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Smart Shopping Secrets for People with ADD

Contributed by: Ronelle Grier


Shopping… whether you regard it as an exciting adventure or a dreaded chore, it’s part of everyday life. We are constantly in need of food and clothing for ourselves and our families, aspirin for our headaches, gas and oil for our cars, and a multitude of other things that modern life requires.

When you have ADD, like I do, shopping for anything can be overwhelming. How do I find the best price? Which cell phone plan should I choose? Is it better to use a credit card or pay cash? What if I buy something and then change my mind or find a better price somewhere else? How do I take advantage of rebate offers? Is clipping coupons really worth the time it takes? How can I avoid making so many trips to the grocery store every week?

The secret is to apply the same basic rules to shopping as to any other task: use methods and techniques that work with, not against, your ADD.

By now you probably have a good idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, like a lot of other ADD-ers, getting to places on time is a major challenge for me. A well-meaning friend, who does not have ADD, suggested that I set my watch and all of my clocks ahead so I’ll think it’s later than it actually is. This might be the perfect solution for someone else, but for me, it’s akin to telling an alcoholic to stop after one drink. It simply wouldn’t work.

As a single mother of three, I’ve always been a consummate bargain shopper, and I refuse to let my ADD prevent me from getting the most for my money. Here are some of the techniques I use to make shopping more fun, more efficient, and much more economical.

Be mindful of your emotions

People who have ADD are often more susceptible to their feelings, and research shows that emotion has a large influence on spending. I have a handy four-letter word for just such occasions: H A L T

H = Hungry A = Angry L = Lonely T = Tired

If you’re feeling any of these things, avoid shopping if at all possible. Have a snack or a meal before you go to the grocery store to avoid buying things you really don’t need. When I’m hungry, everything looks good, especially those colorful packages of non-nutritious, high-priced snack foods.

Hunger is not the only shopping saboteur. Other emotions can also contribute to poor buying decisions. Anger, especially when it’s directed toward your spouse or significant other, makes you more likely to overspend out of spite or to make yourself feel better. A better strategy would be to avoid the stores and take a brisk walk or trip to the gym instead.

A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that sadness caused people to spend more for a particular item than they would have otherwise, and that the increased spending did not lighten the shopper’s mood. Be careful about shopping when you’re feeling down. You could end up feeling even worse by overspending your budget without improving your disposition.

Fatigue can also have a negative effect on spending. Say I need a new winter coat. When I’m tired, I’m more likely to go to the nearest department store and overpay because I don’t have the energy to check the ads for sales or make the rounds of the local discount emporiums.

Of course we can’t always wait for the perfect moment to shop when dinner has to be on the table by six so the kids can get to soccer practice on time. But doing a brief emotional self-check before you walk out the door can help prevent you from making some purchases you’ll regret later.

Successful shopping trips start with preparation

We’ve all been there: we roam the aisles of the supermarket for far longer than we intended, we bring home a trunk full of groceries, put everything away and realize that we still have no idea what to make for dinner. Or breakfast the next morning. We vow to get better organized before the next shopping trip, but somehow we just don’t find the time. Sound familiar? Here are some tips that may help:

  • I keep a running list on the island in my kitchen. The refrigerator door works, too, as long as it’s in a place the whole family has access to. When someone finishes a box of cereal, or notices that we’re out of frozen broccoli, they put it on the list. Since children are not the most reliable inventory-takers, I try to survey the house before I leave for the supermarket, checking for necessities like laundry detergent, paper towels, and milk.
  • Over the weekend, I take some time to review the weekly ads and make a list of what items I plan to buy at each store. Then the list goes into my car, so I know what I want without having to read the in-store circulars before I start shopping.
  • Coupons can be a good source of savings, especially when we’re all trying to make our grocery money go a little farther than it did the week before. But clipping, sorting and filing all of those coupons, not to mention remembering to take them along when you shop, can be overwhelming. Some supermarkets make it possible to download coupons directly from the internet to your store loyalty card, so the savings are automatically applied when you check out. Certain retailers will also send coupons to your cell phone via text or email so you can reap the savings without the paperwork.

Shop off the beaten path

One of the perks of having ADD is that we tend to think outside the box. This trait can lead to some great, albeit unusual, bargains. I’ve found great prices on national brand cereal at the drugstore, and I never pay more than fifty cents for greeting cards at my local hardware store. My daughter recently found a copy of a popular teenage book at our local T J Maxx for $4.00, less than half its bookstore price.

The great rebate debate

Rebates can result in super savings or mass confusion, depending on your individual shopping style. I try to avoid rebate offers in favor of in-store sales, since it’s challenging (if not impossible) for me to keep track of the required forms, UPC codes, and mailing deadlines. But every now and then, I come across a rebate offer that’s just too good to resist. If you find yourself tempted to make a purchase that involves a rebate, here are some ideas that may help:

  • Apply for your rebate online whenever possible. This eliminates the need to fill out forms, remove UPC codes from packages, address envelopes and remember to mail everything in by the specified date. Some retailers, such as major drugstore chains, have what they call “single-check rebates,” where you fill out one form, usually online, and receive one check for all eligible purchases during a given month.
  • If you’re applying for a mail-in rebate, read all the fine print carefully. Make sure you have the necessary forms, receipts, UPC codes, and that you meet the required deadlines for the purchase and the rebate submission. Make copies of everything.
  • If you do make a mistake, don’t assume that all is lost. When I recently missed the deadline for a rebate, I mailed it anyway and then called the toll-free number on the rebate form. I explained the situation, and the representative took my name and said he would make a note in my file. I did receive my rebate. This doesn’t always work, but it never hurts to try!
  • Sort your mail carefully when you’re expecting a rebate. Some companies put their rebates in envelopes that look like junk mail so that customers are more likely to discard them.
  • If this still sounds overwhelming, enlist the help of a more organized friend. Offer to trade favors. Since smart shopping is one of my skills, I’ve had friends offer to do my rebate paperwork in exchange for helping them find bargains on the things they need.

Choose your tools

A friend called me recently, all excited about an offer she saw in the local newspaper: There was a coupon offering customers the chance to purchase a $25 Meijer gift card for $22. She asked me if I wanted her to clip the coupon for me and was surprised when I said no. To me, saving three dollars wasn’t worth the hassle of picking up the coupon from her, buying the gift card, and then trying to remember that I had it and where it was the next time I went shopping at Meijer. For someone else, this might have been a great deal. For me it was more trouble than it was worth.

The secret to being a smart shopper, especially when you’re challenged by ADD, is to do what works for you. I’ve learned from experience that there are plenty of ways to save money without losing your sanity. I’ll see you at the next big clearance sale!

Ronelle Grier is a freelance writer who writes for several local and national publications. Her background includes marketing, public relations, technical writing, and feature stories. She is a two-time recipient of the National Jewish Press Association’s Simon Rockower Award for articles published in the Detroit Jewish News. Ronelle lives with her three children in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She is currently working on a book about how to be a smart shopper in a tough economy. For suggestions or more information, contact her at

Posted on January 21, 2009