right then if you only had the right mindset.

Setting Your Mindset

You are your own warrior once you enter into a store and will be challenged to defend your wallet from the practices listed above.

A store will be primed to get you to purchase through techniques such as placing a large amount of sales items at the entrance or through giant displays, but your mind can overcome this conditioning.

I want you to think about this: The only person holding your shopping cart is you. You control what goes into it.

Many shoppers classically invoke the standard shopping list here as the end-all defense against extra spending.

It’s a time-honored strategy to check items slowly off a list; it leaves many still vulnerable to but not limited to wandering eye syndrome and forgetfulness.

I’m certainly a fan of having a list and sticking to it when it’s perfectly executed. However, I want us to take it a step further and think of ways to limit more.

Imagine your favorite store for me. Now imagine if it reduced to 1/8th of the normal size while keeping all of your necessities for the week.

I want you to practice imagining that this tiny version of your favorite store has been custom made for you on a weekly basis. It exists to provide your core necessities; you’re only a drive away from picking them up.

When you do this, the store will no longer be in control. You’ve acknowledged that you control what goes into your own shopping cart regardless of the weekly offerings.

You are going to start reshaping the way your mind thinks about every step of the store and shopper relationship.


How many times has the average shopper overspent?

It’s a powerful, thought-spurring question and one that many blind-guessers would likely spend an eternity on.

As a personal anecdote, I have always possessed a sweet tooth and been a bit of an emotional snacker. When I see a savings of $37.98 in coupons tendered—it makes my day.

What doesn’t necessarily make my day is when I start realizing how much lower my spending might have been if I had just dodged those few snacks in differing aisles.

I tell myself coupons aren’t offered as readily due to the low cost of many snack foods that make companies feel there’s no incentive in offering them—you buy them or you don’t.

Despite this, on too many occasions, I found myself walking out of my local store with a few bags of peanut butter-filled pretzels, cookies, or chocolate bars in tow.

After enjoying the momentary respite as I eat them, I look back towards what I actually spent.

In particular, I remember a summer spent establishing a strong mindset to not stop at any Dollar General after logging my average spending on those pretzels after a few months buying bags while out and working.

To give a clearer picture, I found myself spending an upwards of $50 to $60 extra a month on said product. My mindset had unintentionally fallen in line with that of the store: They were cheap, it was just a dollar store, and it was a deal.

If you think about the price I quoted you, it certainly wasn’t a deal for junk food that started with a bit of loose change.

When I thought about what I needed, I understood what I did not. I had simply stopped to deal with the alleged hunger and not considered what limits would help me save and not stress at my personal weakness.

Thinking About Parameters

Setting your parameters or limits is a very empowering first step, but you need to set realistic goals for this method to work.

You might be an avid midnight snacker, or you may think you require a breakfast from several different tiers of the food pyramid. I understand this step might be the most off-putting for many reasons.

Precisely, I came from a family where my parents could crutch on their shopping cart to solve a lot of problems.

As a result, they almost never knew a life where they weren’t worried about the next amount of work to carry the cash to fill said grocery carts.

Later in life, they began to approach a much more limited follow-up due to health reasons.

It came with challenges; they learned how to live a life where their happiness wasn’t tied to the excessive purchases and surprises that came with a creeping debt-inducing set of weekly shopping trips.

The takeaway that I want you to consider here is we are all widely different individuals wanting to sustain our respective lifestyle. Shopping makes up a large chunk of our life; it needs to come with limits.

You’re in control, but you need to think about what you can limit to save. You need to set parameters, and we’re going to examine how this can lessen excess spending.

Setting Parameters

Earlier, we discussed the idea of shrinking your everyday store in a personal-sized 1/8th version tailor made for you. This allowed you to rethink your relationship with the store.

Now, you’re going to think about what limits you can instill on yourself to save. You will have already limited the effect the store can have on you. Now, you’ll limit what effect you have on yourself.

To illustrate this, let’s consider the example from earlier. I thought I was hungry, so I would stop to pick up something to eat without considering what I could have saved if I just chose to eat later.

I never gave myself any hard limits until the money had already been spent.

Afterwards, I had to recognize my mistake, take personal accountability, and make sure I didn’t overspend by simply avoiding the store until my stomach got conditioned to not eating while on the job.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you just avoid going to stores period. Instead, we’re going back to our imagined smaller scale store and making it our reality.

A Smaller Store

With this approach, it’s best to imagine dividing the store into two department sections that you can only exclusively shop in for your weekly necessities whether that is meat & produce, meat & dairy, bakery & produce, etc.

Similarly, if you’re not on a grocery run, setting where you’re shopping recreationally to a smaller choice can help you as well if you limit it more broadly on need and not as a splurge (automotive and hardware, hardware and electronics, etc).

The idea here is to think directly about a change in your spending limits. You cannot purchase what doesn’t exist in the planned section.

The purpose of this approach is to take the same approach as when I drove on past my regular store. I could have stopped, pulled in, and continued my excessive spending. I chose not to.

Instead, you’ve merely planned on sections of the store to not visit. If you know you have a weakness for anything—don’t succumb.

You’re conditioning yourself on how to be your own active conscience.

If you consider the standard meat & produce option, think of your local store. Often times, the produce section is located on the starting end whereas the meat wall will be located at the other end of the store.

Remove all the other aisles from your local mega-store and imagine how many things you could have potentially deferred yourself from just buying right then.

It shouldn’t be surprising to consider how much of a ghost town it would be with the temptations removed.

Hold yourself personally accountable and establish clear limits. This can be even easier when you establish a clear visual for your shopping runs.

Set Your Destination

Although it goes without saying, there has to be a location picked before you set your visual limit and divide your store trip into two areas. However, as explored with the previous step, the desired specialization can change a lot.

Wal-Mart can be the everyday man’s one-stop destination. There’s a bit of everything there; it can funnel consumers there and not to branch out elsewhere.

However, if you’re only going say for foodstuff, it’s a lot easier to ignore Wal-Mart and go to where the most promising deals are that will suit your shopping restriction.

There isn’t a lot to this step besides deciding how much research you want to invest in.

Keep in mind that your local stores have far more reason to offer you deals and diversity. Those circulars that are sent out with the weekly deals definitely have a purpose, and it’s to bring you in.

Researching and Choosing the Best Destination

Remember, earlier we mentioned that stores will try to grab your attention through popular weekly deals such as buy one, get one free and multiple items for a dollar each to draw you in.

We established that these aren’t always in your best interest; it’s best not to solely think in deals.

We’ve already acknowledged that you’ll be shopping in set areas. Now we can consider if these deals are worth it beyond the vacuum of being a great deal.

Would it be worth choosing a local store in comparison to Walmart? Checking online to compare prices for a small section and purchase list can make it considerably easier to check around.

An example of this is as follows: My local grocery store tells me they’ve gone down 40% on all their artichoke cans. I see the money off, and I think it’s a great deal.

However, I go to, check my local store inventory, and I see the item is already cheaper on an everyday basis. This counts as a mark against going elsewhere.

In isolation with a lengthy list and multiple sections to check, even the most frugal saver can stop caring about spending limits. However, when you limit it to a small section—you can begin thinking about limiting any excess expenditures and putting it to savings.

Similarly, if you might not otherwise go to a specialty store for a purchase of auto parts, electronics, or other niche because of the time investment and the convenience of shopping at one location, the savings from before might make this more permissible for you.

The savings you invested in can always be utilized in the future to save you more money.

Research, research, and research! The more you do, the more personal accountability you’re taking and the more focus you’re placing on making it the biggest saving trip you can make.

Set Your Route

Now, it might seem like an easy time to just let go of the reigns and let it all go down to personal experience.

However, like most matters in life, reading about exactly how to set-up your success is much different from experiencing said success in person.

While advocating this method, I want to stress it’s very much a measured and continually conscious effort that can end in failure.

I know I’m not the only person to leave a store with more than is necessary once they stopped consciously thinking about their plan.

It can be difficult to generally advise here, so I’m going to go with a personal breakdown of my usual grocery application of this method to showcase how it roughly works once inside and following your route.

A Personal Look at One Section

When beginning this experiment, generating interest was my most innate concern. Sectioning off a store seemed like it would be limiting.

I was filled with anxiety about if I could really save this way. The opposite was actually the case for myself once I committed.

I knew I had to just pick one location and go with it.

I chose produce as my first and primary area to shop in simply because it seemed the most sprawling and colorful.

You have your vegetables, fruits, juices, and an ever-increasing list of meat substitutes. Additionally, it’s a pretty constantly changing roulette of selection as seasonal produce, sales, and more come in and out of play weekly.

The diversity allows for quite a bit of variety with what meals you can make. If you can use vegetables and fruit as your main component, you have your primary dish material. If not, you’ll have your side dishes ready and fresh.

The added availability of having some already pre-cut and the meal-ready salads makes it even easier.

If you’re looking to minimize and maximize your gains — you’re probably going to see the majority of your deals in these fresh sections where shelf life is a lot shorter.

As a bonus, many meal-ready salad kits and individual farms offer coupons to make for even greater deal stacking.

The additional research potential made it very soothing for me to take the time to look piece-by-piece slowly through every section and stand contained within my produce section.

The urge to browse was still being met, but the call for savings was being met mutually as I began to take notes on brand names, farms, and the planted sales ads.

I learned that companies as big as Tanimura & Antle offered coupons whereas Fresh Express and Ocean Mist did not.

The additional time this measure took made it feel considerably more like a standard grocery trip. There aren’t any feelings of being rushed or like you’re forgetting any information.

Of course, if I happened upon anything unfamiliar (like a sales item that I’ve never cooked a meal with), it’s pretty easy to take a moment to look up recipes via mobile.

Depending on your store of choice, many will list potential uses for your fruit and vegetables to set you on an easy track (or allow you to experiment with).

Step Two: The Other Part of Your Shopping Trip

And from that point on, it becomes a matter of looking for ways to finish off your weekly list of necessary meal components.

Asking the question of what will most fundamentally be required for meals or food diversity can be one of the more challenging parts, but it can help streamline the important ingredients that should take priority

Once you have the basic idea of what’s for dinner, the second location should simply compliment the first.

If you need a side to serve the dishes upon like bread or rice, you can visit the respective aisles. If you’d like a frozen entrée because you went crazy on the sides, get the required amount.

Furthermore, you can plan to focus on those specific items and target look for savings on those brands in the future via newsletter or by contacting the company.

At this stage, your cart shouldn’t be towering with items. Instead, you should have a comfortable amount meant to just get you through with what you really need.

The challenge here comes in actually creating the visual of the limits you want to practice. When my grocery bill doesn’t ding over $100, I know that I’ve done well.

Compliment and make a balanced plate that will keep you happy. Purchase the other part of your necessities based off your first area.

Practice Makes Perfect

Minimalism of this sort may not be for everyone from the start.

If individuals cannot separate themselves from making this decision, trying to follow these rules at even one store will net a similar positive, by again, limiting what sense of marketing an individual interacts with.

What you’re learning from this decision isn’t to change your life necessarily with immediacy but instead to make more conscious decisions of what you’re buying while making yourself personally accountable for it.

It’s not about perfection but simply reducing the amount of excess expenditures that can and often will occur.

You’re training your mental strength while focusing on how consciously limiting your purchases can save you money.

You should be asking it really worth going to another store?

That question should help any truly stuck individuals to decide if it’s worth saving under this practice or if another item really is necessary.

Using all of these methods, I would consistently save about $20-25 (or more) per grocery trip by scouting the best environment and focusing on the mandatory items that could make a meal plan for two for an entire week.

These savings would increase furthermore once I started contacting more companies as I got to closely know my limited pool of food to work with.

Realizing the amount that we spend can be very consciously augmented is perhaps the biggest reveal of this exercise. All it will take is some added dedication, thinking, and accountability.

Final Thoughts

Ideally, I hope this article has helped you see the pattern of how unnecessary spending occurs.

Businesses are experts at persuading consumers to buy, but their best sales efforts can be avoided if an individual shopper just thinks about the cycle they’re partaking in.

Remember to set your mind up to be prepared to save because businesses ultimately exist for the consumer.

When you set your limits, you can put into practice a plan to save money by reducing your shopping trips down to the bare essentials.

Just remember that minimizing in life can be quite a challenge; it’s entirely realistic for this method to not necessarily work out as cleanly on the first go-around.

But for the persevering frugal saver, another option in the toolkit never hurts.

James Hirtz

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