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Without realizing it, many consumers find themselves spending much more than they intended. They see a good buy on a CD component player for $89 and walk out having spent $150. Even if they didn't fall for "bait and switch" tactics, they can end up buying a service contract, a CD rack, a CD cleaning kit etc., etc.

The term "mission creep" comes from the military. It means that you start with one idea in mind and end up involving a lot more troops as well as expanding the purpose of the mission. Some of this is inevitable. We see this happening in Bosnia right now where peace keeping troops are being asked to make decisions normally made by a mayor or a town council. In an extreme example, Vietnam started out with a few thousand advisors and ended up with over a half-million US troops.

As the old saying goes, "When you are up to your ankles in alligators, it is hard to remember that your purpose was to drain the pool."

How does this apply to consumers? Let's take credit as an example. At beginning of this century it was hard to sell big ticket items on the installment plan because people were so thrifty. When the mass production of automobiles began, everyone wanted a car but could not afford the large lump sum. As a result they started buying on the installment plan, since they could manage these small monthly payments. Once the public had accepted this idea, many large appliances, such as refrigerators and stoves, were marketed and sold the same way. Today, credit is taken as a fact of life, and people charge everyday expenses like groceries and utility bills and then pay these off for years. Long term loans should be for expensive durable goods, items with an extended lifetime. Long term loans should NEVER be used for short term needs or you may be paying for a meal in 2010 that you ate in 1999!

Mission creep applies to many consumer issues. Take insurance. Some insurance such as health, home, car and term life are a good idea. However, today, there is insurance for just about everything. For example, credit cards offer insurance for protection against illness or theft of your card. Naturally this charge is simply added to you statement every month. If you pay the minimum payment, which primarily pays interest, and allow these charges to be added each month to your account, you may be paying off the card for most of your life!

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Service contracts (which are really insurance), extras, accessories, credit plans are often sold as important enhancements. The bottom line is this: if you had not considered the extra, don't buy it or go home and rethink your purchase. You should comparison shop for all these additional expenses and not be taken by surprise.

Home improvement, especially in older homes, is a another good example of mission creep. A basic $5,000 job of remodeling a kitchen can easily escalate to $10,000. When old counters are removed, there may be water damage that needs to be repaired or plumbing that needs to be replaced. It is a good rule of thumb to assume you will pay at least 50% more than you anticipated.

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