How I learned to avoid impulse spending at my favorite store.

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Upon moving to the suburbs last year, there was one thing that I was excited to acquire: a Target (actually two Targets) within 5 minutes of our house.

Living in the city, I couldn’t ever appreciate the Facebook stories of moms and friends who frequented the store and complained of how much they spent there. I longed for being able to stroll leisurely through the aisles and stock my red cart with adorable tchotchkes to adorn my home.

So when I moved, I fell for Target — and I fell hard. I’d go there at least a few times a week to pick up toiletries, new sheets, a coffeemaker, baby food — not thinking twice and just enjoying the wide aisles and carts big enough to hold my infant son’s car seat as he slept in it.

The trap is set

Sure, I could probably get some stuff cheaper from Walmart or the grocery store, but there was just something about Target that was comforting. It’s what most of us feel when we walk in there, and it’s part of the Target trap. Like a siren song, the shiny glitter, cute cursive writing and adorable animals lull me into a false sense of security, where I’m tricked into buying unnecessary notepads, stickers and socks because they are all “under $5.”

It’s not until you leave the store and realize that it got you. You needed deodorant but wound up spending $127 on stuff you didn’t need or things that could have waited until you actually needed them.

So how do you avoid the trap? Much like Odysseus, you must avoid the sirens’ song to come out unscathed. But you don’t have to go so far as stuffing beeswax in your ears and being tied up. You just need a plan, and you need to stick to it.

Target tips

Here are my tips for coming out of Target with your wallet still intact…

  • Go in with a list. Before you go, make a list of the things you need. Really think about it and write down everything you might need. Otherwise, you will 100 percent walk by something and say “Oh yeah! I need this, too!” And then you’ve fallen into the trap.
  • Do not deviate from the list. This is probably the hardest part. Like the tip above, if you’ve forgotten something on the list, then you see it, it’s a gateway to unintentional spending. If you need help staying on budget, try a budgeting spreadsheet like Tiller so you stay on track.
  • Limit how often you can go to the store. This was one of the biggest problems when I first started going to Target, which led to a constant stream of spending.
  • Use the Target app. The Target app is actually really helpful when it comes to saving money when I’m spending. If I’m already in the store, I look at what’s in my cart and search to see if any of it is on sale and add it to my coupon area or swap it out if there’s something comparable I can use instead. I’ll also try scrolling through once a week or so to add in coupons of things that I usually purchase there so that when I need it, it’s already loaded and ready to use.
  • Get a Target credit card. While it sounds counterintuitive, if you have the ability to pay it off every month, a Target card could be an additional way for you to save. It’s 5 percent off every purchase, which can add up if you go there often enough. Again, don’t get a credit card if you aren’t planning on paying it off each month, because the high-interest fees will offset any savings you might get.
  • Comparison shop. Sure, Target is all things to everyone, but one thing it’s not is cheap. Check around at other stores to see if you can find your essentials cheaper somewhere else.
  • Limit the kinds of things you buy at Target. If you love their textiles, save Target for when you need sheets or towels, and buy your paper products in bulk somewhere else. Same for its holiday items. Don’t go overboard when you see their plethora of goodies. Pick out two or three irresistible things and get other items from a discount store.
  • Target accepts manufacturers coupons! Don’t get the newspaper? No worries, we’ve got all the best coupons right here. 

It hasn’t been a cure-all for me, but following my own “rules” has helped put me back on budget, leaving me less stressed when I see those receipts at the bottom of the bag when I get home later. It’s all about setting limits and sticking to it. Good luck on your next Target run!

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Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel

Contributor

Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of Bankrate.com.

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Article last modified on May 25, 2018 Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Don't Fall Into the “Target Trap” - AMP.