I’ve never been much of a shopper. I’m actually a chronic over-thinker when it comes to shopping, so I don’t fall victim to impulse purchases very often. But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to temptation. And I have certainly made my fair share of purchases I eventually regretted.
These days, our culture of instant gratification is all about impulse spending. It can be so easy with online shopping and Amazon Prime’s same-day shipping. Unfortunately, impulse spending is a quick way to send your finances off the rails. Just one hiccup is all it takes to bust your budget or come up short off your financial goals.
If impulse spending is something you struggle with, it’s important to find ways to curb the temptation. Here are 6 strategies to stop your impulse spending – or at least keep it in check.
1. Avoid Places Where You Will Splurge
Avoid those places.
Of course, that’s is easier said than done. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to completely avoid those places. Take the grocery store, for example. Even if you’re on an extreme calorie cutting diet, going cold turkey on trips to the grocery store probably isn’t an option. But you can still apply this strategy. Here’s how.
Identify your “Splurge Zone.” For me, it’s the aisle with almonds, cashews, pecans, and stuff like that. I’m basically addicted to Blue Diamond Almonds. I probably have a half-dozen cans of Blue Diamond Almonds in my pantry at home and another two or three in my office at work at all times. But that doesn’t deter me from grabbing more each time I visit the grocery store. And if I can save a dollar when I buy 5, you can bet I’m tossing five cans into my cart. (Yeah, I know there are far worse spending addictions, but my almond-buying fixation has become a little absurd.)
I finally admitted to myself that Aisle 16 of my local grocery store is my Splurge Zone. So I’ve decided not to visit that aisle unless almonds are actually on my shopping list.
You can apply the same principle to other stores like Kohls, Target and WalMart, where it’s easy to come for one thing but end up buying something else (or maybe a few something elses). If you know you can’t resist those clearance bins at Target, then avoid them at all costs!
Even if you accidentally stumble into a Splurge Zone, there’s still hope if you follow Tip #2…
2. Make a Shopping List (and Stick to It)
Making a shopping list can help you save money on your next trip to the store. It doesn’t matter whether you are grocery shopping, picking up hardware from Home Depot, or just grabbing a pack of tube socks at Target – consider making a shopping list before you go! The longer you’re pushing a shopping cart through the aisles trying to remember what you originally came for, the greater the odds that you’ll find your shopping cart filled with items you weren’t planning on purchasing and might not really need. In general, if an item didn’t make it onto your list, then it probably doesn’t need to make its way into your shopping cart either!
Write down exactly what you need before your shopping trip. You can do this the old-fashioned way with a pen and paper or on your phone or other electronic device. Personally, I find the Notes App on my phone to be a quick and convenient way to keep track what I need. My phone has practically become a part of my body; it’s with me virtually everywhere I go so I can easily update my shopping list anytime I think of something I need.
And on top of avoiding unnecessary purchases, using a list can also make your trips to the store quicker and more efficient. What’s better than saving time and money?!
3. Unsubscribe from Those Retail Shopping Emails
Just when you thought you were doing so well by avoiding that your Splurge Zone, they find a way to bring it to you – in your email inbox! Not only are marketing emails from your favorite retailers and shopping sites a major distraction, but they can lure you into unplanned shopping sprees.
Sure, the advent of online shopping has made our lives easier and more efficient in so many ways. You can skip the crowds, traffic, parking and waiting in line. But if you’re not careful, you can end up paying a higher price for that convenience.
Limit your exposure to temptation by unsubscribing from those “exclusive offer” marketing emails that so many retailers send these days. If you’re the type who struggles with passing up a “great deal,” it’s probably best that you don’t invite retailers to hand-deliver those bargains to your inbox. If you don’t know about them, you’ll never know what you’re missing. It’ll save you some money and help you declutter your inbox – a win-win!
4. Try the 24-Hour Rule
Raise your hand if you’ve ever made an impulse purchase that you ended up regretting. Ever regretted it the very next day? I know I have! Heck, I’ve made purchases that I regretted before I even left the store.
What happens if you miss out on that limited time offer? Maybe it was the sale of a lifetime and you’ll never find as good a bargain again. Bummer. But maybe you realize that deal of the century was one you didn’t really need to take advantage of. In that case, you’re better off keeping your money.
That’s where the 24-hour rule can come in handy. If you’re tempted to make an impulse purchase, wait 24 hours to determine if you really need the item (or if you truly want it). This trick is especially helpful for online purchases, where you can go from placing an item in your cart to check out in a matter of seconds. Instead, leave the item in your cart and see how you feel when you come back the next day.
Often, you’ll find that you don’t have nearly the same urge to buy the item after some time has elapsed. You might even forget to come back at all! That’s a pretty clear signal that you could easily live without that half-price Chambong that you thought would change your life.
5. Calculate How Many Hours of Your Life Your Purchase Will Cost You
If you’re like me, you work hard for your money. But it can be easy to forget all those hours you spent toiling away at the office as soon as you start shopping.
When you are about to make a purchase, stop and consider how many hours you’d have to work to afford that purchase. Let’s say you calculate that you make $20 an hour. When you go to buy those $100 shoes, ask yourself if they’re worth 5 hours of your time. If you don’t have the cash to pay for an item in full, look at the amount you’ll pay in finance charges and convert it to the hours of your life you’ll spend at work to repay it.
Time really is money. And by translating the frivolous purchases into hours of your life, you might find that you don’t want those things so badly after all.
6. Set a Guilt-Free Spending Limit
I realize that there will be times where the temptation to spend can be too much to ignore. You might think about the first five tips and think to yourself, “Cuss it. I don’t care, I’m buying it anyway.” For some people, the thought of not being able to make impulse purchases can be a suffocating notion, one that takes the fun out of shopping and maybe even life (that sounds a bit dramatic but I’ve heard it plenty of times).
I don’t want to be some sort of killjoy, sucking the fun out of shopping and life in general. Go ahead and spend on what brings you joy. Just make sure you place an appropriate dollar limit on those types of purchases.
By introducing a guilt-free spending category to your budget, you’ll find yourself thinking about how each purchase fits into your budget. Maybe you’ll pass on purchases you normally would’ve made just so you can enjoy the thrill of an impulse buy another day. And maybe you’ll start savoring the moments where you allow yourself to throw caution to the wind. How nice will it be to know that your impulse buy is actually part of your plan rather than a purchase that breaks all the rules?