How the World of Marketing Can Affect Your Budget

Do you have a game plan when you walk into Target? Lowe's? The grocery store? We used to walk into stores without a game plan, and those stores ate us for dinner. And by ate us for dinner, I mean they took our money. We’d get home and the loads of stuff we bought seemed to fade into the abyss. When we started to pay attention to the things that were ending up in our cart, we realized how many temptations there are throughout a store.

I think you know what kinds of things I’m talking about. These are the products that are placed throughout the store to make you think “Oh, yeah, I could use that.” Or “I need this!” (For us, those plastic to-go tumblers tempt us every time!) Throughout the year, those things can add up, though, and can end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands.

When we first started budgeting, we stopped shopping at Target. It was "one of those" places for us. We seemed to wander into Target at least once a week, perhaps needing one item, and we would walk away with a few sacks full of junk we didn’t really need, and $50 less in our bank account. These things offer little gratification other than the happy feelings we get when we open the package, and they will eat up your budget quicker than you might think.

I know "need" is a relative term. But, if you are trying to squeeze your budget, run lean for a period of time in order to clean up your debt, or save up for a specific goal (which you should always have by the way), we think it’s important to pay attention to everything you are spending your money on.


Research has been done and millions of dollars have been spent to figure out where to place certain products for maximum profits. That’s what a store is in business for.

Coupons are set up the same way. Stores time their sales, deals and coupons to get you to buy what they want you to buy, not necessarily what you need or want.

You might think, “Why not just ignore it?” Because, you can’t ignore it. It’s everywhere. We see thousands of marketing messages a day that beg for our attention and try to hook us in one way or another.

So, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em, right?

Marketing fascinates me, and it’s something that I’ve paid more and more attention to since we’ve started budgeting. I’ve resolved to thinking like a marketer to keep my guard up against the little things that tend to suck up our monthly budget. I actually walk through the store thinking, "Nice product placement, but I’m not buying, it’s not on my list, nor on my budget."

"Even the devil knows the Scriptures." (Luke 4:9-11)

Here are some ways I try to outsmart the marketers:

  • Understand that the purpose of the store is to make money, and know that every single item in it is optimally placed, packaged and priced to entice you to buy it.
  • The store doesn’t care about your budget. They care about their bottom line.
  • Plan ahead by making a list and pinky swearing to yourself or your spouse that you will only come home with what’s on the list.
  • When you come home with only what’s on your list, do a happy dance. You won! Muhahaha!

This all sounds great in theory, right? It can actually be quite tough. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose.

Like, when you have a budget for finishing your basement, and you go to Lowe’s for some knee pads, because hard concrete has not been kind to your almost-30-year-old body; realize construction knee pads are like $30 (thought they would be $10); think twice about your manhood and realize the right thing to do is tough it out, sissy; and pick up two five-gallon bucket organizers that weren't on your list and cost you five bucks and some change.

Will I use the five-gallon bucket organizers? Yes, they are already filled and in use. Did I need them? No.

Finish Basement Tools

So, sometimes we have to remember YNAB’s Rule Three and "roll with the punches"…

How do you ward off temptations in the store and stick to your budget?

P.S. After watching me work one night, Kelsey said I needed knee pads. She convinced me to go back to the store and buy them. I found a pair for $15. Win-win.