Your day starts innocently enough.
You normally brew a cup of coffee at home, but you’re running late. So you swing by Starbucks for a $5 morning pick-me-up.
After a tiresome day at work, you stop by a store to get a replacement for your cell phone, which has been on the fritz for weeks now. The new phone is an anticipated purchase you budgeted for, but you weren’t planning on the $40 stylish case you just had to have.
On the way to your car, you run into a group of Girl Scouts selling cookies. Their cute, persuasive ways have you digging in your wallet to buy a $4 box of Thin Mints.
You hit a block of traffic on the way home, doubling your 20-minute commute. At this point, you’re tired and hungry, and the three fast food restaurants you passed are calling your name. You have groceries at home but no energy to cook, and eating Thin Mints for dinner won’t cut it. You steer into the next drive-through and order a $7 meal.
Without realizing it, you’ve spent $56 over the course of the day on impulse buys.
Impulse buys are those random, unplanned, unnecessary purchases that eat into your potential savings. You engage in this spending behavior 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 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. In an article in Psychology Today, psychologist Ian Zimmerman said impulse buying is often connected to anxiety, unhappiness and the desire for social acceptance.
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.
Change Your Mindset About Spending
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.
1. Avoid Shopping for Fun
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 shopping to bring you joy makes you more vulnerable to impulse spending.
Instead, find activities to fill that void. Have a picnic in the park. Take a walk. Call a friend. Work out or meditate. You don’t have to spend money to feel good.
2. Ask Yourself If It’s 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 attached to your credit card with that question.
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.
3. Keep Your Goals on the Forefront
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.
Avoid Impulse Buying at Your Favorite Store
Those shops you frequent have entire teams working to entice you to buy through marketing, product placement and other clever strategies. If you’re trying to save money, fight against the temptation.
1. Shop With Your Financial Accountability Buddy
A friend or family member who’s aware of your financial struggles 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.
2. Only Carry a Limited Amount of Cash
Using the cash envelope system is great, but carrying around a big wad of cash in lieu of using plastic won’t prevent you from giving into the impulse to buy whatever catches your eye. If you’re sticking with cash only, plan your purchases in advance and just take the amount of money you’ll need for that one shopping trip.
3. Keep Credit Cards Out of Reach
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. Don’t shop with credit cards in your wallet to avoid easy access to impulse buying.
Nix Online Impulse Purchases
Don’t let the convenience of online shopping get the best of you. Ignore the allure.
1. Take Your Ordering Info Off 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, having to take that additional step gives you more time to reconsider your purchases. Remove your financial information from online sites to prevent making impulse buying so effortless.
2. Set Parental Controls on Your 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.
3. Unsubscribe From Emails or Text Alerts
Oh, the temptation of all the deals. That email for 30% off all footwear that just popped up in your inbox has your 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 the 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.
Additional Tips to Curb Impulse Spending
When you spend your money intentionally and not impulsively, you’ll likely have more money left over to save. Here’s more help to avoid impulse purchases.
1. 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 have to 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.
2. 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.
3. Don’t Make Your Budget Too Restrictive
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.
4. Take Inventory of What You 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.
When Impulsive Buying Become 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 poor 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.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She no longer buys candy at the grocery store registers.