Auto Pilot OFF

Twice of late, I've read of normally thrifty women who said they were spending far more than they had intended in certain areas.  Not completely off their thrifty ways, but they'd noted an increase in spending in areas where they'd not had a problem before.  Both confessed it began as a one time thing and gradually they found they were continually spending that amount of money every time they went into stores.  For one girl, it was in the area of her grocery budget.  She'd had more visitors than usual and was hurried more often than not.  She found herself shopping less frequently and grabbing more convenience foods when she did go to the store.   For the other lady, it was her gift giving budget that had begun to prove problematic.  She'd had several 'extra' gift giving occasions and she found herself giving a higher priced item than she'd meant to give.  It began with one occasion and then the feeling took over that she'd given one person such a nice gift that she couldn't possibly give another something that was obviously of lesser value.  Her intentions had been kindness but before the month was over she'd given nicer gifts to people who didn't even know one another and would never be likely to compare them.

In both instances there had been more than the usual activities which necessitated increases.  However, the overages had extended beyond the original events. Both women were naturally frugal and both wondered how they had happened to stray so far off their usual budgeting in these areas.  I knew immediately what had happened.  They'd gone into what I call 'mindset spending'.  It is really like being on Auto pilot.

Scientists have written about this phenomenom.  You don't even have to think about what you're doing.  Your mind has grasped that previous shopping total and subconsciously the brain is adding it up as you toss items into the shopping cart.  You get to the register and boom!  You discover you've spent almost exactly what you'd spent the past three times.  You're convinced the clerk made a mistake and you scan the register tape looking hard for the error.  There is no clerical error.  It's your brain.

John and I used to spend easily $100 every single time we walked into Walmart.  We always walked out of the store shaking our heads. It took a lot of determination on our part to change that mindset from auto pilot spending to thinking about every item.  We began by carefully examining every thing we put into the shopping cart. We made lists and stuck to them hard.  We argued with each other and with ourselves over each item we put into or took from the cart.   Eventually we found ourselves  spending just $12. We fairly floated from the store that day.  And the bonus side?  We realized that if all we'd needed cost only $12 surely we could live without spending even that much?  Now we often go months between visits to Walmart or any other store.

That's not to say we've perfected this thought process.  Here of late I've noted out Sunday paper trips into the grocery store usually end costing us about $45...I do NOT need to spend $45 every  Sunday!  Three weeks ago, John and I went to the gas station to buy the Sunday paper then to the dollar store where we purchased the dog food needed.  Two weeks ago, I called him at work and said "When you're out stopping for coffee on your way back to the county see if you can find a paper."   This week I walked into the grocery and came out with just under $35 worth of items.  My purchases were valid ones.  I bought mushrooms for a meal I need to make for a guest Tuesday (preventing our usual Aldi trip until Wednesday).  I bought chips because John had already gone looking for them in the cupboard and discovered that the bag was nothing but crumbs.  I picked up bread and flowers and the Sunday paper and a prescription.  Done.  This next Sunday we'll have recently shopped for groceries.  I've discovered I can buy the half and half I like for my coffee locally.  I'll send John in for a paper and we won't shop!  I'm determined to thoroughly break this pattern!

Of course, I've applied this initially to the spending principle but did you know that we can get mindsets in other ways?  Think about what you had on your dinner plate today.  Did you note to yourself after (isn't it always after?) you'd eaten that you were a little uncomfortable?  You'd eaten a bit too much.  Your clothing seems a little snug.  I know I've experienced that a good bit lately.  You know I've stopped measuring out my portions.  I've just gone right ahead and filled my plate without bothering to reach for that measuring cup.

The last time I experienced this, I realized that I'd been especially hungry one afternoon as we ate later than usual.  I ate a little more than I'd normally eat and it was so good!  But next day, I didn't bother to measure the portions either.   I couldn't be bothered to move across the kitchen for that extra second to retrieve a measuring cup.  I just dished food onto my plate and guesstimated  the amount.
Gradually my portion sizes have increased and so has my waistline!  I'm putting measuring cups next to the stove tonight!  Tomorrow when we have our dinner, I'll measure out my portions.  Want to bet my eyes see that measured amount and know that it's less?  The last time I stepped into auto pilot and then hit the OFF button I immediately began to lose weight.   Well here we go again!  Time to hit that OFF button and get back on track.

The next time you're feeling alarmed at how your spending seems to have increased, or your waistline, or the clutter...stop and take a good long look at what you haven't been doing of late.  You haven't been paying attention.  You've drifted into the habit of just being on autopilot.  Time to get rid of that mindset and refresh your point of view.


Debbie said...

It really is easy to get in that autopilot mode. For me, it is with eating out. I do so well for awhile and then we get back into the pattern of just picking up lunch here or there instead of planning ahead or coming home to eat.

Becky Gepford said...

It is so easy to overspend unless you are watching it every second while in the store! It's a problem we have, too. One of the things we are not finding working well for us right now is me sending Rob into the store with a vague list...such as...hey, honey, can you run to the store and grab some veggies, some candy, and some other stuff that I'll text to you as I think of it.... He always comes in with a huge amount of groceries with a high price tag when I do that because he's grabbing lots of items, or extras, in case I might need them. If I say I need 1)1 gallon 2% milk, 2) 1 box mushrooms that should cost $2 and 3)1 bag of M and M's for $2.50 with this coupon.....and so forth, he sticks with it. So, that's what we try to do. Any time we slip back into our old habits, we have to adjust quickly before it costs us too much!!

Lana said...

This is so easy to do in the grocery store. We buy things put of habit. My husband worked in IT for a grocery store chain when the first store loyalty cards were being introduced. After they started tracking what people buy they found the number one item to be bananas. That make me realize just how many were going in the trash at our house. Yes, I could make banana bread but I didn't most weeks. Now we rarely buy them because we know we do not eat them and if we do buy them we only buy 1 or 2.

Melonie said...

This is such a great post - you make an excellent point about autopilot *everything*. I've definitely done this both with food and with finances, and have been trying to crack down on it again this year. Our No Spend Month & Pantry Challenge in January really made it obvious at my house. So glad to hear (er, read? lol) that I'm not alone in fighting this!

And thank you for taking the time to email me about the Swagbucks. I got all signed up!

Out My window said...

I is easy to slide into habits like this. Especially during Holiday or busy times.

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