Some stores can make us spend more than we wanted to, every single time. For me, it’s Target.

We all know we should go to these stores with a list — and stick to it.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done. Big-box stores entice us to forget our lists and get everything we need (and more) in one convenient place.

Our ADHD doesn’t necessarily make us slaves to the retail gods. You can (and should!) practice faithfulness to a list. Here’s how.

shopping list

photo credit: ~lzee~bleu~ on Flickr

Decide not to decide

One of my favorite takeaways from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is her commandment to “decide not to decide.” Tell yourself before you even leave the house: today, I’m only going to buy what’s on my list.

When you begin justifying extra items in your cart, stop that internal dialogue in its tracks. You already decided, remember? Free yourself from the debate over “is this an okay exception to my list?” Decide not to decide.

Take a picture

It’s easy to say “decide not to decide,” until I’m pushing my cart past the indoor/outdoor area rugs and thinking, “oh right! I’ve been thinking for years that we really need one of those for the porch. I should just get it now while I’m thinking of it…”

Oh, the temptations! The thrill of seeing something desirable and purchasing it. The satisfaction of achieving something that’s (allegedly) been on the list for a long time.

Don’t wear out your willpower by resisting it completely. Take a picture. Use an app like Evernote or Pinterest to keep track of things you’d like to buy someday.

By taking a photo, you convince your brain you’ve acted upon your desire — and you have. You’ve taken steps to remember it later, and maybe even buy it after you work it into your plans and/or okay the purchase with your spouse.

Define winning as sticking to your list, not actually buying anything

You may feel especially tempted after a defeat. For example: not finding one of the key items on your list, or realizing the shirt you wanted isn’t available in your size.

It’s natural to want to recoup those psychic losses by buying something else (like that area rug you’ve been wanting). You don’t want to feel like you made a trip to the store in vain.

Keep reminding yourself that today, success means sticking to your list, not walking out with a bunch of stuff. If you walk in with three items on your list and only find one that meets your needs, it’s okay to buy just one thing. Make sure to pause and give yourself credit for making a good choice.

Eat and drink before you go

Malls and large stores make my eyes and mouth feel dry, which leads me straight to the drink section. Rather than buying a Coke or a Gatorade, I now bring a refillable water bottle.

Also, your brain can’t make good choices when your blood sugar is low. Being well fed before going to the store — any store, not just a food store — will set you up for success.

Stay aware of the game

Big chain stores are very intentional about where they place things in the store. It’s all engineered to trick us into buying something we never knew we needed.

Challenging though it may be, it feels good to be your own person. It’s satisfying to spot a trap and refuse to step into it. Best yet, self-mastery begets more self-mastery. The more in control you feel, the easier it becomes to control your behavior.

Be wise about exceptions

Despite what I just said, sometimes exceptions are okay. If you legitimately forgot to put something important on your list, don’t leave it behind and return home to a house with no toilet paper. I maintain running lists for a few different stores, and I’ll buy things from other lists if I see a good deal.

Do you struggle to stick to a list and control your spending? What strategies have you tried? What works best for you?

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