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We’ve all been there.
You see something and you HAVE to have it. It wasn’t on your list, you didn’t plan to buy it when you went shopping, but it ended up in your bag anyway.
So how do you even start to control impulse buying?
Avoiding impulse spending starts with an intentional game plan that you can repeat over and over.
If you follow the steps in this article, you’ll be able to be more aware of your impulsive tendencies while you’re shopping and plan ahead so you don’t get caught up in the moment and buy something you didn’t actually want or need.
If your goal is to stop impulse buying and be more intentional about how you’re spending your money, you’ll want to start with a few basics that I’ll elaborate on more below.
A few quick ideas to avoid impulse buying are to make a list and stick to it, set a budget, stay out of tempting situations, and creating wait time before buying.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, so let’s dive into more ways to avoid impulse buying and save money.
What is Impulse Buying?
Impulse buying refers to the tendency to make spontaneous, unplanned purchases without giving them much thought. It can happen quickly and it can be really difficult to stop an impulse without a plan.
Impulsive shopping can be triggered by a variety of things, such as boredom, stress, or even just seeing something we want and wanting it immediately. Sometimes delayed gratification can be really hard.
While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in an occasional spontaneous purchase, impulse buying can become a problem if it starts to impact your finances or your ability to stick to your financial goals.
How I Was Able to Stop Impulse Buying
Like many people, I first started impulse buying when I was in college. A steady income and an active social life made it easy to justify my spending habits.
I remember some days when I would go to work and then be invited to last-minute plans with friends. Since I worked in the mall, I would go to Forever 21 to pick up an outfit impulsively! Doing this once in a while isn’t generally a problem, but when I act like I can buy anything, the extra expenses start to add up pretty quickly.
While this was something I could technically “afford”, it really impacted my ability to save.
The top three things that helped me stop impulse buying were
- getting rid of my physical and digital cards
- joining a debt-free challenge
- sticking to cash
Before I found out what worked for me, I tried many other methods to stop impulse buying. You may also want to test a few of these out to see what works best for you!
How to Stop Impulse Buying in 10 Easy Steps
There are a lot of ways you can curb impulse buying and overspending. I hope this list helps get your creative juices flowing and you can find at least ONE strategy to help you focus on your financial goals without buying things you don’t really need.
Here’s the basic steps. I’ll talk about each of these in more detail below.
- Identify your impulse-buying triggers
- Set a budget for yourself
- Shop with a list
- Wait 24 hours before making a purchase
- Find an accountability buddy
- Join a debt-free challenge
- Stick to cash
- Redirect your spending
- Get rid of your (physical and digital) cards
- Seek professional help if necessary
Identify Your Impulse-Buying Triggers
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for managing triggers.
It involves being aware of the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations associated with triggers. By cultivating mindful awareness, we can better recognize our triggers before they lead us to negative emotions or behaviors.
Plus when you know your triggers to be impulsive, you can start avoiding tempting situations like sales and discounts, and make a backup plan when you start to feel the need to impulse shop.
For example, if you feel yourself getting triggered to go shopping, you can instead transfer $20 to your saving account. This simple action refocuses your attention on your financial goals and sinking funds, AND helps you avoid buying another thing you “can’t live without.”
Identifying your impulse triggers allows you to take steps to avoid or manage the triggers and their accompanying responses.
If you realize that you spend more money or are more impulsive around certain people, you can create clearer and better boundaries when you spend time with them.
Questions to identify impulse shopping triggers:
- What causes me to impulse buy? Is it boredom? Stress? Keeping up with the Joneses?
- What happened right before I spent money?
- Were the items I was buying related to anything?
- How often do I buy things impulsively?
- Do I shop impulsively with others or by myself?
- What happened on my largest spending days? Did a specific event trigger my want to shop?
Set a Budget for Yourself and Stick to Your Budget
When you have a budget in place, like a 50/30/20 budget template, it can help keep your spending in check and prevent you from overspending on impulse purchases. After all, a budget is just a way to preplan your spending ahead of time.
And the best budgets create room and space for fun money and spontaneity. When you build in money to spend just for fun, you’re less like to shop impulsively or feel restricted. Budgeting too tightly can make you fall victim to a spending binge.
Setting a budget is great for most people because it forces you to think about your spending before it happens. Plus, when you make a budget, instead of focusing on “don’t buy anything” mentality, try prioritizing what you CAN buy with your money that’s aligned with your goals, values, and priorities. Use your zero based budget to give yourself permission to spend on what’s important.
Plus budgeting also helps you imagine how great things will be if you start saving! I would say that budgeting is actually what got me interested in personal finance, which eventually lead to saving.
I went from blowing money on dresses for a night out during my freshman year to saving my first $1,000 in a month by my senior year of college!
Always Shop with a List to Prevent Overspending
Creating good shopping habits helps keep impulse shopping under control. Only enter a store when you have a physical list in hand. A shopping list can be particularly helpful when frequenting department stores, where it is easy to get distracted by enticing displays and new products.
By following your list, you are less likely to wander into other aisles or spend too much time examining products that aren’t on your list. Shopping with a list is not only helpful for saving money and avoiding overspending, but it can also save time in the long run.
Wait 24 Hours Before Making a Purchase
When you’re feeling the urge to make impulse purchases, give yourself some time to stop and think it over first. Wait a day, and if you still want the item after 24 hours, then you can go ahead and buy it. You can even get really strict with yourself and create a mandatory waiting period. This waiting period can help to prevent impulsive buying decisions that you may later regret.
I found that this worked best when I was shopping online. I would add everything I wanted to the shopping cart and then tell myself I would “check out later”. By the time I even remembered to go back to the site, I no longer had the impulse to buy half the items! Apparently adding items to my cart helped me avoid the impulse to buy something new and avoid frivolous spending.
More importantly, I would even ask myself if I could put off spending until a better time. Usually, I would know when my next windfall of money would be. A pending bonus from work, birthday money, a tax return, etc. I would make it a goal to save most of that money and then use the remaining 10-20% on these kinds of delayed purchases.
Sometimes the purchase itself isn’t “bad”. It’s just that the timing can be optimized!
Find an Accountability Buddy
An accountability buddy is someone you can talk to about things that make you want to impulse buy. You might consider setting a spending limit for yourself. This way you only need to connect with your accountability buddy when it comes to larger purchases.
Make sure your spending buddy is someone who is understanding and non-judgemental. You may even want to choose someone who is vocal about saving so that you have someone to emulate.
As a bonus you might start to talk about money more often with this friend or family member, which could help you create healthier money habits overall.
Join a Debt-Free Challenge
The best way to stop impulse buying is by making it more fun for yourself. A great way to do that is by participating in a debt-free challenge to get out of debt.
Typically these challenges have communities of like-minded individuals. Just like training for a marathon, it can be useful to participate in the journey with others. If you don’t have any consumer debt, you can also consider joining a savings challenge instead!
Jamie’s Editor’s Note: If you need a tool or course to help you get out of debt, you can try a free debt snowball spreadsheet download or the Debt Free Playbook. Both of these tools will help you create a realistic plan to get out of debt asap.
Stick to Cash and Save Your Money
It’s really easy to spend money with your credit card, especially when you have your credit card information memorized.
Paying with cash can help to limit your spending because you’re more likely to be mindful of how much money you’re actually spending when you see it leaving your hands. Plus, it’s harder to overspend when you only have a certain amount of cash on hand.
For these reasons, many people enjoy using the cash envelope method. By putting money into different categories and envelopes, you mentally give every dollar a “job”. This is the best saving method if you find you have no self-control.
Often impulse purchases come when you have a windfall of money, like a tax return or work bonus. By sticking to cash, it will feel much harder to spend the full amount on one impulsive shopping trip!
Jamie’s Editor’s Note: If you’re somebody who doesn’t like to carry cash, you can try Qube Money and their system of digital cash envelopes instead. You still have buckets or envelopes for each budget category, it’s just stored and saved in your Qube Money app.
Redirect Your Spending for Planned Expenses
Sometimes spending is a scratch that can be itched! If you have a shopping urge you can try redirecting it to spending you’ve already planned on. For example, maybe you load up on things at the grocery store that you know you will need at some point (like paper towels!).
Another way to redirect spending is instead of shopping at Target or Walmart, you can let yourself go crazy at a dollar store!
Things at a dollar store may not be of the best quality, but you can often find fun decorations or items you can use around your house. The most important thing is to shift your spending towards things that make you feel better in the moment while also keeping your budget intact.
Get Rid of Your Physical and Digital Cards
To be clear, I don’t recommend canceling any of your credit cards! This should be an absolute last resort as it will negatively impact your credit score.
Instead, you should leave your physical cards at home. This is great when combined with the cash envelope method mentioned above, but is also a good standalone tip.
And if you absolutely insist on using a card, use Qube Money’s debit card that syncs perfectly with their online banking system.
Once, I even put a credit card in a bowl of water and tossed it in the freezer! That way the card was still there for an emergency but otherwise unused. While this is a bit dramatic, you might consider ways to make spending on your card more of an obstacle for yourself.
This also goes for digital cards. You can erase your saved payment methods so that you can’t check out as quickly. This makes it harder to spend money just because something catches your eye.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you’ve tried several methods already then it may be time to seek professional help. This can come in a variety of forms. If you feel like your issue is more about your habits, then speaking with a financial advisor may be useful.
On the other hand, your spending may not be impulsive. You might actually be suffering from more of a compulsion to buy purchases that are more psychological in nature. Avoid online shopping and attempting retail therapy. In this case, talking with a psychologist may be more beneficial.
Many people’s spending is tied to their emotions. It is totally normal to need help in reframing our relationship with money since it’s a topic that is not taught to most people!
Final Thoughts on How to Stop Impulse Buying
Impulse buying can be a difficult habit to break, but it is possible with the right tools and resources. It’s important to realize that there is no one-size fits all solution!
If you’re struggling to control impulse buying, remember these strategies:
- Make a list and stick to it
- Plan spending with a budget
- Wait 24 hours before making a purchase
- Try using cash or digital cash envelopes
- Avoid tempting situations like sales and discounts
You may also find that the reasons behind your impulse buying change with time. Our relationship with ourselves, others, and our money are constantly changing. Feel free to refer back to this post in the future! You may find that different tips are helpful for different situations.
Have you ever impulse-purchased anything? How do you stop yourself from impulse buying? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!
Business Consultant and Personal Finance Blogger
Kathryn Rucker is a business consultant and personal finance blogger who is passionate about helping individuals and businesses scale by improving their online presence. Kat started traveling the world in 2019 and currently lives in Singapore.