My mom taught me shoppers' math growing up, and it's a hard mathematical field to explain; you learn best from observation. Shoppers' math involves not only numbers and percentages but also factors like needs-versus-wants, frugality, on-hand cash, and gift cards. Let me use today's errand trip to demonstrate to you shoppers' math.
I've been needing a new pair of professional shoes. My Danskos are getting a little ratty, and while I have several pairs of dress heels, I'm lacking a good pair of sophisticated, professional footwear. I found a style of loafer I like and put it in my mind to find a good deal.
Professional loafers: needed purchase
For my birthday my grandpa gave me a gift card to TJ Maxx (which can also be used at Homegoods). Gift cards present a whole new factor into the shoppers' math equation: gift cards are presents, and in my view, should be used to buy something you really, really want, something you wouldn't normally buy for yourself, or both. Yes, it's money, but it's in a different category. (But even that's not a hard-and-fast rule. Were I to receive a gift card to Target and also had no money to grocery shop, I would feel great about using that gift to support my family.)
Today I decided to check out JC Penney's current sale, with 50- to 70-percent markdowns. I found a darling pair of platform, heeled loafers for 50-percent off of their regular price and put them on hold while I checked out the selection at TJ Maxx.*
Their selection wasn't great. So I perused and found a pair of stretchy pants to use for rock climbing.
Stretchy rock-climbing pants: needed purchase, but something I might talk myself out of
Then I headed to Homegoods, where my shopping experience was overwhelmed by my many options. What did I want to spend my gift card on? Kitchen gadgets? Eight-inch cake pans? Wall art? Halloween decor? Or did I want to put it toward a larger purchase of a side table or nightstand? Because I still had a decent amount of money left on my gift card from the stretchy pants purchase, I browsed for things that caught my eye. (And if nothing caught my eye, I would have been content to leave without buying anything. Don't spend money, gifted or otherwise, just for the sake of spending it.)
I decided on purchasing a silicon spoon, a large glass liquid measure, an orange ceramic pie plate, and a cute piece of wall art.. After I exhausted my gift card, I ended up spending $7.00 out of my bank account.
Silicon spoon: needed purchase, but something I might rationalize not needing
Large glass liquid measure: needed purchase, something I would probably buy without a gift card
Pie plate: wanted purchase
Wall art: wanted purchase
Back to JC Penney's. Since I didn't find a cuter and/or cheaper pair of loafers at TJ's, I decided to go back and buy the pair I'd put on hold at the mall. I had a lingering $20 bill in my wallet that I hadn't used in a few weeks and decided to offset the amount of money put on my debit card by using the cash (Josh really hates that facet of shoppers' math).
To sum up my shopping trip, I bought one item that I needed, a few items that I needed but not immediately, and a couple of items that I didn't need but really wanted, with $20 coming out of my wallet, and less than $30 coming out of my bank account--a pretty thorough and versatile trip, in my opinion.
Through Josh's lens, money is money, regardless of its form, and a gift card is no reason to splurge when you otherwise wouldn't. Through my approach, a gift card is inherently a good reason to buy something you wouldn't (or wouldn't be able to) normally. When I use gift cards in my shoppers' math equations, I subconsciously put myself on a longer frugality leash, like part of the gift card is the gift of not worrying so much about how you spend your money.
What camp are you in? And aren't you glad that shoppers' math helped me to buy these?
*A note about sales: Even though an item may be a million percent off, the money you spend on it is still real. Don't buy something just because it's a billion percent off. Factor in your needs, wants, and budget, as well. In this case, I had already decided that I needed a new pair of professional shoes, and I wanted a good quality shoe. So even though the shoes were half off, I can't overlook the fact that I'm still spending real money. Sometimes you still shouldn't buy something even if it is on sale. I have come to that bitter conclusion many times.