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How Much Money Should You Take When You Go Shopping?

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How much money do you take with you when you go shopping? Personally, I carry a lot, at least, I have access to a lot of money. In an earlier article I shared what I carry in my wallet – I normally carry anywhere from $60-$100 cash, a personal credit card, a business credit card, and an ATM/Debit card. I pay my credit cards in full each month, so that means I generally have access to a lot of money when I leave the house everyday… But that doesn’t mean I spend it! When I go shopping I look for ways not to spend money, instead of looking for ways to spend money.

How much money should you take when you go shopping?

I received a question from a reader earlier this week that asked how much money you should carry when you go shopping.

How much money do you need when you go shopping?  There are so many factors to consider.  Would you be kind enough as to give me some pointers as what to look for or avoid?  I really appreciate your help.

Thanks, C.

C., thank you for sending in your question. That is a very broad question, and the answer will vary from person to person. But I will do my best to share tips on how I go shopping, and I will invite readers to share their tips as well. I’m sure we will all learn a few good pointers!

Never go shopping without an agenda and a budget

One of the first and best recommendations I can make is to never go shopping without an agenda and a budget. Simply jumping in the car and driving to the store is a recipe for overspending – at least it is for me! Before I go shopping, I think about what I need and I write it down on a list. That way I am mentally prepared to spend a certain amount of money.

Make a grocery list. When you go grocery shopping, go with a list and a general idea of how much you will spend. Try to avoid items that aren’t on the list. The only exceptions I make are when certain staples go on sale. And I only buy those items I know I will use in a relatively short period of time.

Try window shopping online first. Before going to a mall or department store, try window shopping online first – that way you have a good idea of what is on sale and what you are looking for. Then reserve your trip to the store just to try on the items or see them in person before buying. This is also beneficial because you are less likely to make impulse buys if you browse online but make your purchases in the store.

Avoid the “It’s on sale” temptation

Raise your hand if you’ve used this line before – “But it’s on sale! I’m saving money!”

Wrong – you aren’t saving money if you are buying something you don’t need! A good way to avoid the temptation of buying things because they are on sale is to place a mandatory 3 day waiting period on any unplanned purchases. If you still want the item after three days and it fits into your normal budget, then go for it! Otherwise, skip it. Chances are the feeling of needing that item will be gone and you will decide you can do without the item.

Know why you spend

Some people shop for fun or because it gives them a rush to find a “great deal” or the perfect “fill in the blank.” Think about why you spend money – and if you are finding yourself spending money for the wrong reasons, you might want to rethink your spending patterns. You can find related information in the following articles:

Sometimes you only need to make small changes to see big results.

How do you limit your spending while shopping?

These are the steps I take to limit my spending, but I’m sure others have found things that work better for them. I would love to hear how you limit your spending while shopping!


Published or updated February 26, 2009.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kristen

This was a pretty broad question. If I’m shopping to splurge I set a specific amount to spend and stick to it. If I’m grocery shopping I know how much we usually spend, but I’m always prepared to spend a bit more, just in case.

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2 Miranda

Like Kristen, I think it depends on my purpose. My husband and I recently started using a list, and thinking about our grocery purchases ahead of time. It’s amazing how much you save when you aren’t just randomly tossing things into the cart.

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3 Ryan

Miranda: It’s faster and easier doing grocery shopping from a list as well – I move through the aisles only grabbing what’s on the list instead of scanning every item as I walk by. :)

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4 Grant Baldwin

The first time you go shopping with a set budgeted amount may feel like shooting from the hip, but it will get easier.

We’ve had a set budget amount in our “grocery envelope” and although it took a few weeks of trial and error, we figured out what works for us. We only take cash for the simple fact that if I walk in with $100 in cash, I’m only going to leave with $100 of product…otherwise, we’ve got bigger issues…as is criminal ones!

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5 Andy @ Retire at 40

I usually take a list with me, or what I actually need is so small (either 2 or 3 items) that I don’t need one. Tonight I went on the way home from work and got cat food and milk, which is exactly what I went in there for. I knew the cat-food was on special and yes, I do need it, I have a cat. :)

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6 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

These recommendations are solid– I would add “Shopping with a Mission”. Know what you need– go in, get it, and get out. This way you don’t fall into the traps the retailer lays for you– impulse buys.

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7 Ryan

Great tip, DDFD. That’s what I prefer to do. Have a list – get in and get out.

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8 Manshu

Like you I carry a little bit of cash and all my cards. The way I approach this is by going for grocery not more than once a week.

It is much easier to control your temptations if you dont go to the store at all, rather than trying to control them once you are inside the store.

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9 Craig

I don’t have a set dollar amount, it’s hard to determine that. If I know I am paying in cash, I try to take the amount necessary to buy my item making sure I don’t spend more. Of course I have been in Borders and Best Buy before when that one purchase turned into 3 using CC, ha.

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10 TStrump

I carry very little cash and usually use my credit card.
Lately, I’ve been leaving it at home so that I don’t spend so much.

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