It’s happened to everyone at least once before- you get to the checkout line with a cart full of items that corresponds perfectly with the list you made before entering the store. But the line is a little long, so you start looking around…maybe you’re a little hungry and a candy bar looks really good or decide you really need to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip with a magazine. In other words, you’ve probably succumbed to an impulse buy at one point or another.
A one time purchase of candy bars or magazines is a fairly low risk impulse buy and probably won’t make or break your bank account, but some people struggle with impulse shopping for things they don’t need whenever they see a sale, or something goes by online and suddenly they have made a rather large purchase without thinking about it that much. Maybe this won’t cause a huge problem in the near future, but if you’re impulse shopping is frequent/high volume, it may be time to get the impulse shopping under control.
Have a wait period before making a purchase. Imposing a mandatory “waiting period” for something- like a pair of shoes you see online- is one way to curb the impulsive part of your impulse shopping reflexes. This may not work in all cases, but usually giving yourself some distance from the immediacy of the purchase can help determine whether you actually want something or if you wanted it “just because.” If you don’t want to think of every purchase this way, think of some threshold amount, for example, purchases over $50 that get the wait period consideration. Not sure you have the willpower? A more extreme suggestion for those who use cards for impulse purchases is to literally freeze credit cards (from Simple Dollar). If you have to wait for the card to thaw before making a purchase, it gives you time to mull things over.
Don’t “auto save” information in accounts. For the online impulse shopper, having an account somewhere like Amazon means you can have your preferred payment information automatically saved and preloaded for whenever you login. This means you don’t even have to haul out your card or have it physically with you to make a purchase. It’s a convenient feature, but for the impulse shopper it makes it that much easier to go off the rails. Instead, make it annoying and difficult for yourself to purchase online. If possible, delete information from an online account, so that rather than making a few clicks, you are forced to enter payment information, shipping, etc. Just by making it a little less convenient for yourself, you’re forced to slow down and are consciously aware of the purchase you’re making.
Carry cash instead. If you’re going out with friends, give yourself a cash allowance for the day/night, and leave your cards behind. Again, this keeps you consciously aware of what you’re spending (there are theories about how people will spend less when using cash because of the physical representation of money). It also imposes a hard limit on your spending- once your cash supply is gone, you can’t buy anything else. Dave Ramsey and others have made the envelope budgeting system popular, where you have envelopes of cash for certain routine purchases like groceries or clothing. When the money is gone in a particular envelope, you have to wait until next month’s budget to put more in.
Keep your financial goal(s) front and center. Whenever you try to change a behavior, there’s always a bit of a transition period of getting used to the new routine. Whenever you’re feeling stuck or like taking a step back in your progress, it can help to keep your eyes on the prize. What are your financial goals? Why is it you want to curb your impulse shopping habit? Some people may put a picture from the travel spot they are saving up for where the drivers license in their wallet would go or write down a message and tape it to your credit card… put the visual reminder of your goal somewhere you’ll see it the next time you try to buy something. Keeping the long term goal in your mind helps combat the instant gratification that an impulse buy offers.
Block ads and other temptations. If you find yourself easily seduced by Facebook ads, try installing ad blocking software or blocking more tempting offers as they come into your newsfeed. If you’re easily tempted by ads in magazines, stop reading them. If you buy candy bars and magazines at the grocery store, consider getting your groceries delivered. This tip requires self awareness but often times, asking yourself how you made your last two or three impulse purchases can lead you to behavior changes you can make that’ll help.
By curbing impulse spending, you’ll have more money for what’s important in your life… and that’s way beyond candy bars.