The One Place I Never, Ever Go If I Want To Stay On Budget

Let me paint you a picture that might seem scarily familiar: You walk through the front doors of Target with a 7-item list, determined to finally stick to it this time. Before you get to the carts, you are forced to walk by the Dollar Spot’s marketing brilliance, where you somehow can’t leave without buying the entire row. 10 minutes later, you pick up a cart that’s now $20 heavier. Haven’t you just always wanted a cute mini-garden, despite the fact that you have a notoriously black thumb? You reassure yourself that these are, indeed, smart buys — and then get out your list and head to the rest of the store.

With newfound confidence in making it out without another impulse buy, you head to the toothpaste aisle. But before you can even finish your words of affirmation to yourself, you run into an impulse tower. You know it well — those shelves in the middle of the main aisle filled with items you would never buy, but since they’re so tiny and cute, you suddenly must have them. Being here somehow reminds you that you might be running low on foundation, so you should definitely grab it now and save yourself a trip later. On the way towards grabbing your ride-or-die foundation, you see the mascara that some girl on Instagram was raving about, and hey, it’s only $6.99!

Now feeling defeated that you blew your goal of sticking to the list and your budget anyway, you decide to buy those adorable leggings from their new exercise line, hoping they will be just the workout motivation you need. Now that you have wondered throughout the entire store, you’re starting to feel hungry as you enter the grocery section, and you know what happens when you shop hungry. You’re feeling crushed, hungry, and undercaffeinated as you pass by Starbucks, with the memory that today is double points day, and you’re only 10 points away from your next reward!

Two hours, 20 items, a $6 coffee, and a $217 receipt later, you finally make it out of the black hole. Later that night, you reassure yourself that you will do better next time — just as you reach for the empty toothpaste tube, which you neglected to replace during your Target run.

I am guessing — or at least hoping — that this sounds like a familiar cycle, and has been the death of at least someone else’s budget as well. So, are you ready for a gut-punching piece of advice? If you find yourself consistently blowing your monthly budget at this one most infamous place no matter what you do, you need to hear this: Just don’t ever enter the Holy Grail that we call Target.

I am here to help you combat this seemingly impossibly hurdle with some tips and tricks I have learned as I personally try to recover from my toxic relationship with Target. I will start by urging you to push away those feelings of guilt that seem to creep up every time you leave those double doors. Turn it into motivation to change your ways for the better next time. Stores like Target have designed their stores and marketing to purposely encourage impulse buys like the ones that always seem to end up in your cart. The best way to avoid impulses? Do not enter the front doors, ever.

After way too many busted budgets, I made a pact with myself that I would never again step foot inside Target, and it was the best financial decision I have ever made. But that doesn’t mean I have stopped shopping there completely. So let me share all the juicy details of my newfound healthy and glowing relationship with Target. Throughout the week, I put things that I completely run out of or absolutely need into my Target app “cart,” after I’ve shopped around on the app for the best prices. On Sundays, I review the items in my cart to make sure that all of them are still necessities, and I place a “Drive Up” order at my local Target. The items are usually ready within 30 minutes, and I can pick them up whenever is convenient for me. My new Sunday routine consists of meal planning, making a quick stop at the grocery store (with a list of course), and then pulling into the Target parking lot full of confidence, with a VIP spot waiting for me at the front. Moments later, a smiling Target employee loads my car for me, and I am peeling out with all 10 items I needed, a happy budget, and an embarrassing amount of pride in myself.

I will never forget the time I was completing my end-of-month budget check-in and realized I spent less than $100 at Target that month. Of course, I would be lying if I said that I was perfect and have never been in Target since that pact with myself over six months ago. Case in point: I was recently on my way home for a marathon graduate-school homework session, and remembered that my printer was yelling at me that I was out of ink when I’d run out the door that morning. I dreaded the thought that this meant I had to go in Target, and I was not entirely sure I was ready for it.

A similar situation is bound to happen when you are forced to make a last-minute shopping stop to get something you need, despite trying your hardest to plan ahead. In order to prevent going back to that toxic relationship you have been so good about staying away from, take these tips from a pro who has made it to the other side in her recovery: go in with a written list with checkboxes to check off, estimate how much the items on your list will cost, keep that happy number in the front of your mind, and DO NOT get a cart or basket. As you rush to self-checkout while juggling only the four items on your list in your arms, you and your budget with thank me. The most important part? Acknowledge your accomplishment!

It may seem silly to congratulate yourself for making it out of a store with the items on your list, but if you are like me, it is a struggle. Remember that jubilant feeling, and you are on your way to keeping that toxic relationship in the past where it belongs. If you do succumb to Target’s sneaky marketing, do not let that be an excuse to fall off the rails for the rest of the month and demand to yourself that you will do better next time (bonus points: return those items not on your list, and soak in that proud feeling). Remember your “why” the next time you are tempted to go back to your old ways and wander through that budget-sucking magical place. I promise you: the feeling of overcoming the behemoth that is Target is way better than any impulse-buy mascara that that one Instagram influencer swears by.

Abbie works full-time as an Elementary School Reading Specialist in Overland Park, Kansas. When she is not teaching, she is working on building her real estate business.

Image via Unsplash

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