Let’s get right down to it: living inexpensively is about optimization. Whether you’re saving money through coupon clipping, reusing items to reduce your spending, or finding ways to have fun without breaking your budget, the “frugalistas” of the world are kindred spirits with those of us who are productivity experts. We’re all looking for ways to achieve more with less. Here’s some lessons from the business of workflow that may help you save time and money on shopping.
1. Make a List, but Make No Exceptions
It’s maybe the oldest advice, but there are few things more powerful in conducting a routine activity than a checklist. If you write a shopping list before you go to the store, you’re more likely to get in and out with the items you need. If you promise yourself you won’t buy anything on the list, you can budget more effectively.
A key tip is to avoid tossing your list at the end of the trip. Instead, write it on an index card and laminate it (you can use packing tape.) Then use a dry erase marker to cross off items you don’t need before you leave home, and cross the rest off as you pick them up. That way you’re always buying the same items. Plus, it’s easier to respect a list that you’ve carried for months.
2. Know Your Enemy: The Environment
An awful secret about workplaces is that they are typically a terrible place to try and get any work done. Unlike a school library, where distractions and noises will be instantly shushed, most offices are filled with people talking at water coolers, ringing telephones, noisy copy machines and constant interruptions from co-workers.
Your average grocery store is equally distracting, but it’s even worse than the office. Every aspect of that environment is intentionally designed to encourage you to buy more. In Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Paco Underhill tells the story of a “company [that] immediately replaced the carts with new ones that were roughly 40 percent larger. Just as fast, the average sales per customer rose.”
Don’t take part in the marketing. Skip the wheeled cart so you have to lug any impulse shopping. Bring headphones so you can listen to your own tunes, not the slow muzak that makes you linger or the announcements that pique your interest. And as crazy as it sounds, try wearing sunglasses inside the store. It’s harder to read signs about irrelevant specials if you’re looking through dark shades just at the products that matter.
3. Shopping is a Job, Not a Social Event
The folks at Netflix, a wildly successful company and a paragon of effective management, point out they succeed because “they are a team, not a family.” It’s can be fun to shop and fun to save money, but don’t confuse the difference between work and play. If you want to socialize with a friend, don’t use it an excuse to engage in conspicuous consumption.We might happen to become friends with our colleagues, but we didn’t take the job for the social benefits. You might happen be best buds with a great shopper, but hopefully your friendship is not based on owning matching credit cards.
If you need to go shopping with an expert, first make a plan to utilize their time effectively. That way you don’t end up needlessly browsing for hours, impulse buying random items and snacking your way though the food court to catch up. You can have social time free at the kitchen table or a local park. Work those deals and celebrate later!
Being frugal and being productive require more than just following tips; both require changing behavior. It’s not easy to unlearn years of bad habits, but the first step is taking time to educate yourself, focus on who you are and actively implement new ideas in your life. You can save money and live well through better thinking and better choices. Live smart and inexpensively!
This is a guest post by Robby Slaughter. After an extensive career in IT systems development, Robby realized that the principal challenges affecting individual workers are not technological in nature, but psychological. He discovered that to become more effective and efficient at work, we need to empower individuals with authority and responsibility. His consulting practice, Slaughter Development now focuses exclusively on assessing workflow challenges, helping stakeholders to design and develop new business processes, and implement systematic, stakeholder-driven changes throughout the organization.
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