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How to Stop Impulse Buying

Updated on February 19, 2014

Impulse Shopping Drains the Budget

Its not even the middle of the month, and you've blown through most of your budget. How did that happen again? Sure, things are getting more expensive and maybe you didn't plan on taking your cat to the vet, but one of the biggest monetary drains for most of us is impulse shopping. That is, purchasing items that you don't need, didn't know that you wanted and for which you didn't budget.

You can learn how to stop impulse buying, however.

With a little forethought, practice and planning, you can stick to your shopping list, purchase only items that you need and find a lot more money in your monthly budget.

Trust me, you will be amazed at how much you can save when you trim down to the essentials. And you won't feel deprived, either. In fact, sticking to a budget is invigorating and builds confidence. Think about putting aside a few extra dollars each week for a special purchase in the future. Every time you successfully thwart an instant gratification urge, you come that much closer to being able to afford something that you really want!

Let's go over some tips to help you stop impulse buying so you can enjoy your hard-earned money on more important purchases.

Shopping gives only a temporary high
Shopping gives only a temporary high

Stop Impulse Buying at the Grocery Store

We'll start with the grocery store because that is one of the easiest places to stop impulse buying and yet - because we go there several times a week - the unplanned purchases can quickly add up.

To get a better handle on your budget and trim excess costs, follow these tips before you go grocery shopping:

1. Make a list before you go to the store. A grocery list should include items that you need for at least 2-3 days for planned menu items. Don't buy too many perishables, or they may end up as food waste.

2. Stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store. Most items you'll need will be in the produce, dairy, bread and meat aisles. The center of the store includes expensive, processed food that probably is not on your list.

3. Before checking out, edit your cart. Take a look at the items you've selected and plan to remove at least 3 non-essentials before you hit the check-out line. If you can cut down even further, good for you!

4. Don't justify extra purchases with coupons or sale items. Who cares if the scalloped potatoes are 1/2 price? You probably don't need to stock your pantry with them in June. Likewise for junk food that is often placed near the ends of aisles with enticing sale prices. Stick to your list and you'll save money and extra weight gain.

5. Shop when you are rested and within 1-2 hours of a meal. If you are hungry, not only will you add more food to your cart, but you are more likely to go for otherwise "off limits" items like a candy bar or ice cream. Fuel up before you go shopping and you'll strengthen your resolve.

6. Prepare a weekly budget for grocery shopping and stick to it. Plan a realistic budget for your essential purchases for 1 week, including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat/seafood, frozen items and canned goods. Don't forget coffee, milk and bread. You might want to consult old grocery receipts to prepare your weekly budget. If you spend it all by Thursday, then you might want to restrict yourself from heading to the grocery store again before Sunday. Making a plan will help reduce the potential of impulse buying.

What is Impulse Buying?

Stop Impulse Buying at the Mall

Heading to the shopping mall can be a nightmare for people trying to save money and/or stick to a budget. Let's face it - retail stores are set up to get you to linger and spend your cash!

Yet, if you have items on your list or gift shopping for friends or relatives to do, you may need to make a plan before heading into the battlefield!

1. Stick to the stores that carry the items for which you are shopping. Don't browse other outlets, or you may find yourself purchasing things you may regret later.

2. Give yourself a time limit per store, or per entire shopping trip. I give myself 10 minutes per store. If the lines are too long, then I will literally walk out to prevent lingering and adding items to my cart. You can also time your entire trip to the mall to be no longer than 60-90 minutes. That will help you stay on task and not get sucked into the shopping experience for pleasure.

3. Do your research first. If you are looking for a specific item, search online to get a rough idea of what it should cost. More than 5% over that price and I'd say its time to head home.

4. Remember that you are not shopping for yourself. Many of us use shopping as a reward. This is not the time or place for that! Instead of purchasing something on impulse, think about picking up a coffee on the way home or even taking a nap later in the day to compensate for your hard work shopping.

Buying unnecessary items for pets is often a sign of shopping addiction
Buying unnecessary items for pets is often a sign of shopping addiction

Compulsive Shopping is a Serious Addiction

Stop Impulse Buying Online

Shopping online is both easier and more difficult when it comes to stopping impulse buying.

On one hand, you can avoid the mood lighting, music and pushy salespeople that are present at retail outlets. Not to mention encouraging friends who may be shopping with you and telling you that you CAN afford it!

On the other hand, shopping online can make it more difficult to stick to a budget because the stores are open 24/7 and often offer enticing coupon codes and free shipping. Here's how to manage those temptations:

1. Don't shop just because you are bored. Looking for some entertainment? If you are stuck at your computer, why not head to youtube.com, or surf interesting stories at stumbleupon.com. Chances are that if you navigate to a retail site, you'll find something you want to buy that is probably not within your monthly budget.

2. Take yourself off email lists. This is top on my list! I get emails every 2-3 days from Pottery Barn, Gymboree, FootZone and Oprah.com. You can still browse their offerings through print media, or simply by navigating to their sites when you are looking for a gift or something specific. Trust me when I say you will save at least $50 this year simply by removing yourself from all email marketing lists.

3.  Avoid Getting Lured by the "Great Deal."  Online auction sites like eBay and community sales websites like Craigslist can be especially enticing when you are considering what a great deal or discount you may be getting on coveted items.  But remember - every dollar you spend is one less in your pocket.  If you are really excited about a potential deal, wait at least 24 hours (if possible) and then decide if its still something you cannot live without.

Impulse buying online is also dangerous
Impulse buying online is also dangerous | Source

Are you a Shopaholic?

Why Do People Engage in Impulse Buying?

In order to stop impulse buying most effectively, we need to address the reasons behind it. They vary from individual to individual, but can usually be classified in one of the following:

  • Insecurity - buying things makes us feel more confident and secure, even if we are using plastic for the purchases
  • Depression - shopping results in a rush of endorphins, much like eating chocolate or exercising, which temporarily addresses sadness or stress
  • Inability to Delay Gratification - more deeply rooted psychological issues (addictions such as alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders) can be replaced by shopping addiction if professional help is not sought
  • Narcissism - Is it all about you? That's not necessarily a good thing. People that are overly focused on themselves have a tendency to overshop, as well.

If you are concerned about your impulse buying or are wondering whether you have a shopping addiction, talk to your doctor.  Medication is not usually the first response, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in which you talk to a therapist about underlying issues can often be very helpful.

Are you addicted to shopping?
Are you addicted to shopping? | Source

What Tactic do you use to Stop Impulse Buying?

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    • creditcomedy profile image

      Credit Comedy 2 years ago

      This was awesome....

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you BR - retailers definitely play to our weaknesses, positioning products near checkout stands and suggesting related purchases when you're shopping on line. It takes a vigilant approach, as you suggested, to stick to a budget. Thanks for the comment, Steph

    • brandrocker profile image

      brandrocker 5 years ago

      A nice hub addressing an important issue - budget spoiler. I do not recommend impulse buying. Unless it relates to medical emergency, or, children's education - every other spending can be done with prior planning, setting a budget limit, allocating fund, and finally order from a trustworthy place.

    • profile image

      Nico 6 years ago

      Cupons and 'great deals' could be in the the same time either in your advantage, or not at all!! One should think straight before purchasing something with discount, as there might be no practical usability ...

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 6 years ago from United States

      Haha, you are right stephhicks68 - computers make it hard to resist temptation.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Best tip yet, Marlo!! Stay away from temptation (but I guess that might also mean turn off your computer and don't shop online)

    • MarloByDesign profile image

      MarloByDesign 6 years ago from United States

      I have a tip - do not go to the mall if you are an impulse shopper :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks crafty - I am sure that excessive spending would strain any relationship! That would be difficult. best, Steph

    • craftybegonia profile image

      craftybegonia 6 years ago from Southwestern, United States

      Great topic! I know someone whose husband was a shopaholic and it drove them to divorce!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      You are one smart woman, MsLizzy! Definitely a good trick to use when you go to the grocery store to stop impulse buying! Best, Steph

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Ah, yes..the grocery store trap.

      Here's my tip for that one: if you're only going for "a few things," do NOT get a cart!!! When your hands are full of the "few things" and you can carry no more, you're done! Go to the checkout line.

      If you need "just a few" heavy things, like a gallon of milk and a 5 pound can of coffee, then get one of the little hand-baskets only. Avoid the cart!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good tips - there is a big difference between self-denial and people who cannot walk into a store without coming out with a bag in their hand. The same applies to grocery shopping. Some people go in for milk and eggs and come out with about 10 additional items each time. That can be a budget-buster.

      As you note, spending responsibly can be a great source of personal freedom. But when you are racking up debt, there is nothing free about that.

      Cheers, Steph

    • robertsloan2 profile image

      robertsloan2 6 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      I have one important thing to add to the suggestions in this article. The way I conquered impulse spending was to budget it. That simple. That basic.

      I look at my budget and decide how much spending money I have. I allocate some of it for impulse buying without deciding what that's going to be on. Then I know I'm going to get something I need or want and have been waiting for when I do my regular shopping. The pleasant task of choosing on the spot is something I haven't lost in controlling my budget.

      People find pleasure in shopping for reasons besides the addictive, negative ones listed. So finding ways to enjoy the experience without wrecking your budget can include:

      Set a budget for spending without deciding what it's going to be on.

      Spend that fixed budget without any guilt or beating yourself up. Don't worry about buyer's remorse, if you didn't like something you got just to please yourself you can always pass it on to someone who likes it. The point was getting to do it.

      Go to stores where you can get good bargains with that spending budget. Thrift shops, flea markets, eBay and other bargain places can give you the same shopping experience as expensive mall stores.

      Take your spending money out of the bank in cash if you shop in person, so that when it's gone it's gone. Don't ever use plastic for impulse purchases.

      I also found that for shopping online, playing with the cart all month before my check comes lets me enjoy the experience of making the decision of what to get more than once. I put things in the cart and take them out, balancing it to the amount of money I have budgeted on my next check. Then I actually purchase what's in the cart a month later - after weeks of anticipation during which I've found out by trial and error what I really want most. Since I started doing this I haven't bought one thing that I had buyer's remorse about or had trouble going over budget.

      That's an approach that isn't All or Nothing.

      Shopping is one of the few experiences in life where people get to make choices independently without having to answer to someone else about it. At work most people are supervised. At home you have to take your spouse's desires and needs into consideration.

      Also when shopping, generally people are courteous and respectful to you compared to other experiences. This combination of respectful treatment and independent decision making is the real appeal of shopping - and it's something you can get at a thrift store for $10 as easily as at a mall for $1,000.

      So identify what your real needs are before denying them. Finding other ways to satisfy them like windowshopping online before buying or shopping at cheaper stores on a budget can leave you happier than either self denial or budget-busting shopping addiction.

    • craftdrawer profile image

      craftdrawer 6 years ago

      Excellent information! It is good to remind ourselves of these things - I really like the idea of making a list!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi pakpub,

      I do the same thing - often, shopping leaves me caught up in the moment and "excitement" of getting something new (which is exactly what the retailers are hoping) Waiting and taking a step back is helpful to curb the impulse. Best, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi dobster1 - wow, bargain shopping is a challenge if you are trying to cut down on impulse spending! A visit to Turkey sounds lovely. Hope it was a great trip. Cheers, Steph

    • pakpub profile image

      pakpub 6 years ago from Ohio

      When I have the urge to impulse shop I stop and think...do I really need this? I only buy if the answer is yes and with impulse shopping it rarely is. Nice hub.

    • dobster1 profile image

      dobster1 6 years ago

      Well, I just went to Turkey...- the kingdom of inexpensive shopping + bargaining. Prices are even lower than the US!

      Curbing impulsive shopping in a foreign country can only be enforced by airline regulations, I think!

      Do not travel to Turkey if you have a shopping addiction issue :)

    • profile image

      Mike l. 6 years ago

      I´m impulsive shopper...but Idon´t understand why

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Grace - you are 100% right. I read recently that the average family of 4 that spends $180 a week on groceries ends up wasting $20 of it. Groceries certainly add up and if you impulse buy without a list, your risk of food waste increases. Funny about the ice cream, huh? :)

    • profile image

      graceomalley 6 years ago

      One big area for our family is food waste, which you mentioned. Groceries add up, and throwing food out is money gone. I think I need more strategies for avoiding too many leftovers. Though I have to say, ice cream never goes to waste :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Good for you, mercurialmaven - I think that used books can fall into the category of nice little extras to spend the cash you save by not impulse spending elsewhere! Cheers, Steph

    • mercurialmaven profile image

      mercurialmaven 6 years ago from Reston, VA

      This is a great hub article. Fortunately, I've gotten most of my impulse spending under control, but it's still way too easy for me to buy a little something extra at the used book store.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Peggy - great for you! I find that shopping with cash instead of even checks or debit cards keeps the experience "real" and the way commerce used to be. Contemporaneous exchange of money for goods and no bills! Best to you, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Oh yeah Mike - some things (like B&J ice cream) can slip... ;-) Enjoy the free skypes too!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      DsyMsLizzy already stated what would have been my "extra" tip...that of only using cash. For some reason it seems more real when counting out 5's, 10's and 20's rather than using that piece of plastic. Also...no bills at the end of the month! Excellent hub. Rating it useful.

    • profile image

      Mike Marks 6 years ago

      gotta confess I'd be pleased if the wife surprised me with some chocolateychocolate Ben and Jerry's...

      ...and two minutes ago she and I just, on impulse, hooked up the free skype's between our laptops (may allow for that extra B&J money)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Oh yes, drbj - that very thing happened tonight. I sent hubby to the store for milk and margarine and he also brought home some Ben & Jerry's ice cream.... ;-)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      Very good pointers, steph. Would add just one more. When you make that list go to the store and shop yourself. Do NOT ask you mate to go shopping for you or there goes your budget in one fell swoop - on chips, and popcorn and pretzels and pickles and etc. etc. etc.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you kashmir! I appreciate the comment and support, as always. Happy New Year!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great information for those who are impulsive shoppers .

      Great hub!!!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Now that's how you manage your spending! Great work. If you don't have the plastic in your wallet, you can't use it. All of a sudden you have to think a lot more before impulse buying. Thanks for the input, MsLizzy! :) Best, Steph

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Agree with all of your ideas, but I take it one further. The 'why's' and 'wherefore's' are a long story, but we eliminated ALL our credit cards. Presto! End of impulse buying.

      If we don't have the cash, we can't afford it, and that also effectively ends shopping online, as for security reasons, we will NOT use our ATM/Debit card online.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Nell, I think there is an exception for bookstores - especially antique books. ;-) Cheers, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi everyone and Happy New Year! Thank you for all the wonderful comments and votes. I wish you all the best in sticking to a personal budget this year and avoiding unnecessary purchases. :) Best, Steph

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, these are great ideas, I have never been one to shop for clothes or bags, but if I walk past a book shop, especially if it is old, I can feel myself being drawn, no, actually pulled, by some magical influence floating out of the door! ha ha I have to physically shove myself forward and say NO! lol so I am definitely going to take notice of this! great hub, voted up and everything! cheers nell

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent Hub!!

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      Malls are a big no no,and Emails with a deal stays in my computer for days before I either delete or check the price on other sites and even call a local store to challenge them to beat the price,thanks for the read,stephhicks.:)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 6 years ago from UK

      This is a fantastic hub! Extremely well written and full of useful tips. Bravo! I am certainly going to bookmark this for when I next feel the urge....Have a great New Year!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Thanks for share this valuable information. This might happen to us, especially for women. Better to manage our budget in shopping to prevent be a shopaholic. I also wrote similar topic, "How To Shop Wisely", you can check in you have time. I believe we all glad to follow your tips. I also enjoy the video above. You always come with beautiful presentation, like this one. I learn much from you, Steph. My vote always for you. Happy New Year.

      Blessing and hugs,

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Excellent hub on curbing your impulse buying full of great suggestions. Rated up.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Barry and Lilly - Happy New Year to you both! Steph

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 6 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Way to go! This is an excellent Hub. Good Luck and Happy New Year.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      As usual with your hubs lots of useful information...