Thursday, February 14, 2008

When is Enough Enough?

Readers of this blog can be in no doubt that I do not consider shopping a hobby. Shopping is something that has to be done on occasion, so I approach it like a stealth bomber--you get in and you get out as quickly as possible. (I'm not including regular grocery shopping in this.)

Last week I finally got the time to look for a particular piece of furniture that we needed. I had in mind what I wanted, the price range I would consider, and the color and type. I grabbed my daughter and off we went. Total time, including traveling and parking, was one hour and 19 minutes, covering three stores, in a two block area. They're delivering the piece tomorrow.

A lot of my friends and my sister simply do not understand shopping like that. "What if you would have found something you would have liked better if you would have gone to more stores?" is what they all ask me. They miss the point: I like this one. I don't need to have my choice validated by looking at every piece of furniture in the tri-state area.

Comparison shopping can be an excellent idea, particularly if you don't have any idea of what is out there to buy in the item you are looking for, or how much the price of the item might be. But when does it cease to be comparison shopping and start to edge up on obsession? How many stores are enough stores to look in? Why should buying tomatoes or underwear take almost as much time as buying a house or a car?

Let's take a pair of black shoes to wear to work. You need them to be comfortable and sturdy and professional looking, whatever that is today. You have an idea of what you are willing to pay, or what is in the budget for those shoes. And if you are honest, you will admit that you are going to wear those shoes to death. This is not a purchase that is going to or has to last for a lifetime. There are thirteen shoe stores in your general vicinity. What are the chances that you won't find those black shoes in one of those stores? What are the chances that you won't find those black shoes somewhere in the first few stores you visit?

People who shop as I do are for sure going to find those shoes somewhere in the first few stores. One reason that happens is that I don't go to the stores that I know sell their products at a zillion times what I'm willing to pay, on the off chance that they are having the sale of the century and their prices will suddenly come into my range. Another is that I refuse to spend precious hours and hours on something so unimportant as one pair of shoes.

Some of my friends? They will not only hit all thirteen stores around here, but will look in New Jersey and Brooklyn and Manhattan. At the end of all their shopping they will still not have a pair of shoes but will vaguely remember the stores that had something that appealed to them and was in their price range, and they start the rigamarole all over with those stores. Eventually they will buy a pair of shoes.

Finding a place to shop in a vast metropolitan area like ours is absolutely no problem--and that is the problem. Shopping smart is not only about knowing what you can spend and knowing what the prince range for a particular object is. It's also about spending time wisely. It's about deciding how much importance an item has in the broad scheme of things, and devoting time based on that importance. It's about learning to make a decision.

Shopping begins before you ever leave your house. It should be a thinking process before it becomes a physical process. Sometimes there is research to be done. Nothing like sitting in a warm cuddly robe and fuzzy slippers with a cup of coffee in one hand and a computer mouse in the other and letting my fingers do the walking.

You think I'm over exaggerating? Let's give you four hours on a Sunday. If you're like a lot of people I know those four hours are going to turn into six and you may not actually come home with anything. Now what if planning ahead turned that four hours into 90 minutes? What could you do for yourself, for your family, with the 2-1/2 hours you saved? I know what I'm going to do. Went shopping for a gift today and found it in about half an hour. I quickly dropped by a local book store and got myself the latest book by an author I enjoy reading. And I've got the time to read that book because I didn't " spend" all my available time obsessing over finding the perfect sweatshirt for my hubby to wear out in the yard working.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this. I've got way better things to do with my time then spend it in stores for hours and hours, especially shopping for the nonsense stuff. It's one reason I can't shop with my oldest daughter. I can't convince her that what she found in the first store is just as good as what she is going to find in the last store.

Anonymous said...

Would seem to me that some of this is personality more then being a poor shopper. Some people need a lot more input then others when they have to make a decision. I think that some are also more insecure that they know what they are doing so they take a lot of time.

Anonymous said...

I think Ari that profk is saying that people don't spend enough time in thinking before they shop so they end up spending unnecessary time in the stores. Agree that there are some people who can't decide on anything ever and that's their personality about everything, not just shopping. but there are a lot more who just go shopping without a real plan or any real knowledge about what they are shopping for. Before my sisters got their drivers licences I was the designated driver when they had to go shopping. Can't be a worse punishment anywhere.

Anonymous said...

This is really a male female division. I think if you ask men about shopping and how long it should take you would get a completely different answer then you would with women. I also don't know of any guys who would say that shopping for clothes is fun, something my wife has sometimes said.

Anonymous said...

Shopping and fun don't even belong in the same sentence--a real oxymoron.