Impulse then and now

September 7, 2008

I should have realised there was something wrong when I noticed that I had memorised my VISA card number. Evidently I had typed those 16 digits often enough that my fingers just knew what to do.

When I were a lad, in the 1970s, frugal people had certain guidelines or rules to prevent themselves from coming unstuck. These included:

  • leave your wallet at home;
  • don’t carry extra cash;
  • wait a day before making any unplanned purchase.

(I know this, because my parents subscribed to Consumer magazine and I read something to that effect while perusing their vast stock of back issues at the age of 9 or 10. Like Jesuit training, my dormant but recently-awakened frugal instincts probably owe their hardiness to early indoctrination.)

Apparently there is research out there showing that credit cards and debit cards make it easier to spend, because we are blissfully unaware of the effect on our balance. Hence why we get caught short of funds at the checkout. How did that happen? Because we lost track of where we were.  It is much harder to accidentally run out of money in a cash-only world. (Unless you have so much cash, burning a hole in your wallet, that it seems as though it would be hard to get through it all).

That’s bad enough, but unfortunately, online retailing has greatly reduced the psychological barriers to unwanted spending even more. It is only recently that I have learned to stop and wait and introduce a cooling-off period before typing in the fateful 16 digits.

I now make it a habit to do a few things before I buy stuff online.

  • I ask myself whether I really need it;
  • Where comparison sites like Pricespy or Ferrit exist*, I get a benchmark price;
  • I check the second-hand price on Trademe;
  • I check my balances and see whether this will put me over my self-imposed limit for the month;
  • I bookmark the page so I can come back to it later (which I often don’t).

What are your strategies for avoiding temptation, when it’s just so easy?

*(Yeah, I know, Ferrit is an e-commerce disaster, but it is quite handy for finding out what you should pay for a blender).



  1. I find it’s extremely helpful to give myself time to think something over, proportionate to the price and how much of a bargain it is. Something small might only be a few minutes. Something larger might be days, weeks, or even a month or two. Helps you get your priorities in order, realise if you really want it, and if there is a better/cheaper alternative.

    And actually getting the item is so much sweeter when you know that it is what you really want – there’s a reward there!

  2. This has nothing to do with the post at hand – it’s a request for a future topic – do you have any advice/ideas on what to take for lunches? Buying’s expensive, but the same old sandwiches every day gets a bit stale. I’m always on the lookout for cheap lunch ideas!!


  3. Janet, I eat whatever deliciousness I cooked for dinner the previous night, with a bit of baking or fruit (or indeed sandwiches) thrown in from time to time.

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