Old [Shopping] Habits Die Hard

Mr. F2P received a gift card from work as part of the office’s 2015 Holiday Season celebration. It was for a big box housewares store and it ended up in my wallet. Though I don’t shop much anymore, I put the card in my wallet with the idea of stopping by this store the next time I was in the area. The day I went into the store, I had no plan—first mistake. I felt that it was now or never because if I didn’t purchase something of use that day, the card was likely to become long forgotten.

What made the experience interesting though was not the shopping excursion itself, but watching myself with fascination as old shopping habits and thoughts reemerged. I found it amusing and unsettling at the same time.

The Pattern

Consumers sometimes act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behaviour with little regard to current goals. - statement made by two psychologists from U of Southern California in 2009
— p. 187, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I used to follow a predictable shopping pattern. I’d acquire an item, discover I really liked it and then proceed to purchase a series of near-identical items—slightly different in only colour or style—thinking that if one was bringing me joy, surely having more would have a multiplier effect.

It never did. Yet I conveniently ignored this fact by repeating the behaviour with a number of different types of goods:

  • Dress shoes
  • Running shoes
  • Leather blazers
  • Coats/jackets
  • Scarves
  • Gloves/mitts
  • Journals & pens
  • Electronics
  • Suitcases
  • Wine glasses
  • Travel mugs

This compulsion reemerged in the housewares store when I stumbled across Riedel wine glasses at 40% off and journals at 50% off. I own eight journals already and eight Riedel glasses that we use regularly. Long story short, we didn’t need either. But, I started telling myself, they’re on SALE!


I stopped myself in my tracks and looked for other things that were on the priority list: bath towels and bed sheets. Given we only have one set, I settled on bed sheets.

Counting My Chickens

I was quite proud of myself as I made my way to the cashier. They weren’t on sale, but we did want another set and the price was reasonable. I was doing the sensible thing and I felt great about it.

And then it happened.


As the cashier was ringing up my order, he told me I would have about five dollars left on the card. What I should have said was “OK” and gone ahead with the purchase, but I didn’t. I instead, in a moment of weakness (maybe it was FOMO) I said I’d be right back and went to fetch one of the journals.


My faulty rationale was that the five bucks would never get spent because I was unlikely to be back.

I know. So what. Now I have a journal that I might use in, what, year 2020?

I have to laugh at myself because it was a pretty stupid move. Every time I go to my bookshelf now and see the journal, I laugh at my lizard-brained moment of insanity. At least now the post-dumb-purchase feeling includes some levity and not the nagging feeling that I don’t know what I want or need. 

I hope not to experience this reminder more than a few times a year and staying out of stores is the surest way of making sure this type of slip up remains the exception and not the rule.

What about you? Have you reformed your shopping habits over the last few years? Have you had a forehead-slapping moment of your own?

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