One of the things I do miss about being on such a tight budget is the fun of shopping. Shopping can be a fun activity when you have the time and money to spend and the purchases are not so urgent that you must buy regardless of quality, price and preference. When I first took over managing our household finances, I didn’t realize that when there really isn’t money to spend, or not much money to spend, shopping is just torture. I used to go to Kohl’s whenever I had a 30% coupon, regardless of if I urgently needed anything. I reasoned that I would buy clothes for my daughter in the next size up, shop ahead for birthdays or Christmas or replace aging items in my husband’s or my wardrobe. Sometimes I would even buy things I didn’t need simply because I liked them and it was a good deal. But as my parents used to say, the best way to save money is not to buy something. I soon realized that if I wanted to manage our money as tightly as we needed, I was going to have to stop shopping for things we didn’t need and couldn’t afford.

I began throwing away the catalogues and sales flyers. Sometimes I would still scan through them if I wanted to price a particular item for a future purchase, but I quickly saw that window shopping, even in catalogue form didn’t educate me on prices, so much as make me desire things I didn’t really need. Sometimes the best way to stick to your budget is to avoid seeing all the things that are out there. Obviously if you need a new winter coat and you have the money set aside to buy it, then shop around to see which store has the prices and styles you like and can afford. But sometimes reminding yourself of all of the things that you could be buying but choose not to, or would be buying if only you had slightly higher income, is ultimately self-defeating.

If I look at enough ads for new refrigerators I will soon convince myself that not only do I need a new refrigerator but that I both deserve a new refrigerator and my home in fact requires one to be optimally efficient. In reality, my refrigerator is older, but it still works fine. I do sometimes wonder if updating to a new Energy Star model would save us money in the long run, and no doubt it would. But it would probably take many years to pay for itself in energy savings. If my refrigerator broke, I would absolutely replace it with the least expensive but most efficient model I could afford. But my refrigerator isn’t broken, and I don’t have the money to spend on a new one. But when I read articles on green living and watch kitchen remodeling episodes on HGTV, I feel nearly convinced that having a new Energy Star model refrigerator is virtually a necessity. But the advertisers and experts trying to convince me that I need a new refrigerator are not interested in what is best for my finances; they are interested in my purchase of a new high efficiency appliance. They are not aware of, nor do they care, that my emergency fund would be potentially wiped out by this non-emergency purchase or that I just recently paid several large medical bills. That glossy sales flyer that arrives in my mail box advertising a beautiful stainless steel French door HE refrigerator at 50% off may seem like it offers a solution to my quest to lower our monthly energy bills, but it required and up front investment of more than I have. The bold type offering 0% financing may seem enticing but is really just influencing me to take on more potential debt, of which I already have more than I can handle.

The best way I’ve discovered to stay on budget is not to buy things, and not to shop for things I don’t intend to buy. That way I’m less likely to lose my motivation to save my money for important long term goals like being debt free and buy something with short term satisfaction like a new outfit or new appliance.