Personal Finance

How to Stop Wasting Money On Impulse Buys

Written by Stasie Tillman

Here’s a scenario: you’re at the mall mentally calculating your budget to see if there’s any room to fit in this one item you’re eyeing and salivating over. We’ve all been there. The urge to buy can override all of our common sense and willpower. Have you ever stopped to consider why this happens? Or what triggers the need to buy that must have item when you’re aware of your financial position. That purchase will not add to your life, it will not better your overall financial goals, but for a moment of instant gratification you justify it as worth it!

Too many budgets are dismantled because of impulsive spending behaviors. When this habit is not put in check, it leads to buying useless items, depleted savings, and increased debt (if you are purchasing with your credit cards). There is help! Here are some insights to clue you in on the common triggers, causes, and some helpful suggestions to avoid those unnecessary impulse purchases.

A Distressed Mind Fuels Impulsive Behavior

Our emotions are often to blame. Whether you’re riding the high of a new promotion and feel the need to gift yourself something to celebrate, or experiencing the lows of a recent breakup and think that a new toy can help you feel better, our emotions can hamper our decision making rationale, causing us to justify an unnecessary purchase and ignore the reasons we should abstain.

Some of the primary examples to not buy an item are that it’s too expensive, there’s no room in your budget and so you’d have to purchase it on credit. Or simply acknowledging that the item is a want and not a need. The reason you’re willing to consider ignoring all the red flags is because you are seeking gratification. Wrestle with your feelings to get them in check so that your budget will not suffer.


Stress is defined as a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc., or something that causes a strong feeling of worry or anxiety. Stress manifests in our bodies in a variety of ways: from physical health issues to emotional responses (such as anxiety, depression, or angry outbursts). It can also be evident in impulsive behaviors and irrational reactions to people and situations.

A good example of an irrational response to stress is unnecessary spending to buy that must-have item.

Retailers Know Your Triggers

According to Psychology Today, retailers play on the consumers’ tendency for loss aversion and capitalizing on perceived savings when they package and promote deals and discounts. Take a look at your local grocery store sales tags and you’ll see that it lists a savings amount next to the current reduced price. Along with that store circulars and ads note the sales are for a limited time which hurries consumers into stores or online so as to capitalize on the sale before the deal ends. God forbid we miss deal never mind that there is nothing cheaper than free.

Specialty Retail site describes this occurrence as the consumer exposure retailers use to promote impulsive spending. Like a carrot dangled in front of a horse and his immediate response is to chase after it. Yet the need to eat wasn’t apparent until he saw the carrot. On the other hand, purposeful buying occurs when you actually need something. If you run out of shampoo while showering, you then head to the store to buy some shampoo. That’s a purposeful shopping trip.

Shopping for entertainment will definitely lead to impulsive spending. As Specialty Retailer notes, that the majority of spending at malls are impulse buys. Those that frequently engage in window shopping are more prone to purchase unnecessary items.

Stop the Madness – Here’s how!

When faced with the urge to buy an item, it’s a good rule of thumb to walk away, even sleep on it. This allows you time to pull out of the situation (store, or proposition opportunity) to think clearly and fully assess the relevance of the product. You can evaluate if the item is a need or a want and without the stimulus insisting you buy now. You can remember that there were other expenses that were priorities over the product in question. Zen Habits writer, Leo Babauta even suggests creating a 30 day list of things you want with the date, and once you’ve hit that 30 day mark if you still strongly want that thing then you should get it. Typically over the course of 30 days the craving for that item dissipates.

Stay away from malls and avoid window shopping altogether. No temptation equals no impulse.

Unsubscribe from all store deal emails and mailers. Any store that has email access to you can litter your inbox with ads for new clothing, gear, shoes, etc. They boast discounts that are too good to miss but there is nothing cheaper than the price tag of zero dollars.

Delete deals and store apps from your electronic devices. Anything that has access to your eyes weaves into your thoughts and soon sways you to believe you have to have it. Have you ever wondered why so many apps ask for permission to access your location, contacts, internet cookies, etc.? In doing so, they can use your recent trip to the mall or recent google search for boots to send your cell an alert about the deal that matches your inquiry. Once again, pulling your attention and tempting you to buy.

Clean out your inbox
Every website or store asks for your email when you visit or make a purchase. They know that once they have your email they can continue to pull you by sending recurrent email offers. More incentive to buy unnecessary items. Decline giving the email if you can avoid it, and clean out your inbox often. That leaves nothing to pull you in during any weak moments you may have.

Budget & Itemize
Yes, any and every store visit requires a list and a limit of our time and money! Whether its magazines, store circulars, commercials on TV, radio, or internet, and in store promotions, there are a lot of things seeking to pull our attention and our resources. When heading to the store make a list of the exact items you intend to buy and write the dollar amount you plan to spend in bold at the top of your list. And as you shop you will keep that bottom line in mind to help prevent additional products from creeping into your cart.

We all need these reminders to exercise self-control to achieve the ultimate goals of good money management, but sometimes we need to help our willpower by limiting our exposure. This article on avoiding impulse buys with your credit cards and how it can negatively affect your credit can be an informative tool to dissuade you from misusing your credit card for those nonessential impulse purchases. Whatever helps right?

How do you battle the urge to impulse buy? Share with us below!

About the author

Stasie Tillman

Stasie Tillman is a writer & an investment and personal finance analyst. She oversaw the Analytics department for a prominent Long Island, New York brokerage firm for many years. She’s on a quest to
live a balanced life in all aspects (mind, body, and spirit). Come be encouraged and find inspiration to live A Stoic Life.

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