Impulse buys are those random, unnecessary purchases that eat into your potential savings. You make them without thinking, which is why you can’t seem to recall what happened to that $20 bill in your wallet or how your budget got so off balance.
It all adds up — your morning Starbucks pick-me-up ($6), the stylish bag you saw and just had to have during your Target grocery run ($30), the cookies you bought from the Girl Scouts in the entryway — it’s a good cause, right? ($5), and the Chipotle you decided to grab on the way home because you’re too tired to cook ($9).
Before you know it, you’ve spent $50 over the course of the day on impulse buys. It happens to the best of us.
Retail marketers are trained in sneaky tactics that influence our urge to buy. Our personalities and moods can also lead to impulse shopping — retail therapy is real. In an article in Psychology Today, public health specialist Elana Sandler said retail therapy can be a beneficial way to feel renewed, especially in difficult times.
No matter your trigger, it’s important to become more conscious of your spending habits. Imagine how much better off your finances would be if you saved every penny you mindlessly spent on stuff you don’t really need.
How to Stop Impulse Buying
Find yourself getting sucked into frivolous spending? Here is some practical advice you can put into action to keep more money in your wallet.
1. Get Serious About Your Budget
Have a clear picture of your finances and review them monthly, if not weekly. Everyone can use a little help or motivation with budgeting, and there’s an app for that. Or, use the cash envelope method to help stick to the budget you’ve set. When you have defined financial goals and a budget to match, impulse buys will be harder to justify.
Unless you have the self-discipline of a monk, there are going to be times when you want to indulge just a little bit. A budget that only covers basic life essentials? Not fun. Add room in your budget for discretionary spending. That way you can make those random purchases without feeling guilty.
2. Set a Goal That Inspires You to Avoid Spending
All those little impulse buys can drain your savings or leave you paying off debt instead of enjoying what you love. Maybe that’s a much-needed vacation. Then plant reminders around your home and in your wallet to remind you why you don’t really need that impulse buy. It could be photos of your dream destination or silly things like a straw hat and sunscreen — anything that reminds you that you have bigger plans for your cash.
3. Ask Yourself if Every Purchase Is Worth It
Before you reach for your debit card (or hit the purchase button if you’re shopping online), ask yourself a little question: Is this worth it? You can even attach a sticky note with that question to your credit card. If it’s a $3 magazine that’ll keep you from being bored to death on a flight, then maybe that answer is yes. If it’s a pair of shoes that cost the equivalent of an entire day’s pay and you’re already stressed about debt, then take a hard pass.
Staying aware of your goals can steer you away from unnecessary purchases. If you’ve got it on your mind that you want to get out of debt in 12 months, you may not be as inclined to buy that $15 graphic T-shirt.
Shifting your way of thinking can snap you out of the habit of mindlessly buying stuff you don’t need. Take a moment to consider what you’re spending money on and why.
4. Delete Your Ordering Info From Retail Websites
Online retailers want buying to be as simple as the click of a button. They offer to save your debit or credit card information so you don’t have to pull out your card and type in a bunch of numbers each time.
If you’re trying to fight impulse shopping, however, taking that additional step gives you more time to reconsider your purchases. Remove your financial information from online sites to prevent effortless impulse buying.
5. Put Parental Blocks on Your Own Devices
You don’t have to have kids to find the benefit in parental control settings. Block your favorite retail sites or set up purchase restrictions for the App Store or Google Play. Sure, you’ll know the code to circumvent the parental controls, but having that extra layer to get around might deter you from buying on impulse.
Removing retail apps from devices altogether can also help.
6. Unsubscribe From Emails and Text Alerts
Oh, the temptation of all the deals. That email for 30% off all footwear that just popped up in your inbox has you dreaming about getting new sandals, even though you already own several pairs. Did someone tell them shoes are your weakness? Avoid the trap by unsubscribing from email lists or text alerts from shops, restaurants or businesses you know will be hard to resist. There will always be another sale.
Take advantage of deals when the purchase makes sense for your budget, not just due to fear of missing out.
7. Understand the Tricks Retailers Play
The shops you frequent have entire marketing teams working to entice you to buy through product placement and other clever strategies. If you’re trying to save money, fight against the temptation.
That can mean ignoring the pretty displays for stuff you didn’t think you needed until you saw it. Or perhaps taking a closer look at that “great sale” turns out to be for a product whose packaging has shrunk, making it easier to walk away. And those outlet mall deals might not be such a steal.
Teaching yourself to be a shrewd shopper can help you avoid being lured by clever marketing.
8. Shop With Your Financial Accountability Buddy
A friend or family member who’s aware of your financial challenges and goals is the perfect person to bring along on shopping trips. Your accountability buddy can reign in your tendency to overspend on the unnecessary. Just make sure it’s someone who’s not afraid to speak up on your budget’s behalf.
9. Carry a Limited Amount of Cash
If you tend to rely on your credit card to cover impulse purchases when you’re shopping, switch to cash and only carry the amount you need for that day.
Using your credit card for impulse purchases only adds extra cost — in the form of interest — to something you didn’t need to buy in the first place. You could literally freeze your cards in a block of ice, shred them to pieces or simply keep them hidden away at home.
Stick with cash only, plan your purchases in advance and take only the amount of money you’ll need for that one shopping trip.
10. Give Yourself Time Before Deciding to Buy
That gotta-have-it-now feeling is what leads so many of us to buy things on impulse. But pressing pause on buying is often all it takes to realize what we’re craving isn’t something we really must have. Some people implement a 30-day rule — delaying a purchase for about a month — but you can really give yourself any length of time.
When shopping online, use the Google Chrome extension Icebox, which prevents you from making immediate online purchases, giving you time to reconsider how you’re spending your money.
While you’re waiting, take inventory of what you already have.
You know that coffee mug with the witty saying you just had to buy? It’ll end up in the kitchen cabinet along with a dozen similar ones you already own. Coffee is life, but when you can fill up an entire dishwasher with mugs alone, you gotta start saying “no” to more.
Taking stock of what you already own at home — whether it’s clothes, shoes, books or dishware — can help you put things in the right perspective when something attractive catches your eye while shopping.
11. Track Your Daily Spending
Don’t wait until the end of the month to analyze your spending and see if everything matches up to how much you said you’d spend in your budget. When you take note of what you spend each day, those unnecessary impulse purchases stick out like a sore thumb.
12. Find Something You Enjoy Besides Shopping
Many people treat shopping like a hobby or something to do to pass time on the weekends. Others use shopping as a cure for a bad mood, but turning to retail therapy as entertainment or to bring you joy could make you more vulnerable to impulse spending.
Instead of shopping for fun, find activities to fill that void. Have a picnic in the park. Take a walk or meditate. Call a friend. You could even make some money by working out .
When Impulsive Buying Becomes a Bigger Issue
As Penny Hoarders, we hate losing potential savings to frivolous impulse spending, but a few spur-of-the-moment purchases every now and then aren’t the end of the world.
If shopping habits, however, seem beyond your control or are becoming detrimental to your financial life, relationships or general feeling of well being, then you should seek professional help.
A licensed therapist could help you manage impulsive behavior. Debtors Anonymous also offers support to those whose shopping habits lead them to unmanageable debt.
Contributor Veronica Leone Matthews is a North Carolina-based freelance writer with 11 years of experience writing for non-profits and higher education. She covers lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.
Nicole Dow is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.