dollar signAt my stage of life (children sprung, I work at home) I don’t need to buy stuff as often as I did when our kids were outgrowing clothes and I needed an office wardrobe. Bottom line – I don’t do much shopping. However, underwear does wear out and thus I embarked on what I thought would be a simple quest – socks. After years of darning my socks when they got holes in them, I had a modest mission – buy about 6 pairs of warm, black, sturdy crew socks. My goal was to get some all purpose socks that I could wear with jeans or dressy black slacks. Since I had these specific criteria, I thought I’d by-pass the local discount stores and go to several medium priced stores – a shoe store and a department store.

I quickly learned that my basic black socks were going to be a challenge. Apparently many stores find that they can entice women to buy more socks if they specialize – different lengths, different colors, different designs – all of them thin. Since I was in the mall anyway, I ended up checking 10 different stores plus 2 more on my drive home. None had the basic black thick socks I wanted.

So, I did what many people do as their first step – I checked Amazon. They had some that might work, but I couldn’t tell from the pictures whether they were really thick and warm. I checked some other online stores. Same result. My daughter suggested checking sports/outfitter type stores. I checked some websites. They had socks with a high wool content that looked like they would work. BUT, they were expensive, $15 per pair plus shipping. I decided to spring for two pair. However, intrepid shopper that I had become, I wasn’t giving up on finding simple socks like the ones I had bought at a cheapo dollar store at least five years ago.

Top 2 socks = $15 each Lower 10 socks = 80 cents each

Top 2 socks = $15 each
Lower 10 socks = 80 cents each

I finally decided to make one last check at a couple discount stores and found pretty much what I wanted – a pack of 10 black socks, high cotton content, for $8.00. So, which is better the $15 or 80 cent socks? I’ve now worn and washed them several times. The verdict? They’re about equal.

So what did I learn from this shopping experience:
1. Time counts
Serious shopping for the quality and cost conscious buyer can take a lot of time. Weighing the cost of your time to research a good buy and check prices may offset paying less money. Which is more valuable – my time or my money?
2. Fashion sells
Stores have a vested interest in trying to manipulate our wants. While I had no interest in designer socks, apparently many people do – or have been persuaded that they should. Many socks had designs, pictures, or words on them. I call them “silly socks” because all these cute things are not bad but they do make them less versatile. Basic black goes with everything. Maybe I’m just a stick in the mud, but I’d rather treat myself to some chocolate than buy limited use socks. PS: After reading this blog, many of my friends kidded me and took me to task saying that an occasional splurge on “silly socks” was fun and an opportunity to express their creativity. So there! I guess I am a stick in the mud.
3. Online shopping pros
It can be quicker
*It can save gas (at least the gas in my car, if not the delivery truck)
*Some stores offer free returns.
4. Online shopping cons:
You can’t feel and try on the merchandise. Fit and look may not be what you anticipated.
*Local stores suffer loss of business. This may cause employees to be laid off or the store to close, both of which hurt your neighbors and the local economy.
*Lack of personal advice from a sales person who knows the merchandise
5. Temptation lurks
Being in stores can tantalize us to buy more things that we didn’t originally intend just because we see things displayed. Not bad, if I really need it, but then we get back to the classic “needs vs wants” decision. Solution: Wait! If it’s a genuine need it will be there tomorrow or next week. If it passes, I haven’t lost any money.
6. Quality to cost ratio
Quality often costs more – but not always. The challenge is to figure out when paying more will get you more. That often takes time. (see #1)
7. Waste offsets
In my quest for the perfect socks, I also bought some small men’s cotton socks thinking that I could shrink them to fit me. It didn’t work. I gave them to my husband who really didn’t need more socks. We decided to give some of his socks away. Waste can be offset by generosity.
8. Sale and Return Psychology
I like sales. I like to save money. But, as Joshua Fields Milburn says, “Forget sale prices. Everything is 100% off when you don’t buy it.” Also Joshua Becker explains the psychology of return policies in his blog post How Return Policies Encourage Spending.
9. Thrills are short term
The thrill of something new can be a mood enhancer. For some folks shopping is recreation or a way to cancel out depression. After I got my socks, it was fun to open a package of fresh socks and wear them for the first time. It didn’t take long, however, for the high to wear off. Now it’s just, “Oh yeah, those socks. They’re fine.”

What kind of shopper are you? What are your criteria before you buy something?