Why you need to keep a Purchase List

Are you struggling to cut your spending? This insanely simple tool has saved me from countless impulse purchases. There’s no sign up, no software, no hoops to jump through. It’s literally just a list, but it’s one of the most useful lists you’ll make on this journey.

What am I talking about? My Purchase List. It’s a list I keep of all the things I’d like to buy, and it’s saved my butt many times. Take a look:

My Purchase List

The Basics of the Purchase List

Early in my journey, I put together a list of things I wanted to buy. As time went on it also became a list of things I’d already bought.

It’s sorted by the size of the expense. For me large purchases are $500+. Medium purchases encompass the $100-$500 range, and small purchases are generally under $100.

But this is a simple wish list, right? How could it possibly help you NOT spend money?

Well, here are six ways it’s helped me.

Six Reasons You Need Your Own Purchase List

  1. Prioritize your spending, stop impulse purchases!

On the most fundamental level I started this list to prioritize my spending. I spent money all the time on things I didn’t plan for, impulse purchases. A good sale, a cute top, a new houseplant, a candle… These are all things I enjoy, but they just kept chewing through my cash flow. Each month I’d have little to save and little to show for all the money I’d spent. Certainly nothing I actually needed.

My list gave me a plan. It was a declaration, “Here are the things that I will eventually spend money on.” If I was out and about and stumbled on something I wanted, I’d compare it to the list.

When your random impulse purchase has to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with all the things you’ve been wanting for a while, it starts to look a lot less interesting.

Do I really want this random bobble more than I want a functional pair of boots for the cold weather?

No. I don’t.

So the bobble goes back on the shelf, and my cash has lived to survive another day.

Have I stopped all of my impulse spending? Of course not. But the times when I’ve bought items I regret are ALWAYS times I ignored my list.

  1. The Purchase List reinforces the 72-Hour Rule

A while back Mrs. Frugalwoods was interviewed on a podcast I listen to. This is where I first learned about her 72-Hour Rule. She wrote a great post about impulse buying where she lays this out in detail. It’s insightful work and if you haven’t read it, you absolutely should. I can’t write a post about impulse spending without pointing you toward this rule! The gist is that you wait at least 72 hours between deciding you “need” to buy something and actually buying it. 

When I heard her describe this concept I was delighted, it was like my Purchase List! They work in parallel and serve the same purpose! Both of these tools give you the space to consider your spending in the context of your goals.

Personally, I try to use both of these tools together when it comes to making purchases. If you “just need” some particular item, put it on the list! It’s a very concrete way of considering your purchase.

Wait your 72 hours. If that shiny new item has lost its appeal by the end of that wait, take it off the list!

  1. Plan for large purchases

Hopefully all of the saving you’re doing is starting to add up. It’s incredibly exciting when that happens. As I stopped frittering my money away on nonsense I found I could consider making larger purchases I’d been putting off for years.

Frugal Win: New BedFor me, it was my bed. I was still sleeping on the 10+ year old twin mattress I got out of my parents house when I graduated college. I was having shoulder issues and getting poor sleep, but I “couldn’t afford a new bed.” The fact was, I didn’t prioritize a new bed.

Once I’d paid off my credit cards and saved up my emergency fund I decided it was time. I’d been staring at my purchase list for months and realizing I’d get really significant value from a new bed. It was time to put that plan into action.

I started considering this in October, but realized if I waited a month I could take advantage of some great black Friday deals. What’s another month when you’ve been waiting years? In the end I combined my Overstock.com foam mattress with an IKEA frame and put together my beautiful, comfortable queen size bed for around $550.

My shoulder pain is significantly improved and I’m waking up less at night.

Do I wish that $550 was in my savings account instead? Nope. No regrets.

  1. Alleviate the “splurge” guilt

Speaking of regretting a purchase, I used to feel guilty for pretty much any purchase I made that wasn’t rice, beans or toothpaste. Honestly, I could have probably found a way to feel guilty about those too. This was an issue even before I started on my path to frugality.

The less I knew about my finances, the more guilt I felt. Money was this dark, ominous cloud. I knew I was pretty close to broke. Since I had no idea how much money I actually had, any spending was probably a bad idea, right? Mind you, I kept spending anyway. So every purchase was tainted with guilt.

This is no way to live. We all need things, we all consume. The secret ingredient to getting rid of spending guilt is intentionality.

As an item made it onto my Purchase List, and survived a few months of scrutiny, I came to terms with the validity of the purchase. I realized I was willing to invest in it. It would actually benefit me over the long haul to have boots that kept out the rain, a bed that supported my sleep, a bike to start cutting down on transportation costs.

Now when I buy something on the list I can take it home and be pleased by it. I can enjoy all the delight of a splurge without the guilt.

  1. Gratitude (and combating hedonic adaptation)

Mr. Money Mustache has written some great posts about hedonic adaptation. He describes the idea as this: no matter what happens to you in your life, you’ll very quickly get used to it.

I know this sounds simple, but it’s hugely important. Worth several blog posts important.

For now, let’s focus on this: every time you add a benefit to your life (a nicer car, a shorter commute, a new subscription) eventually you get used to it and it seems hum-drum. Your happiness might have peaked for a little while, but it always goes back to baseline.

My new-to-me Honda FitOne of the things I love about the Purchase List is that it can be a great point of reflection to combat this adaptation.

As I look at my list, I see all the items I’ve checked off in the last few years. I’ve bought a car, a bed, new boots, jeans, sneakers… A few years ago I didn’t have this stuff. I look back and picture what I was wearing then, the bed I was sleeping on, and it reminds me how great I have it right now.

The Purchase List gives me the space to be grateful.

It gives me a chance to be happy for my purchases all over again.

  1. My Purchase List supports my minimalist/tidy space ideals

Any real minimalist would scoff at my version of minimalism. My space hardly embodies the ideal in that camp. There are, however, several minimalist concepts that inform the way I live. Tidiness and a simple, peaceful environment are VERY important to me.

For this reason, I’m glad I happened to be writing this particular post this week. I ran errands mid-writing session which took me to Target. It’s a place I’ve learned to avoid for the same reasons I avoid the Chinese Buffet – I leave overstuffed and half sick every time.

I got to Target and found they had rearranged departments. My normal “search and destroy” path put me smack in the middle of the clothes section, then spit me out in the candle aisle. Their floor-plan did its job! It steered me smack into my weaknesses. I picked up and put down at least 10 things in my super distracted route to the toothpaste.

My old self would have come home with several of those items. Not yesterday though. Not a single one of those candles, pajama pants, water bottles, etc. looked worth-while when compared to the items on my Purchase List.

All that stuff I nearly bought? It’s all the same stuff I had to work to declutter two years ago! Here I am, tempted to start buying it all over again.

Thank you, purchase list, for keeping me on point.

Starting a Purchase List of your very own

Nothing about this list is rocket science. It’s just a way to give form to your priorities, which I think we all need from time to time. The Purchase List can be incredibly powerful, but only if you use it. If you make it once and never look at it again, will you really behave any differently? I doubt it.

My main points of advice for making a list of your own?

Keep it handy. Make it accessible right from your phone. You’ll need it when you’re standing in line with an armful of nonsense.

Maintain it over time as well. Mark off purchases you’ve made. Add things you’re thinking of buying. Remove things you’re realizing aren’t very important to you right now.

Then look at it! Every time you’re thinking of buying something, compare it to the list.

See where the list takes you.


Comments (2)

  1. I think this is a great idea! I need to make my own purchase list with a timeline! Maybe I will make it into a blog post!

    1. Ooo— I never put a timeline to it. That’s a great idea! I’m working my delayed-gratification muscle has hard as I can till I give in. 😉

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