shoppers' math, or a lively discussion about gift cards

Let me start off by saying that Josh hates shoppers' math. In fact, as I was writing this we had a heated debate about it. That's how much he hates it.

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.


Krista and Nate Lowe said...

haha i loved this post cause i am EXACTLY like you when i go shopping. i have never really thought about it before, but as i am reading your blog i found myself saying.. hey i totally think that way too! (lets be honest, boys don't know how to shop)

Ande Payne said...

I am also in your camp Charlotte. Though I do have to disagree with both you and Josh on the cash versus debit debate as I believe all purchases should be made (very consciously) on credit cards to get FREE(ish) gift cards/points! We get so many things with credit card points...and think of entering that new factor into your debate! (My opinion...they are like gift cards.)

I love your blog. Just so you know.

Ande Payne said...

Also. GREAT shoes.

Mary said...

Makes perfect sense!

A Mitton said...

oh holy goodness. WE ARE THE SAME PERSON.

I do the same thing when I shop. And spending cash is NOT the same as debit/credit spending. And gift cards are gifts and should be used for something fun.

Also, love the shoes. Obviously.

Wayne said...

Wow! I used to think I was good at math! :)

Brady Quist said...

I agree with Josh, of course. I always thought it was funny when my mom or someone would give me money and say "you have to spend this on groceries." I would buy groceries either way and whether I spent that $20 on groceries or $20 from my checking account never seemed to matter.

That being said, I think that sometimes when people give you gift cards they want you to buy something that you otherwise would not buy. Consequently I believe that gift cards can (and probably should occasionally) justify splurging.

Jessica said...

Ha ha, I love it! This made me smile, and I could just see you and Josh discussing this! I agree with the gift card logic. Mostly because I often have a hard time spending money on myself, but a gift card is another story! People give you gift cards to spend on something you wouldn't buy yourself! Ryan would definitely take Josh's side... Although I do agree with Josh on the cash vs. debit, money is money either way...but it does seem less painful to charge less on your card, even if you used part cash. I think it would be fun to join in on this conversation with you guys...maybe when we come home teaching next!

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

What a clever post! I didn't even know that I knew shopper's math, but I do and it's so much easier to understand than new math.

Joanna Galbraith said...

I love your choice of shoes!! Good pick! Boys are such boys. Johnny is the EXACT same way. Hahaha. I guess it's good that we balance each other out.

Denise said...

Makes perfect sense to me. Perfect. And I agree with Neighbor Jane that it's way easier to understand than new math.

And the shoes are A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

Jill said...

I tend to horde gift cards so that I have options when I really need them, and I usually try to use them on something I want but wouldn't necessarily buy for myself. I remind myself that it's a gift from someone and they wanted me to have a present.

Marla said...

Just needed to say...

LOVE the shoes.

And HomeGoods is the best!

I totally agree with your shopper's math!

michelle said...

Yep, makes perfect sense to me!

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