Reprinted with permission from No-Debt Living, copyright 2000 No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, which provides financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective.

By Laurajean Downs

Our budget can be clipping along at a good pace, averaging the lean amounts we estimate, even putting some extra aside, when disaster strikes: WAL-MART!!

Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko, Fred Meyer and Costco all tend to lead to the same thinga shopping spree in which you spend three times more than intended, but you think you've bagged a bargain.

Discount store shopping is stress relief for many homemakersmeandering through aisles of cheap, new items, is a real pleasure. It is also very difficult to go into a discount store and leave with one item.

Still, discount stores are a wonderful help to people who watch their money closely. If you shop wisely, you can buy good-quality items and spend much less than you would at specialty stores. The secret is to control the discount shopping, rather than letting it control you.

Discount shopping needs to be managed like other expensescarefully and logically. It requires planning, rather than whimsical wandering.

Lists
First, determine which items are truly cheaper at a discount store. Sometimes you're better off shopping at your supermarket.

Second, maintain an ongoing discount store shopping list. This will help you avoid unplanned stops and purchases. And, it's relatively easy to predict when you will run out of detergent, tissue paper, cleaning supplies and paper products. These are the items that tend to be cheaper at a discount store, and it's relatively easy to predict when you need to restock.

To get maximum savings, divide your list into two columns, one for necessities and the other for "wants." For example, when I encounter a mess in one of my closets, I frequently think of a storage system item that would solve that problem. My first reaction is to run to Wal-Mart and buy it. But we only have one car, so that is impossible. Since I don't want to wait, I can usually improvise with a box or item we already have. But, I still put the item on my list. Then, when I go to the store, I evaluate whether I have already met the need or if my quick fix isn't working out. Either way, I have given enough time for the "I gotta have it now" syndrome to subside.

It is remarkable how much we have saved using this principle.

The value of lists is enhanced when I schedule shopping trips, usually two a month, and only break that schedule when absolutely necessary. This way, I rely on the list, because memory does not cover me for that length of time. Plus, I feel confident when I go into the store and I am less tempted to buy on impulse.

A list has to be flexible, however. Sometimes Wal-Mart will be selling off-season clothing for $1 to $2 per item. Though not on my list, this is a deal that will benefit our family and our budget later. But don't use this as an excuse to wander into a discount store every two or three days, because you will rarely wander back out empty handed.

Need or Want
The more I avoid discount stores, the more I realize I can do without. Sometimes I'll take a stroll through the cooking/housewares section and see gadgets and appliances I didn't even know existed.

Granted, from time to time you will discover something that would really make your life easier. For the most part, though, if you didn't know you needed it before, you probably don't.

Establishing a basic system and sticking with it can save you a lot of money.

In summary, less is more for discount shoppers. The fewer times you go shopping, the more you save. The fewer items you label as necessary, the less clutter you will accumulate around your home. By planning ahead and being content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5), your discount store bill can be greatly reduced.

Laurajean Downs is a homemaker, freelance writer and certified public school teacher in Cheyenne, Wyo., where she currently is home schooling her own children. For more money-saving ideas visit No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, where you can view more than 100 valuable articles and resources on financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective. Copyright 2000 No-Debt Living.