Impulsive Buying

By Sharon Naylor

December 14, 2011 5 min read

You could be the most stringent budgeter in the world and still give in to the occasional impulse buy. It might be as small as a candy bar at the grocery store, or it might be something quite larger, such as a Blu-ray player. Whatever the item, it's not a life essential, and you bought it in a moment's burst of "I have to have it."

The occasional impulse buy isn't going to wreck your financial future, but if you have a habit of impulse buying and find yourself spending hundreds of dollars or more on unplanned purchases, you need to make some changes. After all, these are tough financial times. Household budgets are stretched. In a household, tremendous relationship strife can be caused if one partner is continuously buying while the other is declining.

Here are the top ways to cut out impulse buys:

--Only carry cash. It's too easy to charge impulse buys to a debit or credit card. If you only have a small supply of cash, you can't buy extra items.

--Turn off one-click buying. When you disable those one-click, instant-buy tools online, it takes more steps to make a purchase, which can curb impulses.

--Use the 30-Day Rule. According to personal finance and lifestyle blogger The Financialite, "If you are considering a major purchase, you should wait at least 30 days before buying to ensure that it's a necessary purchase. It will help you to take a step back from the urge to purchase and see if it's really something that you cannot live without." Very often, the impulse to buy is triggered by boredom, sadness, impatience, loneliness or some other negative emotion that needs a "quick fix." If you let the moment pass, your mood won't cause you to over-spend on something you don't need.

--Use a wish list. Online shopping sites have a shopping cart or wish list where your clicked-on items appear before you complete your purchase. The experts at WealthInformatics.com say, "Instead of actually buying the item, put it in the cart or the wish list, then allow a waiting period and come back to it later." The mood may pass and the item might not seem as much of a must-have as it did when you added it to the list.

--Skip the shopping cart. If you're going into a store to get one thing, don't get a handbasket, or you'll be tempted to add additional items. Similarly, if you have a small shopping list that a handbasket would be the right size for, don't get a shopping cart. The large, empty space of a shopping cart can trigger an "I-have-to-fill-this" mindset, which can set off impulse buys. Stores know this, which is why you'll see stacks of handbaskets and carts around the stores; they're there to encourage you to buy more than you need.

--Try shopping for groceries online. If you find that you're always overspending at the supermarket -- you can't pass up those end-of-the-aisle display items, which are intentionally placed to catch your eye -- you might opt to shop for groceries via an online ordering system. This keeps you away from all of those tempting extras, lets you stick to your shopping list, apply coupons and keeps your kids out of the store. Your children might also be the ones grabbing extra items or crying for impulse buys of their own. These online grocery programs, such as Stop 'n Shop's Peapod, then deliver your order right to your home.

--Think about what that item costs per hour. The Financialite says for big-ticket items that tempt her to overspend, she calculates how many hours she needs to work in order to purchase the item. "If the amount of hours is overwhelming to me, then I might need to rethink that purchase," she says. Seeing as time is money -- you know how hard you work and how much each work-hour nets you -- that cashmere sweater could suddenly become less appealing when you think about it costing a full day's shift. Changing the way you think about money amounts, equating them to your hard workday, can get you to value a purchase differently. That can turn off the brain's "pleasure center," which lights up when you buy a little something and a little something else.

Financial experts agree that if you're impulse buying to cheer yourself up, find another way to boost your mood. Play with a pet, call a friend to chat, laugh or exercise; add to your quality of life instead of draining it with purchases you don't really need.

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