Can You Buy The Single Plunger?

by Katy on January 24, 2013 · 41 comments

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.”

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.
Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.
Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Pinterest.



{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Dogs or Dollars January 24, 2013 at 9:17 am

Its hard! I managed to make an entire circuit of The Land of Nod last weekend, with all its super-cute baby room kitche and not buy a thing. Why? Because that was plan. I perused. I busted out my phone to take pictures of the stuff I loved (for later, cheaper inspiration) and I didn’t spend a red cent. But again that’s the kind of trip I intended to have. Inspiration only. Had I gone in planning to spend money or even worse, with no plan at all, crash, boom, down in flames. Know your intentions, and voice them loudly. Be the Olive Oil lady.


Katy January 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

“Be the olive oil lady?!”

I love it 😉



Dan Garner January 24, 2013 at 9:29 am

Although I proclaim to be a non-consumer, I hardly ever leave the store with only one item.

Dan @ ZenPresence


Mary January 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

I have to make a beeline to my item, then straight to the registers while chanting “I only need dog food, I only need dog food, I only need dog food.” Then I have to fight the temptation to reward myself for only buying dog food at Costco. If I go with a friend, then game over: they want to wander and I always see something I “have to have”.


Katy January 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I’m like that at Trader Joe’s. I put on and blinders and silently chant to myself:

“I’m here for toilet paper and pita, I’m here for toilet paper and pita . . . ”

And then I buy Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s.



Chloe January 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

I love that you brought this up! As a twenty something, a lot of hanging out with my girlfriends has included shopping. And there is always inevitably a sale which is inevitably followed by the gushing over the sale item that you’ll never ever see again. But as I near the ripe wise age of thirty 😉 I have begun to follow the wisdom of non-consumers everywhere and only entering stores when I have a list and only buying the items on my list. No matter how good (and tempting) a sale is. This strategy has significantly helped my pocket book. And it’s getting easier with practice. Plus, I’ve started finding much better things to do with my girlfriends!


Renee CA January 24, 2013 at 10:28 am

Change of seasons are hardest. All new stuff. Bright, shiny displays all attractively arranged. Seeing that springy new merchandise at the end of a dreary winter about does me in.

But I have found that as I have gotten older, it is much easier to walk through and admire and not feel that I have to own all the cutesyness.


alexandra January 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I like your comment that as you have gotten older you find “it is much easier to walk through and admire and feel that I have to own all the cutesyness”. I totally agree. I do enjoy walking through and admiring though. I admire the thought that goes into displays. All the creativity in producing. It is fun to admire. But I rarely have to have it anymore. so glad!


Joy @ Joyfully Green January 24, 2013 at 10:53 am

YES! I think I’m finally at the point where I can be the “olive oil lady” now. I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months towards non-consumerism. It all started with a very expensive kitchen renovation (is there any other kind?) which left us too broke to spend on any little extras. It was a drag at first, but then something sort of magical happened–I lost the taste for wanting to buy more stuff. (I blogged about it in the link below, in case you’re interested.)
Anyway, I keep testing myself when I need to buy something at the grocery store, hardware store, etc., and I’ve been pretty darn good at sticking to the list, if I do say so myself!


Kirsten January 24, 2013 at 11:33 am

I have really conquered this in the clothing/stuff area of my life… however food it is a much bigger problem. I try to solve it by not going in to the grocery store hungry, but even with that I will see that bag of chips/chocolate bar/whatever on sale and buy it.

Also Katy – the “Coffee Table Porn” post is still the only one coming up on the home page. I mentioned it the other day, and it was fixed for a day… and then went back… not sure why.


Emma January 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I am having this very same problem. I can only get to new posts via the FB group.


Katy January 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm
Kirsten January 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Both times I have said something about it on the post – it is then fixed the next time I come to your page… are you doing something or are the INTERNET GODS SCREWING WITH ME…. lol sorry…. I just think it is weird.


AFS January 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm

The grocery store is my downfall too. Today I went in with my list and only added two produce items, that’s pretty good. I do think it is because I hadn’t eaten lunch.


Lisa January 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

I’m so used to not shopping that it feels like an out of body experience to go to one of the big box stores with a friend. I tagged along with a neighbor last week when she grocery shopped. Her total was nearly $400…that’s more than we spend in two months! I left without buying a single item because we didn’t need anything.


Auntie Karen January 24, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’ve never kept track, but I think I have saved hundreds of dollars by not going to bigbox/warehouse stores for a single item. If I need a plunger, I’ll drop into the small, locally owned hardware store and buy a plunger. Same goes for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk–I head for the easily accessible small store. I may pay a few cents more, but I save a bundle by not even being tempted by the must-have good deals. There is something about fighting parking lot traffic, struggling into a super store, and trudging through aisles that triggers an as-long-as-I’m-here-I-should-make-it-worthwhile feeling that is hard for me to conquer.


marie January 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm

When we go to home depot, my husband holds my hand to keep me focused. I get so caught up in the new things we could do to our home, if we had the money!


Stephanie January 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm

oh man, I struggle to be the olive oil lady. I have dramatically cut down my trips to target and the like. It’s much easier for me to say no if I never set foot in the store to begin with. I have better luck ordering on amazon because at least there I’m only ordering one thing at a time whereas if I go to an actual store I will pass a million things on the way to the register. I also only go to SAMs once or twice a month now and it’s for grocery items that we are actually out of now. It’s a process!


Amanda January 24, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Ha ha! I always go with a list and usually end up crossing things off the list while in the store if I can think of a substitute I already have at home. Hit me with your best shot impulse buys!


Trish January 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm

yes, I can remember running in to the store for just one or two things, not getting a cart (because I didn’t need one), and staggering to the checkout with items dangling from my arms. I could find no way to cure myself of this. Only age and the desire for less clutter has cured me. and taking a step away from consumerism. And as far as food (cheese, glorious cheese) trying to keep my weight in check has helped in preventing those impulse purchases of Cotswald, Red Leister, Stilton, all the heavenly cheeses of Britain. Double Glouster, sigh.


Kailey January 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I do pretty good on this front, but not because of any discipline or self-control, I really just don’t have the vision when it comes to home decor, items of clothing etc. Plus I don’t have a car so I have to worry about getting everything home. The idea of having my bags spill everywhere on the bus is enough to make me leave everything on the shelves!
Where I crack is the grocery store. Last week I picked up peanut butter because it was a good price only to get home and realize I already had two unopened jars. It won’t go bad but it was completely unnecessary and impulsive.


alexandra January 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I went with a a friend to Target. I had 3 things to buy. She had 6, no maybe it was 7 things? She forgot her list. She bought $80 worth of “stuff”. She kept saying her husband was going to be mad at her but kept on. I kept quiet. I have been there.
I looked at all the things she bought that we just don’t even use anymore like papertowels, swiffer re-fills, an impulse baby gift and I felt liberated. I had come out on the other side. I said nothing. We are all on our own path. I’m glad I have made it away from that road though.


Rachel W. January 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I walked out of Wal-Mart with just one item yesterday. It is surprisingly easy when you go into the store with only enough money to purchase the one thing.


Theresa Maile January 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm

I learned from this blog that even grocery shopping can be over-done and include impulse buying. When I am at all other stores, such as Target or the big box stores, I feel like a super hero with the power to resist buying.


One Day At A Time January 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Struggle struggle struggle. I try my best to stick to a list but I get so distracted by other things. Yesterday I came home with a pineapple in addition to my grocery list. I did ok at Target but only because I stated in one small area of the store.


Jean Burke January 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Good advice indeed.


tna January 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Ha. Funny you should mention this. I was at Target the other day and bought a dish brush. I have the opposite problem of impulse buying….extremely lengthy thought out buying? I had been considering buying a dish brush for a couple of years. Target is about a 10 mile walk for me so when I go there I look around. I was hoping they had Kirk’s unscented bar soap. They didn’t. I did find a nice looking dish brush with a handle for a little over a dollar. I don’t really plan to wash dishes with my dish brush but I will use it to scrub the kitchen sink. I find I will do an icky job happier and more often if I don’t have to actually touch the mess and a long handled brush works for me. I did buy an HD TV antenna at Best Buy on my walk home from Target. I am amazed at all the television stations I now get on my TV with no monthly charge. I had been putting off this purchase since television stations made the switch to HD signals. So ya, I can buy a single item and usually do and it takes me forever to make myself actually buy that item. I think carrying everything I purchase home in my backpack probably helps in the decision making too.


Libby Gontarz January 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Here are my “tricks” for keeping consumerism in check:
1. I don’t watch tv–no ads
2. I refuse to look at the sale papers, inserts, etc.–avoid ads
3. At thrift stores, I look around and make note of all the out of style, formerly “must have” items that I wanted and that others have junked.
These 3 practices changed my perspective.


Lilypad January 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm

When I go to Costco, I’m usually buying only 10 pound bags of organic sugar, two at a time. (We’re a small family and most of their stuff is too much for us.) I steadfastly steer past the other stuff, for which I have no money and no space in our small rental. So I guess I’m the “Lady with a Sweet Tooth” at my local Costco store!


Shannon January 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Struggling to be the olive oil lady, lol. Getting so much better! I love the idea of going to the smaller stores for things. A couple weeks ago I need some drin opener, so I shopped the neighborhood hardware store. Today I went to the shoe stor just for shoelaces for my son, and came out with shoelaces! My friend was with me to buy one thing from Michaels, and ended up with a whole bunch of things, spending over $30! Tha totally used to be me, and truthfully I almost bought something there too. I think the problem for me was I used to bundle my errands when the kids were little, but that got us into the habit of “going to Target to see what we need.” Now I’m seeing there is very little we really need.


Elaine January 25, 2013 at 4:33 am

Wow, these posts about how hard it is are amazing! It’s not hard for me. If I need something (even just 1 thing), I go into the store and buy it….and, can’t wait to leave the store. Looking around at all of the stuff isn’t fun, so I rarely buy more. Maybe this is because:
1) I hate clutter and I really think thru whatever I need, and if I have something else which will work to do it.
2) I love meal planning, so, I buy food, both in bulk and at regular stores but use all of it.
3) As many have said, it gets easier as you get older. I’m 54, so, maybe this age comment which many people made has merit!


Carla January 25, 2013 at 8:44 am

This happens to me at the grocery store because we don’t do the ‘list shopping’, rather I buy what’s on sale and keep a stocked pantry and cooked from what is there. So sometimes there is more on sale that I expected (like the time I could get 10 mangoes for $3, so I got 30 mangoes and froze them for smoothies), so I end up spending more. But I think in general, having gone through times as a kid where food wasn’t always plentiful, I get a little twitchy when the pantries are low and am compelled to have a full, though not overflowing pantry. Not ideal but awareness is the first step! 🙂

But for non-food items, in general I consider a successful shopping trip to be where I walk out with nothing.

This makes me terrible to shop with for new things. I always question purchases, in fact sometimes too much – it can take me 2 weeks to buy windshield wipers (even though they were streaking and it’s winter) because I couldn’t figure out which was the better buy so went to the store 3 times.

For the rest, which is the most, shopping we do in thrift stores, I keep a running list of what we need and what we could use if it’s a good price. Like clothing in larger sizes for the kids will be bought if it’s cheap enough that it offsets storing the item.


patti January 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I have always had an aversion to “over shopping” so I guess it is my frugal nature. I call big box stores “the $100 stores” because people always have carts full of stuff and think they are saving money. I do go to Sam’s but only because, through cost comparison, I have figured out what I can buy there cheaper. To curb my impulse buying at grocery stores, I put my impulse buys in the seat of the cart (where babies go) so I can see how much I am buying on impulse. It usually doesn’t take long for me to take everything back and keep to my list. Hope this helps!


Jill A January 29, 2016 at 9:33 am

I like this idea. I’ll have to try that.


Julia January 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Iʻm with Elaine, I have no problem with getting one thing and then getting the heck out of there! I donʻt like to be in stores, for the most part. I just donʻt have the patience. I also buy food in bulk, and how many bulk items I buy are limited by the number of reusable bags or containers I have with me, so I plan accordingly.

Really just happiest when I donʻt have to go to any stores at all, which is most of the time, except for the grocery shopping!


Lisa January 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Good tip, Patti! About putting the impulse buys in the baby seat so it’s right in front of your face. I usually congratulate myself if I go to the store and leave with only the things on my list because it doesn’t happen very often!


Megan January 26, 2013 at 6:05 am

My weakness is clearance items that I try to buy year-round for kid birthday parties. I have started to review items in my cart before I enter the checkout line to make sure I really NEED everything in there. I almost always put a few things back. P.S. Surely through the inspiration of Katy’s blog and her readers, I have declared to my family that I have stopped buying paper towels. I have been cutting up worn out/stained clothing and have it in a cute bin for my family to grab when needed. My 9-year-old daughter just revealed that she has been hoarding two roles of p.t. in a desk drawer in her room. She’ll get on board someday!


Annie January 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I just checked my credit card balance and realized I am still struggling with this issue even though I thought I had resolved it. I had made it my goal to pay off my card by 12/31/12, and I did. However I had also resolved to stick to a monthly budget from now on and put whatever was left after paying bills into savings. Thankfully the amount was small enough to pay off, but large enough to wake me up to the realization that I need to do a better job avoiding impulse buys as most of the extra money that padded my bill came from such purchases.
I did learn one good trick, I now send my husband to the drugstore with a list of only what we need. That way I can’t be swayed by the new cosmetics/lotions/hair stuff, and I know he won’t buy any extras for himself because he’s cheap when it comes to the kind of stuff they sell there.


Tracy Stone January 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm

So I read this one day and then the next went to Costco and spent $320. Some days I do so well and others I totally forget. I’m so sick of stuff, too, having just cleaned out my in-laws house. We brought home lots of “stuff”, which I’ll go through again and probably donate more. All would be good. I don’t really even have a place to put any of it. Does put it in perspective, though, that at the end of your life, it’s all going to go to Goodwill. I did actually go to Costco and get one thing one time, and I was so happy with myself, but my membership had expired and I had to pay for that, too. I laughed at myself for that one. Can’t get out of there cheaply!


Paula in the UP January 27, 2013 at 7:26 am

“I am the olive oil lady”. I would have no problem what so ever doing this, except for the fact that I seldom like to make a special trip for just one item. Another thing that makes it very easy for me …….we don’t have a Target, we don’t have a Costco or a Sam’s or a mall really. Just very few stores to tempt me. We do have a Walmart which I don’t really like to shop at but it is the only store in the area that has any type of craft supplies, fabric that sort of stuff.

I have also learned to really not like to shop and spend the money, I have a goal of paying off our house in 3 years to keep me motivated!!!


Heidi January 29, 2016 at 4:36 am

I can purchase only what I need. It started as a necessity when my husband was laid off suddenly, but it became a habit. I enjoy having a clutter free home and how easy it is to stay organized. I was never much of a walmart or similar cheap product store shopper. My husband and I were raised by parents that bought good quality items second hand, so we’ve always done the same. Our home is full of furniture that will outlast us.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: