Confession: I used to be really bad about impulse shopping.
In college, I would go to the mall, only to leave a few hundred dollars poorer and with bags of clothing that I would probably only wear a few times.
After college, I became an emotional shopper and would resort to spending money instead of dealing with the problems in my life.
Thankfully I’ve mostly eliminated my shopping habit, but only after racking up credit card debt.
Let’s be honest – we’ve all been guilty of impulse spending at one time in our lives (although probably a lot more just than one). In fact, a 2018 study by Slickdeals found that the average American spends an average of $450 per month on impulse spending, which adds up to $5,400 per year.
That means that even people who don’t think they do much impulse buying probably do their fair share of it after all. I don’t know about you, but I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with $5,400 per year!
In this post, I’m sharing 11 things I did to help stop my impulse buying habit and that I know will work for you too!
Why Do We Make Impulse Purchases?
YOU’RE IN THE HABIT OF SPENDING
A lot of people are quick to swipe their credit cards simply because they’re in the habit of doing so. Once it becomes a habit, it’s really hard to realize how often you’re doing it.
There’s no doubt that we live in a society of consumerism, so it’s no surprise that so many people fall into the habit of impulse shopping.
Have you ever been bored, so you pull up the website for your favorite store? You swear you’re just going to look, but of course, you end up grabbing a few things.
Or maybe you have some time to kill, so you decide to stop at Target. And if you’re anything like me, you can always find something at Target you’re convinced that you need!
Yeah, I’ve definitely been guilty of emotional spending. I used to have days where I had a really bad day, and after work drove straight to my favorite store to distract myself from whatever had gone wrong.
Emotional spending is a real thing. And it’s not just used to counteract negative emotions either. I think we’ve all been in a situation where we celebrate exciting news by spending money. Often it’s the first thing we think to do!
YOU HAVE FOMO
I think we can all relate to this reason for impulse buying. You’ve seen something that everyone else has or that everyone else is doing, and you don’t want to be the only one to miss out.
YOU WANT TO SAVE MONEY
This one seems counterproductive, and it totally is, but it’s also a justification that a lot of us use for impulse spending!
If you see something you like and it’s on major sale, it’s easy to convince yourself that it would be irresponsible to pass up such an amazing deal.
How to Stop Impulse Buying
MAKE A BUDGET AND STICK TO IT
I talk a lot about budgeting on this site and, without a doubt, think that everyone should have a budget. But you have to do more than that.
There’s a big difference between people who have a budget and people who have a budget and stick to it.
To be clear, I have definitely been the person who has a budget but does not stick to it!
Unfortunately, there’s no secret hack to help you stick to your budget other than discipline. You just have to force yourself to do it.
However, the other tips on this list should help as well!
Here are some articles to help you get started with your budget:
TREAT YOURSELF WITH PLANNED PURCHASES
You might think this tip is counterproductive since the goal of this article is to help us to spend less money. But I promise this works.
You know how super-restrictive diets are almost impossible to stick to because when you restrict yourself too much, you end up overcorrecting the other way. And by that, I mean totally blowing the diet.
Well, budgets are pretty much the same.
If you restrict yourself too much, you’re going to eventually end up breaking the budget. And you’ll probably go way overboard.
But by treating yourself in small ways and building that into your budget, you’re scratching the shopping itch without blowing your budget.
FOCUS ON YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS
My partner and I love to eat out. If we’re going to blow the budget anywhere, it’s going to be on eating out.
The one thing that has been most effective for us to stop impulsively going out to eat several times per week is putting our financial goals front and center.
We bought a big whiteboard and hung it in our living area. On it, we wrote our financial goal.
We also included a budget tracker to show how close we are to our financial goal and a budget tracker showing how much we have spent eating out that month.
Every day, we are looking at our financial goal. And every time we impulsively go out to eat, we have to mark it on the board so that we’re hyperaware that we’re choosing to put that money toward eating out instead of our financial goal.
And it’s actually worked!
Figure out a way to put your financial goal front and center, so you’re constantly reminded of the opportunity cost of impulse buying.
Read More: How to Set Financial Goals: a 7-Step Guide
STICK TO A WAITING PERIOD
Create a rule for yourself where every time you want to buy something, you have to wait at least one week before pulling the trigger.
Chances are, that feeling that you absolutely have to have it will have dissipated during that week. You may not want it at all anymore.
If the week passes and you do still feel like you must have it, then it’s time to revisit the budget.
Can you fit it into your budget for this month, or do you need to set aside money for it for a few months before you can pull the trigger?
UNSUBSCRIBE FROM EMAIL LISTS
For the longest time, I felt like it was super practical to be on the email list for all of my favorite stores. Then I would know when they were having a sale, and that’s the only time I would let myself shop.
But here’s the problem. Stores know that people do this, and so they are always having a sale.
Meaning I was constantly being given opportunities to impulse shop and feel like I was saving money.
It’s better to unsubscribe from those emails and remove the temptation altogether. If you have a specific item that you want to buy, then you can just set an alert on that one item to be notified when it goes on sale.
Read More: 25 Creative Ways to Save Money
UNFOLLOW SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
If you follow many influencers on social media, then you’re probably constantly being marketed to. Seriously, every day some blogger is popping into my Instagram stories or feed to talk about some new beauty product or clothing item that they’re obsessed with and that we all absolutely need to have.
It can be a lot. And if I was still an impulse spender, I would probably be spending all of my money on things I don’t need.
If you struggle with impulse spending when you hear about new products from bloggers and influencers, then it’s probably time to start unfollowing.
At the very least, mute those influencers during specific times of the year (i.e. during the Nordstrom sale – better yet just stay off social media during that week).
DON’T SHOP WHEN YOU’RE EMOTIONAL
I mentioned earlier that emotional shopping is one of the reasons that many of us impulse shop. So the obvious answer, of course, is just to stop emotional spending.
Easier said than done, I know.
The best thing to do is to make a plan for what you’ll do instead of shopping when you’re emotional.
For example, I have found that journaling is one of the best ways to get out of a negative mindset. If I’m having a rough day, I feel so much better after writing it out.
So instead of shopping when I’m emotional, I write.
Other things you can do instead might include meditating, working out, cleaning, or talking to a friend or partner.
Read More: The 7 Best Personal Finance Books to Read in 2020
AVOID USING CREDIT CARDS (MAYBE)
If you’re an impulse shopper, you need to avoid credit cards at all costs!
Credit cards are a super-effective way of being able to impulsively spend money without feeling the hit right away.
It’s so easy to pretend it doesn’t really “count” because the money isn’t actually leaving your bank account.
If you have ever made this argument to yourself, it’s time to hide your credit cards. Seriously.
I used to make this argument to myself a lot, and now I’m paying off the credit card debt from that time in my life.
Switching to only using a debit card made a huge difference because I was limited as to how much money I could spend, and was forced to prioritize my spending between impulse spending or more important things.
As a side note, I actually love credit cards and recommend using them if you can do so responsibly. But it’s best to avoid them until you overcome your impulse spending problem.
SHOP WITH A FRIEND
Let me preface this one by saying that this is a situation where you really need to know your friends and what influence they have on you.
I can confidently say that I’m going to spend less money if I’m shopping with my best friend or my partner.
Part of the reason for this is that they don’t spend a lot of money shopping, so I’m more likely to spend less money.
Also, they both know me well enough to tell me if I’m going overboard or buying things I don’t really need.
Read More: 38 Personal Finance Tips to Help You Master Your Money
SHOP ONLINE FOR NECESSITIES
One thing I have found to be really effective for limiting my impulse spending is just to stop going into the stores that tempt me and order things online instead.
For example, let’s say I’m out of dry shampoo and need to run into Target to get more. Now I’m in the Target beauty department and can be tempted by everything else in the Target beauty department.
But instead, I can buy the same dry shampoo for the same price and get free shipping via the Target or Amazon app, and I’m not putting myself in a situation to be tempted by anything else.
Not only am I saving myself the time it takes to drive to Target and back, but I’m also probably saving myself some money.
DO A NO-SPEND MONTH
So you know how I said most of us are just in the habit of spending, and that’s why we find ourselves making so many impulse purchases?
I think the best way to get out of that habit is to have a no-spend month.
During a no-spend month, you don’t spend money. It’s pretty self-explanatory. This obviously doesn’t apply to necessities such as food or any toiletries that you might run out of.
Most people only think about the benefit of a no-spend month in terms of just that one month. And yes, you’ll definitely save some money that month.
But the benefits will last a heck of a lot longer because you’ll have eliminated the habit of shopping when you’re bored or emotional or having FOMO, and you’ll be less likely to do that kind of spending in the future.
Over the course of that month, you’ll have learned to be okay with not buying that thing that everyone else is buying.
You’ll have found other things to focus on when you’re bored instead of shopping.
You’ll have found other ways to deal with negative emotions rather than emotional spending.
It’s worth noting that I’m generally not a big fan of no-spend months because they can feel restrictive. And as we talked about above, restriction doesn’t usually work. However, a no-spend month can be helpful in this case, since it helps kick the impulse buying habit.
Impulse shopping is obviously a huge problem in our society today. Consumerism is constantly being marketed and advertised to us.
But it is possible to get rid of your impulse spending habit.
It’s not easy, and it’s not always going to feel great. But I promise it will feel amazing when you are reaching your financial goals because you didn’t spend money on things you didn’t really need!
I’ve had my fair share of struggles with impulse and emotional spending, and the tips I shared in this post have helped me immensely.
I hope they help you too!