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How to Avoid Impulse Buying

Reading time: 4 minutes

June 28th, 2023

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If you often have unplanned spending on unnecessary items, you might struggle with impulse buying. It's a common scenario — you go to the store for one item, but at checkout, your cart is full of things you didn't intend to buy. Or perhaps you feel the urge to impulse shop online — you add items to your virtual cart, and the purchases are at your door days later. But you don't need any of it.

Even though the occasional impulse purchase is harmless, it can hurt your financial health if it becomes a regular or compulsive habit. You might find that you have depleted your savings, and if unchecked, impulse buying can lead to debt. According to a recent report from TransUnion, the average debt per credit card borrower hit $5,805, a new high.

How to Stop Impulse Buying

If you’re struggling with impulse purchases, you’re not alone. Research shows that impulse buying accounts for 40% to 80% of all purchases. But if you're ready to break the cycle, here's how to start.

Avoid shopping temptations

You might already know the factors that can lead you to impulse purchases and unplanned expenses — scrolling through social media posts, visiting the store without a plan or online shopping when you’re tired. But if you’re not sure what causes you to overspend, exploring what leads to unnecessary purchases is essential. Once you have a clear understanding, make it a point to avoid situations that cause temptation.

Don’t Buy on advertisements

Advertisements used to be in a few forms: commercials, billboards, print ads and radio spots. But today, advertisements are in every corner of social media, including posts from friends or acquaintances. If you want to shop after viewing an ad or sponsored post, delay the purchase and revisit it in a few days. You might find that you no longer want the item. Regular breaks from social media can help too.

Check-in with your emotions

Research shows that impulse buying can occur when you have a sudden and strong desire to spend, which can be due to your current emotional state. The emotions can be positive or negative. You may want to celebrate your job promotion and feel the impulse to buy a new video game. Or you disagreed with a family member and subconsciously thought a new jacket might help you feel better. Even though it’s natural to respond to your emotions in various ways, it can be challenging if your reaction is to spend. Next time you feel the urge to buy something unexpectedly, check in with yourself first and see if it's in response to a strong feeling.

Evaluate brand loyalty

Even if you don’t think you have strong brand loyalty, you might be surprised when you reflect on your impulse purchase. It could be a new item from your favorite clothing brand or a fresh scent from a shampoo brand you love. Next time you catch yourself gravitating towards an item from your favorite brand, consider if you need it. The answer is probably no if it’s not on your shopping list.

Create barriers to shopping

Impulsive purchases are usually spontaneous, and you don’t usually intend to spend the money before you do. That’s why creating barriers can help you move towards mindful shopping. You can start by deleting your credit card information from your phone or laptop (i.e. autofill your credit card information), which can delay your purchases. If you have to pause to enter the information before checkout, you might delay or cancel the transaction. You can also impose a timeout before you make a purchase. Maybe you need to wait a few hours or a few days. With both strategies, you can create space to reflect and regroup before spending money.

How to take control of your finances

Impulse buying can make it feel like your finances are out of control. But there are steps you can take to better your finances, even while you work through the urge to buy impulsively. The steps might seem small, but each action can help you create a better financial future.

1. Save money at the beginning of the month

Set aside money in a separate account at the beginning of the month. That way, you will have less money to spend throughout the month. It doesn’t have to be a significant amount. But ideally, budget planning and a lower spending amount will encourage you to limit impulse purchases. Even if you overspend later in the month, it's nice to know you can pay for the purchases from savings and not go into debt.

2. Invest in a Certificate of Deposit (CD)

A CD is a savings account that holds a fixed amount of money for a specified time. You earn a set amount of interest on savings. You get your original deposit plus the interest at the end of the term. CDs can be a great way to combat impulse buys because the money is locked away in a separate account, usually for a few months up to a few years. It's a helpful way to protect your savings and earn interest. But if you withdraw the money before the term ends, you could pay penalty fees, so make sure you're (practically) committed to the term length before setting it up.

3. Tracking my spending

Everyone needs a treat once in a while. If you make a budget for impulse purchases, you can still buy fun items each month in a manageable way. The first step is budget planning — determine an amount that fits your budget. It could be as low as $20 or as high as a few hundred. Once you know the amount, set aside the money and track your impulse purchases throughout the month. After you spend the allocated money, you need to wait until the following month for more spending.

Bottom line

When it comes to spending, the ultimate goal is to spend money in a way that aligns with your goals and works with your budget. Even though impulse purchases feel enjoyable, they can increase your stress over time. But curbing impulse buys, sticking to a budget and saving extra can help reduce stress and increase your happiness, now and in the future.

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