As a coupon shopper and a writer, my column typically focuses on shopping, what to buy and how to shop smarter and pay less for the items we want and need. I’ve received some reader emails asking for suggestions about what not to buy. What do I mean? Here’s an example:
My husband just lost his job, and we need to make some big changes to how we shop. I read your column often but am not a diehard coupon user. I think your advice is very practical and would like help deciding what we absolutely could stop buying for a while until we get back on our feet and adjust to the new normal around here. Don’t mince words – I am looking for a solid list of things we could just cross off buying for a while. Can you help?
While it might seem obvious to many people that there are quite a few items that fall into shoppers’ “regular purchases” category that are expendable, this isn’t always the case. I’m reminded of a close friend who suddenly found herself in a tight situation financially. Her family immediately stopped going out to eat, taking the kids to the movies and other non-essential activities that were fun, but were costing them money that they couldn’t afford to spend.
A few weeks into her decision not to spend on anything other than “needs,” we were talking and she mentioned the pedicure she’d gotten the previous day. I was a little surprised, and without trying to come across as condescending or judgmental I simply asked how much the pedicure cost. She replied “$35.” I asked how often she got a pedicure, and she said “Every week. It’s something I have to do just ‘for me.’”
I looked at her and simply said “You can buy a lot of bottles of nail polish for $35 per week.”
She turned to me and immediately had the realization that she was spending about $140 each month that she didn’t have. Her pedicures were a luxury that she perceived to be a necessity. After that, a week later she told me she’d given herself a pedicure at home for the first time, and she’d also bought several bottles of nail polish for 99 cents after coupons.
It was a small victory that led her to look for other areas in life to save money. (She’s also now a fan of boxed, at-home hair color – far less expensive than going to the salon!)
So while some of the following items may seem obviously “easy” to eliminate from the “needs” list, remember that what’s obvious to one person isn’t always obvious to another. Here is a list of items that one could easily stop buying without significant lifestyle repercussions:
Laundry and cleaning: Air fresheners and fragrance sprays, stain pre-treater sprays, scented candles, prepackaged cleaning wipes, fabric softener liquid or sheets.
Kitchen: Paper towels, paper napkins, disposable plates or tableware, cooking oil spray.
Other items could be substituted to save money. Vinegar is a great, inexpensive substitute for many cleaning products, including fabric softener and glass cleaner. Take a break from buying paper towels and napkins and use rags, cloths or old hand towels. Avoid buying specialized cleaners like countertop cleaner, stovetop cleaner or toilet bowl cleaner – simply use a general cleaning product for these surfaces. Skip the pricey body wash and switch to bar soap. Can you think of others? I’ll gladly share more moneysaving ideas in a future column.
Smart Living Tip: Just because you’re cutting back on purchases that could be considered little luxuries doesn’t mean you have to stop purchasing them entirely. Some of these things listed above are items I often get free with coupons when the right sale comes along! Continue to look for these deals and enjoy your freebies – they’re one of the fun bonuses of couponing!