Sunday, December 7, 2008

The $2 Wal-Mart Challenge

Something happened to me the other day that’s never happened to me before. I lost my credit card. Oh, it’s somewhere in my car, because I threw it on the seat when I couldn’t get it to work in the $3 automated drive-up car wash that has become one of my new favorite places. But by the time I got home, it was nowhere to be found. All five members of my family took turns looking for it, but all that they were successful in doing was messing up the driver seat position. I’m still not sure I have it back where I like it…

Anyway, we called the credit card company right away and cancelled the card. They promised to send a new one within a week. We only have one credit card, so we did without one in the interim. It wasn’t a big deal, but I must admit I never realized how many places our credit card number is entered on-line. And we had to change all of them.

We pay our credit card bill in full each month. We haven’t carried a balance in many years. Since we have stopped writing checks for almost everything (having switched to on-line bill pay), the credit card bill has become one of the larger outgoing expenses we have each month. So, I sat up and took notice when I saw that our next credit card bill was about half of what it typically totals. Was this just a coincidence or was it a direct result of not having the card for a week?

This reminds me of the “$2 Wal-Mart challenge” I sometimes like to play. You should try it sometime. First, take your wallet or purse with you to a Super Wal-mart, – complete with credit cards, checkbook and cash. Set a time limit of a half-hour to wander the aisles. The goal is to leave the store after spending less than $2. Can you do it?

Sometime later, try the experiment again, but this time leave all forms of buying power at home, except for $2 in cash in your pocket. Naturally, you can stick to the budget this way. And temptation is minimized because you are operating under a hard limit. But the way you walk through the store may be just a little different.

Why take the challenge? The first half of the challenge requires self-control. The second-half builds austerity. I believe we need to revisit the ability to buy only what we need. I can tell you that I have a tendency to add unplanned items to my basket whenever I go to a superstore. It’s not hard to walk the aisles and find things that you might need – a twenty-pack of medium-sized wood screws, ten pair of athletic socks, or an extra coffee-maker for the downstairs office. Hey, I can put all of these things to use someday. But do I really need them right now? And should I add them to stack of stuff that I already own at home? We live in a world where we can get almost anything that we desire within a few miles of where we live, or even have it delivered to our door after ordering it on-line. So why wait?

Waiting might be a good thing, considering the economic conditions that may be headed our way. Our lifestyle of wealth and overabundance may actually be reversed for some time, if not permanently. I’m willing to go without the convenience of those wood screws taking up space in my toolbox if it means I have a little more security in the years ahead. Oh, and I’m also thinking about losing my credit card every couple of months.

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