Thursday, August 12, 2010

Season of Discount-ment

Some people go crazy for shoe sales. For others, it's garage sales. Me? I'm drawn to stationery sales like Dorothy to Oz – books and pens and gizmos, oh my! The urge to run down stationery aisles, gleefully scooping supplies into my shopping basket, is almost irresistible.

I was hooked on my very first shopping excursion for grade-school supplies (too many years ago to mention.) Coming home with a horde of unsharpened pencils, pristine notebooks, and unspoiled paraphernalia was, to me, fabulous bounty. Even now, decades later, whenever August arrives and stationery specials begin I'm as gleeful as a kid at Christmas. My children are grown, raising children of their own, and still these specials excite me! Without the incurable condition known as frugality, I'd surely run amok, ravaging our budget procuring multi-coloured sticky notes, nifty journals, gel pens, and handy-dandy what-cha-ma-call-its.

But there's no point in denying need. I used to avoid stationery stores simply because I could "fall off the wagon" and our budget might suffer for it. The problem with this approach was, eventually any home office requires a few essentials. Avoidance wasn't preparing me for ultimate temptation. Then I began writing and a genuine need arose for pens, journals, envelopes, printer ink and paper, and, yes, multi-coloured sticky notes – the usual tools of the craft. Somehow, I had to control the compulsiveness.

Seasonal shopping rescued me. Once I began saving for August, basing those savings on previous years' spending, then buying necessary office supplies became guilt-free. Like any impulse-shopper, I learned to control it by making a list, and buying items only on the list – no in-store additions! That said, I don't just buy one journal; I buy five or six – enough to last a year, and the savings equate to getting one (sometimes two, depending on the sale) free. I don't buy a couple pens; I buy a box. Half the box is usually free due to seasonal savings. I don't buy one ream of printer paper; I get a box of ten reams, on sale, paying nearly half the price per ream and getting enough to last approximately two years (or longer.) Each year the shopping list changes – things like staples or paper clips last years – but, the monetary preparation and planned excursions eliminated stationery shopping as a threat to monthly budgets.

Back-to-school specials introduced me to seasonal shopping and I was a quick convert. If it could conquer my stationery addiction, what astonishing deeds might it perform on other expenses? Soon, I was shopping seasonally for all the non-monthly, household necessities. A little money, set aside each month, is saved for linens, for household maintenance, for kitchen utensils, for small appliances...the list goes on. Now, when the "White Sales" happen in May, there's money for new sheets or towels. In March, we have funds available when gardening supplies go on sale. We even put aside a monthly stipend for gift giving, which comes in handy in January, when holiday goodies get marked down. Often, we don't use all the money we've salted away, but that just leaves extra for either the purchase of better quality goods, or kept in reserve for future purchases. Occasionally need – or fabulous pricing – cause over-spending the saved amount...but those small excesses are temporarily absorbed by savings for other categories, and are always recovered within a month.

Of the numerous ways of managing household budget, seasonal shopping produced the greatest stabilizing effect on ours. Instead of allowing the many, varied and irregular expenditures to catch us short, we now have savings for most items we'll inevitably need. And, because money is reserved for various purposes, we are better able to take advantage of sales when they happen. Savings realized at a good sale can be dramatic. So, though we're no richer than before, this capacity to buy what's needed, when sale prices are best, not only provides us with material comforts, it produces peace of mind knowing we are maintaining a realistic budget without using credit. No more month-to-month struggle, feeling overworked just "making ends meet." Somehow work seems less onerous now that home is thriving.

If you're interested in planning your own seasonal shopping schedule, here's a helpful article, by Nikki Willhite, offering information on yearly sales and when they regularly occur: All Things Frugal: Shopping the Seasonal Sales. It doesn't matter if you're into shoes or linen; there's a prime time, each year, to buy whatever your personal weakness may be. If you're denying need just to control a shopping addiction, take charge by finding its season of discount-ment!

Me? I'll be in a stationery aisle, somewhere, yearly budget in mind and shopping list in hand: the giddy grandma humming the popular ad, "It's the most, wonderful time of the year..." ♪♪♪