Sense & Centsibility Blog
Shopping online with credit card

Shopping 101: To Buy or Not to Buy?

Personally, I’m a fan of shopping—unless it’s going to take a long time. Or if I can’t find what I want. Or if I have to wait in a long line to pay. Or it they don’t have my size, which drives me nuts.

But I enjoy shopping, I swear. No really, I do. I like having something I just purchased that’s brand new, enjoying the experience of getting my items in the mail, and then using them. But do I really need whatever it was that I just bought? The answer most the time, sadly, is “no.”

Questions to Ask When Shopping

  • Do I want it? If yes, will I still want it tomorrow or next week?
  • Is this something I need?
  • Can I afford it? If yes, am I still able to afford my bills and other necessities?
  • Am I going into debt to purchase it?
  • Will I actually use it? And use it enough to make it worth the price I paid?

The answers to all the above questions should be “yes.” Here are some additional reflections and personal experiences that have helped me decide whether to buy or not to buy.

My Drawer of New and Unused Stuff

Do you have a drawer or box with items that still have tags on them or that you’ve never used? Me, too.😩   I am actually thankful for that drawer, though. It reminds me that just because something is on sale, it doesn’t mean that it’s a good deal – especially if I never use it. It’s also a good reminder that I don’t need any more of that item.

Save Up for Purchases and Avoid Debt

I highly recommend NOT going into debt to buy something. Let’s say you want an expensive sound system for your home. Try saving up for it instead of charging it. That way, you won’t put it on a credit card and end up paying extra money in interest. Always think about the true cost of the item with interest charges BEFORE you put something on a credit card!

Also, once you’ve saved up enough money, you’ll know if you still actually want the sound system or if it’s no longer a priority. Sometimes it helps to take a step back for a few days or a week to decide if it’s something you really want to buy—or if it was just exciting when you first saw it.

What You Want vs. What You Need

If you’re deciding between purchasing a new outfit and paying your utility or credit card bill, don’t buy the outfit. Always prioritize items or bills first that keep a roof over your head, put food on the table and cover other necessities. Stuff that’s not needed should be at the bottom of the list.

What You Want vs. What You Value

What do you love to do? Personally, I am trying to cut back on buying THINGS and instead purchasing EXPERIENCES. I would much rather go to a concert or take a trip than buy stuff. I do love buying new clothes, but when I’m at the mall or doing what I like to call “online window shopping,” I will often just keep walking or close my internet browser. I remember that I don’t need the clothes (or whatever it might be) and can use the money instead toward something more meaningful to me.

It’s okay to buy something you like, want, can afford, and will use. Just be sure to remember your values when you’re shopping, too.

Tips for Holiday Shopping During the Pandemic

Listen to my interview on a Twin Cities radio station about managing your finances and holiday spending during the pandemic. Here is one of my key points from that interview.

“During this pandemic, it can be extra stressful. Some families have experienced unemployment, income reduction [and] furloughs....The biggest thing that people need to keep in mind is that your family and friends don't expect you to and don't want you to go into debt, be stressed out or be unhappy because of the holidays."

If shopping and other expenses are causing you to build up credit card debt, call LSS Financial Counseling at 888.577.2227 for your free and confidential session, or get all your counseling online. Our financial experts will work with you to create a realistic budget and an action plan with concrete steps to eliminate credit card debt faster and control spending. Don’t wait to take back your life…get started today!

Elaina Johannessen


Author Elaina Johannessen is LSS Financial Counseling's Program Director for Debt Management Operations.