I used to be a notoriously compulsive shopper.
Those graphic T-shirts at Target that perfectly describe my life? Mine.
That adorable three-legged rescue puppy in a Facebook ad? He needs me.
A purple, crescent-moon-shaped, handcrafted thrift store nightstand? Have to have it.
Even if you’re not that quick to pull out the plastic, it’s incredibly easy to justify buying basically anything, if you take the time to convince yourself.
To get out of my money-draining ways, I asked myself these questions before I thought about whipping out the wallet.
1. How Much Would I Pay for This?
Ask yourself this before you even look at the price tag. It’s important to put your own value on something first, then see how well its actual price matches your value.
This trick has helped me out a bunch of times.
Oftentimes, when I would flip over the price tag, I would find a number three times higher than the price or price range I had in mind.
Once I visualized the value I felt the item held, the price seemed ridiculous.
Sure, the price may still seem high even without this trick, but the less surprised or shocked you are when looking at an item, the better chance there is you’ll talk yourself into buying it.
It is much harder to come to terms with purchasing an item when its price is way higher than the value you place on it.
2. Do I Really Want to Clean or Maintain This?
This works for pets, too.
I would just buy everything I remotely liked and tried to take in every stray cat I saw. There’s a lot of stray cats in my neighborhood, let me tell you.
But then I started to question myself about the upkeep of whatever item – or animal – I considered bringing into my home.
It’s important to ask yourself it it’s really worth the maintenance, cleaning or care ri0t requires. And if it is, do you have the time, energy and resources to make that happen?
3. Can I Get a Better Deal Elsewhere?
This is a big one.
Let’s say you legitimately need a new dresser. Your trusty one from college just isn’t cutting it anymore after countless quick fixes with tape and glue.
So now you’ve determined you need to buy something, and you’re in front of a really rad piece.
Make sure to ask yourself: Is there any way you could get the same or similar dresser somewhere else for less money?
I am a super-lazy shopper, so when I stumble on a piece I love and need, I buy it immediately.
I don’t compare prices or shop around; I just want instant gratification so I can go back home and play with my dog. And therein lies the trap.
By going to another store or two, or taking a few minutes to compare prices online, you may find something you love even more for less money.
So try to take your time and practice patience. It can save you some cash.
4. Can I Match the Money?
This is a different but very cool idea.
A frugal friend of mine once gave me this tip, and it has completely changed the way I spend money.
Whatever it is — a piece of jewelry, an upgraded appliance, a massage — if you can comfortably match its cost and add that amount to your savings, then you can afford it.
For example, if I want to buy a $25 necklace, I need to add an extra $25 to my savings that month. If I can’t afford to purchase the necklace and add the $25 to my savings, then I won’t buy the item.
5. Does it Coordinate with Items I Already Own?
I’m so guilty of this.
I love buying stuff that doesn’t match anything in my house.
“But it’s so pretty,” I tell myself. Yeah, it’s pretty in the store, but then you take it home, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Visualize your home, office or whatever room you have in mind for the piece and first ask yourself if you can even make room for it, which is an ongoing problem with wall art in my case.
If you find that you can manage to clear out a corner for the item, would it match the rest of your stuff?
There’s nothing like buying a random, non-refundable tapestry only to bring it home and realize it looks terrible everywhere you put it.
6. What Would Happen if I Didn’t Buy It?
Ask yourself if it would be detrimental to your survival if you didn’t buy it.
Is it a necessity or just something you really, really want?
The answer may seem obvious, but so often we operate on autopilot and snatch anything that catches our eye.
Pausing, taking a deep breath and thinking about whether you truly need something will save you tons of money.
Trust me, I know.
If you prefer a graphic to help you curb impulsive shopping habits, check out our should-I-buy-this chart.
Samantha Putterman is a Florida native and journalist who has written for the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. She’s a big fan of coffee, dogs and Harry Potter. Follow her on Twitter @Samputterman.