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Shop Till You Drop

Ken Begley

HERE’S A RECIPE FOR disaster: a good internet connection, plenty of storage space, lots of time on your hands—and credit cards.

Impulsive shopping has a name, oniomania, and the above recipe makes it all too easy. If you have a credit card, research suggests you’ll spend significantly more than if you were paying with cash or a check. The availability of 24/7 online shopping makes it just that much worse.

Here are eight signs—besides the pile of packages outside our front door each day—that tells me impulsive spending has reached our house:

1. You get a “charge” each time you place an order.

I’m not just talking about the credit card charge. You see something online and you think, “Wouldn’t that be nice to have?” It’s an item you wouldn’t have gone looking for—and wouldn’t have bought—otherwise. Now, with the tap of a few laptop keys, it’ll be delivered to your door. You get the added thrill of waiting for it to come, including tracking its delivery online.

2. You think you’re saving money.

We love our Amazon Prime membership and our Amazon Prime 5% cash back credit card. The free shipping, with free returns and Prime Video thrown in, means we’re constantly saving. Problem is, all the money we’re saving puts a big dent in our bank account.

3. You forget what you ordered.

My job is to monitor our credit card charges. My spouse doesn’t buy a few big things. Instead, she buys a ton of little things each month. We have a huge amount of small charges on our credit card. I’ve found charges that she initially denied making because she simply forgot about them. I challenged one such charge with the credit card company, only to later admit it was a purchase we’d forgotten about.

4. You buy stuff you don’t need.

One day, I found a couple of containers of finger moisturizer on my desk at home. This stuff keeps fingertips tacky and is frequently used by folks who count money or sort paperwork. My wife is a bank teller, so I brought it to her, thinking she left it on my desk by accident. She looked at me sheepishly and said, “I thought you might want it. I bought it but I don’t want it now.” This happens more than I’d like.

5. You start buying stuff for others that they didn’t ask for.

At some point, you run out of stuff that you want and you start making purchases for others. It’s too easy. You’ve got free shipping anyway and it goes straight to them without you having to leave the house to buy it, wrap it and take it to the post office. Even if it’s useful, it still isn’t your job to buy things for them, especially if they didn’t even ask for the items in question.

6. You buy large quantities that’ll last until you die.

I have a box of staples that has sat on my desk for 30 years. I’ve used about a tenth of them. One day, I found two new boxes of staples sitting on my desk. My spouse bought them because they were “cheap.”

She saw me brushing lint off my jacket. She bought me not one lint brush, but three. Don’t get me started on the 15 rolls of Scotch tape, 24 toothbrushes, 16 tubes of toothpaste, 27 cans of tomato paste or the back bedroom filled with toilet paper and paper towels. It’s not “cheap” or “a bargain” if it’s something you won’t use before it goes bad or you die.

7. You get mad if someone doesn’t want your purchases.

I used to be afraid to reject some purchases my spouse made for me out of fear I’d hurt her feelings or make her mad. The result was items would pile up in a dark corner of the house and be long forgotten. I’m not that way anymore. I will lovingly tell my spouse that I am never going to use that item, and then I quickly get a return slip printed. She gets over it.

8. It doesn’t have to be online shopping, either.

You can find great bargains, particularly clothes, at thrift or consignment stores. My wife was an expert at outfitting our five kids early in our marriage. She had a part-time job in a nearby city that had many such shops. She’d spend her lunch hour looking them over.

Every week, she came home with a big bag of clothes and a big smile. So much so that I bought and filled several storage bins with clothes. They were stacked all around our house. Unfortunately, the bins were never opened again and what was in them became lost to time. Eventually, most of the bins were carted off to the Goodwill store. The thrill of the hunt had overtaken the needs of the family.

So, what did we do to limit this disaster?

First, it’s good that opposites attract because, if both of you are impulsive spenders, you’ve got big problems. One spouse has to act as the police, which in our marriage is me. I monitor all the financial accounts and, as I’m retired, I see all the packages that come to the house. That gives me an unfair advantage.

I don’t argue with everything, but most purchases for me get returned. That has diminished some of my wife’s shopping fun. It also makes her feel a little guilty buying items just for herself.

Second, my wife is nine years younger than me and still working. We live on my pension but max out her 401(k). This makes me feel better, because it means we’re still saving a hefty sum.

Finally, choose your battles wisely. Some junk spending isn’t going to hurt you, and it does add some fun to life.

Ken Begley has worked for the IRS and as an accountant, a college director of student financial aid and a newspaper columnist, and he also spent 42 years on active and reserve service with the U.S. Navy and Army. Now retired, Ken likes to spend his time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and as a volunteer with Kentucky’s Marion County Veterans Honor Guard performing last rites at military funerals. Check out Ken’s earlier articles.

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