Can You Buy The Single Plunger?

by Katy on May 7, 2018 · 38 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

Do you find that your best intentions are left at home when it comes to a quick trip to Target, or say, Costco? You go in for toilet paper/laundry detergent/photo processing and home with T-shirts/chocolate covered raisins/books.

This is very much a Non-Consumer Advocate kind of topic, yet there’s a great Apartment Therapy article titled It’s The Little Things: 5 Ways to Spend Less and Reduce Clutter that addresses this very issue.

“I was at Target the other day, and standing in front of me in line was a gentleman buying a plunger. That’s it. A plunger. While I really should have been feeling bad for him, because after all, the poor guy was out on a plunger run, I found myself staring at him in wonder, dazzled by his ability to get out of Target with only one darn thing.”

I have been that guy. Maybe not the plunger guy at Target, but definitely the olive oil lady at Costco. Because I have walked into Costco and walked out with nothing more than a two-pack of olive oil. It feels weird to not have a cart, when everyone else is pushing a mountain of stuff through the aisles.

Whether it’s Target, Costco or heck, even my beloved Goodwill, it can be near to impossible to steel yourself against all the great deals to be had. However, $10 spent is $10 spent, whether it’s a 75%-off pair of shoes or an insanely priced candy bar.

Your bank account knows no difference.

Do you struggle to temper your impulse purchases or have you moved past that? Please share your thoughts and your weaknesses in the comments section below.

And CLICK HERE to read the Apartment Therapy article, and make sure to read through the comments, which are surprisingly thought provoking.

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Katherine May 7, 2018 at 10:44 pm

I’m in Australia and often follow along with the comments and I am in shock that no one else has commented! I have a large family (9) children but my husband and I often batch errands and have managed to go to Costco for 2 needed items on several occasions. I find it a double win because of being a large family and saving cashola.

We also don’t tend to stock pile even though many assume we do. There’s no need to have tons of extra for us it helps us to better track spending and not have excess clutter.


Vicki May 7, 2018 at 11:52 pm

I have a tendency to stockpile (I run a household of 8) far more than I should. A trip to Costco…*chuckles* I am definitely one of those people with the full cart, and it drives me batty. At this point I’m trying to limit myself to once-a-month shopping, with very few store runs, but we always end up needing something.We do a lot of “quick” store runs. Amazon is also a bit of an issue – I’ve gotten too used to having all the everythings delivered ro my door.

It bothers me, how much I’ve slipped back into convenience shopping and wastefulness. I need to work on that.


Jennifer@thefrugaldribble May 8, 2018 at 4:17 am

I stock pile within reason. I set strict limits on myself for how much and what I items I can stock. I only stockpile things that I know we will use up pretty fast. Also, I don’t stockpile large amounts of things that take up a lot of space like big boxes of detergent. I am more likely to stockpile about 9 jars of spaghetti sauce, since they are smaller. Expiration dates also come into play. Then once all my food storage spaces are full, I don’t let myself buy anymore deals until we use up some things. Of course a family of 8, is quite a lot of people to feed!


Pauline May 8, 2018 at 3:47 am

I ‘can’ go in and get one item, but my feeling is that it’s a good thing to get a few bits that I always get at that particular shop to prevent me from having to do an emergency visit. So if, for example it’s Aldi, I think how the toilet paper supply is doing, mayo and ketchup we always get there etc etc.

Shopping for just one item takes so much time proportionately.


Jennifer@thefrugaldribble May 8, 2018 at 3:58 am

If I am only planning to buy a couple things, I purposely don’t get a cart or basket. Since, I can only hold a few things in my arms, I won’t be tempted to buy more than I came in for.


K D May 8, 2018 at 4:07 am

I think that each year I am better at impulse purchases. Most items I can live without and seeing all the excess consumption (in America) really helps me not want to be a part of that.

I am one of the few that do not find Target tempting. I don’t like shopping there, it has changed so much since I first shopped there, almost forty years ago.


Jenny May 8, 2018 at 6:31 pm

I remember Target in Iowa in the early 1970s, I think. To me, it is much better now!


marieann May 8, 2018 at 4:18 am

I have done that twice in the past week. I went in for a sweet potato, I stood in line behind a lady taking 34 item through a 1-12 item cashier. I did make a comment about people needing to upgrade their mathematic skill, especially the 1-12 numbers 🙂

A couple of days later I went in for bananas and the lady ahead had 12 items and let me go ahead of her.

Both times the cashier said in a surprised voice, “you only have one item” So I guess it is a rare occurence


Patti May 8, 2018 at 4:32 am

I call Sam’s and Costco the $100 stores as most people spend at least that while there. I only buy two things: cereal and peanut butter. I compare prices and those are the best. Watch your unit costs, most of the time I can get items cheaper at the sales in the grocery store and then I don’t have to stockpile big huge containers. If you want to really watch your spending, just buy exactly what you need. My brother did this when he planned a trip around the world: If he needed just one apple, he did not buy the bag of apples. He was able to save a ton of money that way.


Ava May 8, 2018 at 4:48 am

I am pretty good about just buying what I came for. I do hate, hate, hate multiple trips to the grocery store, buying just a couple of items each time. My husband doesn’t mind at all but I think of it as a huge waste of time and energy. So if I go in for one thing, and then remember something we are almost out of, I always pick it up while I am there.


Bee May 8, 2018 at 4:49 am

What a great article! I find that planning is helpful when trying to reduce unnecessary purchases. I have meal plans, wardrobe plans, decorating plans, shopping lists and my financial plan. However, I still manage to buy things that I don’t need. Although I don’t have any problem with regular retail stores, thrift stores and estate sales are my Achilles heel. Since the items sold are often one-of-a-kind bargains, they get me every time. It is difficult not to buy that super great buy.
Yesterday I went to the Goodwill. I bought a striped t-shirt dress that was on my clothing list for summer AND an incredible table lamp for $9.99 which was not on any list. I have no place for it, but I knew that this lamp was available only to the trade and sold for $350+. It now sits on my living room floor. Fortunately, I do a lot of resale –partially out of necessity.


Kathryn May 8, 2018 at 5:13 am

I am usually terrible at this! I don’t live near a Costco but I pop into CVS or another drugstore for “one thing” and end up with snacks for days (usually not healthy ones). But this article is coming at a good time – I had to get deodorant this morning and left with ONLY the deodorant. *pats self on back*


janine May 8, 2018 at 5:17 am

Books and deli items in my favorite grocery are my downfalls. No longer tempted much by Target. The stores I have discovered to have the best prices are on the other side of town so I buy in bulk and freeze and store as much as possible, For example I am able to get 75c bread at a wholesale bakery – cost- $4 at the regular store. I buy several loaves and freeze for future use. This saves both gas and $$. Also dry items such as pinto beans, lentils and oatmeal last a long time and can be stored easily.

On the other hand, like so many of the other posters I am downsizing and wish the clutter had never ventured into my house for me to dispose when there are so many other interesting things to pursue.


Kristin May 8, 2018 at 5:35 am

I absolutely can walk out of the store with just the item I went in for, and often do. I have also walked out with nothing, if I didn’t find what I wanted. Although I do understand Pauline’s comment above about a trip for one item being inefficient. I won’t usually go to a store for just one item unless it’s something I need or a really good deal, like my trip to Target a couple of weeks ago for the BOGO 50% off cat litter. If I had gone by myself, that would have been all I bought, but my husband was with me….$92 later…..


Bee May 8, 2018 at 9:50 am

My husband is a huge impulse buyer. Trader Joe’s is his downfall. He loves nuts and snacks, so my bill will double if he comes along.


WilliamB May 8, 2018 at 6:03 am

Ah, yes, this problem. For me it’s not Target but the supermarket. I have a long list of supermarket things to buy if they’re on sale. While I may go in to buy just bananas, if olive oil is on sale I’ll get that also.

Since I know the regular price and it’s something I look for on sale, I don’t consider this impulse shopping. But it’s not exactly planned, either.

My weakness when it comes to buying things I don’t really use? Sauces & marinades.


Marilyn May 8, 2018 at 6:32 am

I do struggle a bit with this. It helps me to make a list. Something about having a list of needed items on paper makes me stick to it. Also helps to only shop once a week for groceries. I no longer have a Costco membership since we are empty- nesters, so no temptation there. That said, I once went to FM just for a Free Friday candy bar and that was all I left with! Probably cost me a $1 in gasoline, but it was yummy.


Christine May 8, 2018 at 9:17 am

Notes from a frugal long weekend, retiree version:
1. Bought two 3 piece sets of Jadeite Fire King Oven Ware at my church yard sale on Saturday for $3 each. Am currently listing them on FB Marketplace.
2. Next day after church what was remaining went on sale for half price. Picked up many great bargains which I priced for the consignment today.
3. Made a banana bread using over ripe bananas which we have been enjoying.
4.Washed (in cold water) three loads of clothes which are drying on the clothesline.
5. Worked our town’s election which will bring in a nice paycheck in a couple of weeks. Came home during lunch hour and had leftovers with DH.


Bee May 8, 2018 at 9:53 am

What a great buy on the Fire-King! Jadeite is my favorite type of vintage glass.


A. Marie May 8, 2018 at 11:12 am

What Bee said about the Jadeite. Score!!


Christine May 9, 2018 at 2:02 pm

Thanks Bee and A.Marie! I love Jadeite too and thought of keeping it to use in my house but we’re saving for a vacation(experience over stuff) and I’m sure I’ll be happy when I put the profits into my savings account.


Mary in Maryland May 8, 2018 at 10:32 am

My morning activity ended early, so I stopped at Target on the way home to buy floor cleaner. I hate going to Target, so I bought three big bottles of the stuff.


Lynn D. May 8, 2018 at 10:47 am

It seems to me that if you need a plunger you wouldn’t stop to impulse buy. You’d want to get right back home!


Debbie from Delaware May 8, 2018 at 8:37 pm

Good point!! LOL


Bren Murphy May 8, 2018 at 11:01 am

Just reading through the responses and had to comment. I like going to shopping centres and not using a trolley. Just the handbasket means immediately I am considering does the item fit, and I am less likely to stock up even if the product is on discount. Also, paying in cash keeps things in the moment.
Thank you


A. Marie May 8, 2018 at 11:21 am

Two sets of thoughts here:

(1) On the one hand, I’m a recovering ex-warehouse club member. DH and I used to have memberships in BJ’s and Sam’s–but I quit BJ’s in a huff two years ago after an unnecessary in-store hassle about renewing the membership, and our nearest Sam’s closed several months ago. We only have one Costco here, and it’s on the other side of the county–so I decided to try to go cold turkey on clubs. So far, it’s working; not only do I not miss the clubs, but I’ve noticed a definite drop in our day-to-day expenditures, since I’m not tempted by the “That might be useful” impulse buys.

(2) On the other hand, I do try to plan our shopping so that we can keep single-item trips to a minimum, for environmental reasons. Our emergency runs tend to be to Best Buy for dead or dying computer components, and to Lowe’s or Home Depot for DIY emergencies.


Dori May 8, 2018 at 11:49 am

Katy, this is a great little article, love it! And thanks for the guidance to check out the comments on the Apartment Therapy post. Lots of wonderful tips in there! Perfect for us frugalistas. Yay!!


Jennifer May 8, 2018 at 12:43 pm

Well I can – I know I can because I have done it. However I don’t usually think ahead of time “I am going to X store to JUST buy Y product” etc. And therein lies the problem (for me). I have to plan ahead of time.

But I have a secret weapon. If I make a list (very specific including brands, sizes, prices) my dh will go shopping for me and he never deviates from the list. So I will frequently keep myself in check this way.


Marybeth May 8, 2018 at 4:18 pm

I can if I am by myself. If Hubby or one of the kids is with me no way. So I try to shop alone. I always heave a list at BJ’s . If it isn’t on the list then I don’t get it. You can drop a fortune there otherwise.


Christine May 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm

I’m with you on shopping alone. If my grandkids are with me it’s hard to stick to my list. Unless there is an emergency purchase needed, I will make a list of things I need at a certain store and try my hardest to stick to it. If I carry a list, I usually can. Notice I said “usually”…


Chris May 8, 2018 at 4:33 pm

We often go to the local warehouse store and just get gas! I have been able, though, to just come out with vitamins.


Lisa May 9, 2018 at 9:01 am

I think that impulse purchasing and stocking up are a direct reflection on how inaccessible stores are. When I had three moderately priced grocery stores in walking distance, I rarely stocked up on anything. Where I live now, there is no grocery store within walking distance, only a general store with a few overpriced grocery items. Depending on the time of day and traffic, a trip to the store takes me between 20 minutes roundtrip to an hour roundtrip, just to drive, not including shopping time. Regular grocery stores are very expensive, so, for the first time in my life, I have both a Sam’s Club and a Costco membership, and going to either is, as I wrote earlier, at least an hour long event. The only positive I see in this situation is that my neighbors have good relationships with each other. We’re always calling each other and asking for things like a tablespoon of baking soda.


Monica May 9, 2018 at 10:14 am

I used to shop with my pal who had a Costco membership. We would split several large bulk things, like TP, tissues, double olive oil, etc. and I’d pay my half for those things, etc. This way we both had plenty of what we needed and the purchases didn’t take over too much space in our very small houses.


FrannyandDanny May 9, 2018 at 1:08 pm

I just don’t go now or I take only the amount that I’ll need to spend. It works a treat.


Janis May 9, 2018 at 3:45 pm

I’m having a lot of success with leaving myself a very limited amount of time in the stores where I am more likely to overspend. It forces me to stay on track. Love your blog, Katy! Thank you!


Diane C May 9, 2018 at 5:55 pm

I don’t shop at a traditional grocery store. I feed four adults, so Costco is my go-to store. I keep a list on my phone and put an “X” next whatever I need. Once in the store, that’s all I buy. Easy-peasy. One tip: don’t look at other people’s carts.

My splurge place is the 99 Cent Only Store. They sell healthy food items, so I stock up on anything that’s a good buy. Last trip, I was loading up on ready to eat items for the ones who were staying at home. I picked up a bunch of organic microwave entrees for 99 cents each. This week, I’m a fancy resort community. I stopped at the main grocery store and noticed the same items for 3.99 each. Wow! Come to think of it, I went in for one item, and that’s all I bought: a crazy expensive (to me) jar of mayonnaise.


Anastasia Beaverhausen May 10, 2018 at 6:30 am

Could you do a post about selling on eBay? I want to start selling but I need to know that it’s worth the time/effort. With fees from eBay, PayPal and the cost of shipping – what is your bottom dollar for pricing something? Like if I sell a t-shirt for $5; by the time all the fees are taken out and my time spent listing, boxing it up and mailing it – I am going to turn a profit of more than 25 cents? How do you decide what to sell and what to give to Goodwill/ Salvation Army? I know you can look at completed auctions to see what things have sold for previously… but I’m really interested in your take on what something needs to sell for to make a profit of say more than $1 ? Thanks! Love your blog. It’s awesome!!


Bethany May 19, 2018 at 10:02 am

Drove down to the Cabrillo National Monument with the kids. It was such a lovely day for gazing at the San Diego Bay! Free and super great activity for the kids with the ipads and apps they loaned us for plant identification. We brought a friend. That motivated the kids to be pleasant. We all packed a lunch and didn’t even go out for ice cream. Loved it.

DH is out of town. I usually use that time to reach out to my single friends, had two of them over last night. Both are a couple decades older than I. They have so much in common, both are lonely, and both are fabulous people. Hoping they can establish a friendship, and one could really use some wholesome influences in her life. Both showed interest in coming back tonight to watch the Royal Wedding tonight off my DVR and enjoying the second half of the dessert.

One of my friends that I had over last night offered to give me a haircut. I had mentioned I needed a trim, and offered to help me out. I also told them of asking my husband, fiancé at the time to cut mine, but when he manhandled it in one big clump and started bringing the scissors to it, I panicked and told him no. She cuts her own hair and does such a nice job and I cut the other lady’s hair when she needs it. It goes full circle…almost. LOL! Saving us some MOOLA!

Did my Costco run yesterday. Batch errand it with a kid’s consignment sale held at a church in that town. Only got 3 things. Spent $7, and wasn’t sorry I had gone, but it would have been a bust if that’s the only thing I had gone to that town for. Also stopped by the lovely orange groves for my 25 lb bag of oranges. I like to sell these bags on eBay when my family has eaten through 4 or 5 of them. They are oddly popular items to sell.

Helped the kids clear out their toy room. Decided we didn’t need a toy box and a basket for toys. Listed the large basket on Varagesale. Already have one nibble. Hoping she stops by today to get it.


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