Let’s be honest here: Impulse buying is kind of fun—at least in the moment. You walk into a store not meaning to buy anything until . . . boom. The perfect sale pops up right in front of you! It’s meant to be, right?
Uh, not so much.
Get this: Americans impulsively spend an average of $450 every month.1 That adds up to an extra $5,400 spent every year. Ouch!
But just think—if you invested that $450 every month, after 10 years at an 8% rate of return, you’d have over $83,000! Nothing like the magic of compound interest to put things into perspective.
What Is an Impulse Buy?
Anytime you purchase something you weren’t planning to, that’s impulse buying. It can be as small as grabbing a candy bar in the checkout line that wasn’t on your grocery list or as big as walking into a car dealership and saying, “I’ll take that convertible, please.” If it’s not planned for in your budget ahead of time, it’s an impulse.
Almost all of us have fallen for the temporary excitement of impulse buying. In fact, 88.6% of Americans say they’ve done it!2 And the other 11.4% are probably in denial, really.
Why Do We Struggle With Impulse Buying?
Do you ever wonder why we buy on impulse? Hint: Emotions play a huge part. Our personal finances are just that—personal. So it makes sense that when something’s going on with us personally, it shows up in our money habits too.
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When you’re having a rough day, does a little retail therapy sound like the cure? Maybe it’s nothing extreme. Maybe it’s just grabbing a new baseball cap or swinging by the mall for another pair of earrings. You tell yourself it’s not a big deal or anything. You just want to get something nice to make yourself feel better.
Listening to our emotions is a surefire way to let impulse buying take control. And it’s really easy to do too. Sneaky marketers know this and try to purposely play on your emotions with their advertisements. They hope their ad tactics will hit a nerve with whatever emotions you’re feeling when you walk into their store, see their commercial, or scroll past their marketing email.Hey, we get it. Buying stuff is fun, and it feels good. But did you know a lot of it is actually scientific? It's all about the psychology of money. We get a temporary “high” from buying things. Buying something on impulse feels exciting. That’s because it releases dopamine (the chemical that makes you feel good) in the brain. Instead of turning to impulse buying to give you that high, try going for a run, hanging out with friends or family, dancing in your living room—anything that makes you feel happy (without spending money)!
How to Stop Impulse Buying
1. Make a budget and stick to it.
Okay, first things first: You need a budget. If you don’t already have one, then stop and take 10 minutes to do it right now with our free budgeting app, EveryDollar. But here’s the kicker—you have to actually stick to it! A budget isn’t a magic wand that will suddenly make all of your money behave. It’s on you to tell your money where to go each month and then follow through with that plan. If it’s not already budgeted for, don’t spend the money. Yep, it’s as simple and as hard as that. You can do it!
2. Give yourself permission to spend.
Yes, we just told you to stick to your budget—and you always should. But it’s also important to throw a little fun money in there too! Give yourself (and your spouse if you’re married) a line item in the budget with your name on it for your fun spending. This is money you can spend how you want and on what you want. Depending on your budget, this might be $10 a month or $100 a month. Just make sure the amount is reasonable and affordable for your budget!
So, the next time you’re walking through the mall and something catches your eye, just check your fun money fund. You’ve already budgeted a small portion of spending money for it, and you get to decide how to spend it.
3. Wait a day (or longer!) before you make a purchase.
Give yourself a day or so to calm down when an impulse buy gets you jazzed. Once you have a cool head and a fresh perspective, ask yourself if you’ll actually use this thing and if you can pay cash for it now. That’s a no-nonsense way to look at the purchase with clear eyes.
And watch out for deals that are only good for 24 hours—don’t let a countdown rush you into buying anything! Remember the offer, save some money, and be ready for it next time if you can’t afford it right now. Because a sale will come back around. Trust us.
“When you sleep on the decision, you put some time between your emotions and the transaction.” — Rachel Cruze
4. Shop with a plan in mind.
Figure out what items you want to buy and how much you’ll spend before you ever start shopping. With a plan in place, you’ll be less likely to give into overspending. Your shopping list can range from grocery items to the Christmas gifts you plan to purchase for your extended family—just know what it is you want to buy before you go.
5. Beware of joining too many email lists.
Signing up for a store’s email list can be a great way to snag 15–20% off coupons or even (gasp) free shipping! If you have a purchase you know you’ll be making soon, go ahead and sign up for the company’s email list to score that extra discount.
But keep in mind that an email blast can also be your worst enemy.
Picture it: You’re doing great sticking to your budget. Everything is accounted for, and every purchase is planned. Things are going great. That is, until you check your inbox and find 15 different emails announcing one sale after another. Look out!
You weren’t even thinking about shopping. But now they’ve caught your attention and you just have to see what’s on sale, right? Nope. Step away from the wave of emails as fast as you can!
6. Don’t shop when you’re emotional.
We just talked about this, but it’s worth mentioning again—don’t let your emotions control your spending habits! You might have a great day and make an impulse buy in the thrill of the moment. Or maybe you’re having a bad day and you tell yourself you deserve something nice, that this item will make you feel better.
We’ve all been there before. Both of these things can happen pretty easily. So how can you fix it? Whether you’re celebrating or trying to cheer yourself up, don’t buy anything when your emotions are riding a roller coaster.
7. Bring someone with you when you shop.
Accountability goes a long way here. Do you have a sibling or friend who’s willing to get in your face and tell you not to buy something? Bring them on your shopping trip. Tell them what you plan to buy, and ask them to talk some sense into you if you start straying from the strategy. Sweeten the deal by offering to buy them coffee afterward.
8. Take only the amount of cash you’ll need.
Figure out how much money you need for the items you want to buy and only take that amount in cash. You could even go a step further and leave your debit card at home so that you don’t tempt yourself to buy more with plastic (even the debit card kind).
If you stick to your shopping plan and don’t bring any extra money along on the trip, you can’t make an impulse buy. It’s pretty much impossible. Now that’s the power of cash!
9. Stop the comparisons.
This is a game changer when it comes to impulse buying. If you always compare what you have (or don’t have) to others, you’ll never be satisfied. It’s just like Rachel Cruze said in her book Love Your Life, Not Theirs, “When we start comparing ourselves to other people, we’re playing a game we’ll never win.”
Instead of looking at what someone else has and thinking, Oh, I need that too, take a step back and be thankful. Learn to be grateful for what you do have. If you change your perspective, you might find you already have a lot to be grateful for.
10. Get off social media.
It’s true—if you’re having trouble with comparisons, social media isn’t going to make it any better. If you know you have trouble being content when you scroll past everyone’s highlight reel (aka your newsfeed), then remove the source of the problem. We’re not saying you have to kick social media to the curb forever, but try deleting Instagram and Facebook for a week (or more) and see if you notice a difference.
And even if you don’t find yourself falling into that comparison trap, the reality is that social media is one big, major billboard for impulse buying. Everywhere you scroll, someone is trying to get you to spend your money. If you’re not on the app, you won’t see all the businesses with flashy sales and new products for you to spend your hard-earned dollars on.
11. Do a no-spend challenge.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and sometimes a no-spend challenge is just what the doctor ordered. If you haven’t heard of one of these before, it’s pretty much just like it sounds—you don’t spend any money (on non-essential items).
That means you still pay things like your rent or mortgage, regular bills, utilities, groceries, etc. But you don’t spend money on things like eating out, getting your hair done, buying new shoes, or picking up a new kitchen accessory. Basically, don’t even set foot in a store unless it’s to buy groceries (that are on your list!).
12. Keep your goals in mind.
Here’s a real shocker: Giving in to an impulse buy won’t help you achieve your financial goals—whether that’s getting out of debt, paying off your mortgage, or investing for your future. Buying on impulse and overspending will eat up any extra money you were saving to put toward those awesome goals. So don’t shoot yourself in the foot here. Help yourself out by remembering the important goals you’re working toward!
“Children do what feels good. Adults devise a plan and follow it.” — Dave Ramsey
Don’t Get Sucked Into Impulse Buying
There’s no denying the fun of unexpectedly buying something, but that excitement never lasts. So control the urge to fork over money when you discover a jacket on sale or when a sweet offer lands in your inbox. Learning to be disciplined with your money will get you something much more priceless—peace of mind. And that’s one thing you’ll never regret investing in!
Keep those impulse buys in check and dodge overspending with EveryDollar, our free budgeting app. It makes it easy to actually plan for your upcoming purchases—no impulse buying required.