Spending Control Tips from a Pro

woman on sofa with shoes

Americans spend a mind-blowing $1.2 trillion every year on stuff they don’t need. As a professional organizer, I deal with the fallout from shopping gone wrong all the time.

Some lessons from closets I’ve seen:

DOUBLE TROUBLE: It’s a classic money-waster: People (mysteriously) buy things they already own.

While organizing one woman’s closet, we discovered she had 12 pairs of nearly identical tan trousers!

Smart Shopping Tip: Before you shop, double-check what you own: check the back of the fridge, in the far reaches of closets, on the high and low shelves of the linen closet.

Then, create a “Do Not Buy List” of items you’ve stockpiled. Keep the list in your smart phone or planner, so it’s handy when you see the next little black cardigan you don’t need.

COSTCO CRAZY: Shopping in bulk can save time and money. But do you really need 500 manila envelopes, or would 10 suffice? Can you save money by buying only one glue stick, instead of the 20-pack?

Smart Shopping Tip: Calculate how long it will take you to use up the stash you’re considering (and whether items might deteriorate). If the bargain is too good to pass up, split the cost of a bulk buy with a friend. Or skip it.

 FANTASY SHOPPING: Shopping based on a dream, rather than reality, is a big source of money misspent.

One client, a busy working mom, was wedded to the fantasy that one day she would have time to cook elaborate meals, using the specialized gizmos and appliances that sat idle in her kitchen.

Smart Shopping Tip: Give purchases a reality check. If you need a rake, your shopping cart should not also include a pan that makes a cake shaped like a giant donut. Even if it’s on sale. Even if it’s really cute.


You’re human. You’ve made some shopping mistakes. Hopefully you’ve learned from them. Here are some ways to recoup your losses:

Return items that still have the tags on them, if possible.

Sell new or nearly-new items at consignment shops, on online classifieds sites like ebayclassifieds.com, or hold a tag sale.  

Donate items to a not-for-profit thrift shop or organization and get a tax deduction.

Swap unwanted items with friends. It’s like shopping for free.

 Re-gift new items—carefully!

Organization expert Lisa Zaslow is the founder of www.GothamOrganizers.com. Visit to receive super-easy free organizing tips to save money, time, space and effort.