How to Stop Impulse Buying and Overcome It

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Americans impulsively spend an average of $183 every month. That’s around $6 a day, which doesn’t really hurt, right? But it actually adds up to an extra $2,196 spent every year. Ouch!

Shopping provides comfort and joy to many consumers. It’s not secret that Americans have a shopping addiction. In fact, 84 percent of all shoppers have engaged in impulsive purchases at one point.

However, with most shopping addicts having an annual income of less than $50,000 a year, many are in search of ways to save money. If you’re looking for ways to curve your shopping impulses, you’ve come to the right place! This article will highlight steps to take so you can stop overspending on impulse buys and say yes to saving money.

What is Impulse Buying?

Impulse buying occurs when you buy something that you weren’t planning to.

It could be as small as grabbing a Coke at the check-out line when it wasn’t on the grocery list or as big as buying a new car at a car dealership because you fell for dirty car dealer tricks, they were both impulses.

It’s happened to all of us, in fact, 84% of people surveyed say they have done it!

Why Do We Struggle With Impulse Buying?

So why do we overspend or buy on impulse? There are three reasons why people purchase things impulsively:

These are:

  • Our emotions
  • Think we are getting a good deal
  • Our past experience

Even though everyone is different, there are simple ways to stop impulsive spending in five easy steps.

How to Stop Impulse Buying

Okay, so how the heck do you stop yourself from buying on impulse? This is where I really want to help you, so get comfortable. I’ve come up with five steps to help you dodge the temptation to overspend.

Step 1: Make a budget and stick to it

However, before you can move forward with saving, you need to take a hard look at your current financial status. Look at debit and credit card statements, along with cash receipts to fully understand where your money is going.

Start by breaking your purchases into two main categories: essential and non-essential. Your essential spending will include subcategories you can’t live without — rent, gas, food, etc.

Non-essential spending categories include gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, clothes purchases, streaming services, grooming, music downloads, etc.

Essential Spending

  • Housing:
  • Car:
  • Food:
  • Insurances:
  • Utilities:
  • Phone:
  • Essential 1:
  • Essential 2:

Non-essential Spending

  • Streaming Services:
  • Take-out:
  • Bars/Nightclubs:
  • Clothing Purchases:
  • Gaming Purchases:
  • Non-essential 1:
  • Non-essential 2:
  • Total Non-essential Spending:

Total up the amounts in each category.

Your largest non-essential line items are the ones you should tackle first and try to decrease future spending.

Step 2: Give yourself permission to spend

Next, look at all your income. Be sure to include any anticipated student loan refund checks, allowances, rental income, side hustles, gig work and child support payments.

You want to have a full picture of how much money you’re bringing in. You can use tools like Personal Capital (review) to help you with this.

After you total your income, compare this number to your total expense budget.

Are you spending more than you make? For most, the answer is yes. To determine how much money you truly have to spend on your impulsive shopping, take your total income and decrease it by your essential spending total.

This number is called your discretionary income.

Total Income – Essential Expenses = Discretionary Income

In order to start saving, your non-essential spending must be less than your discretionary income. The following tips will highlight how you can accomplish this goal.

Step 3: Stop carrying debit and credit cards.

Debit and credit cards provide convenience for the everyday shopper. According to the US Bank Cash Behavior Survey, 50 percent of respondents reported carrying cash less than half of the time. However, ditching your plastic can have huge returns when you’re trying to save money.

Use the envelope method to keep track of your non-essential spending. Think about each of the categories listed under non-essential spending. Create an envelope for each.

In order to save money, determine how much you can afford to spend in each category. At the beginning of each month, put your budgeted amount in the corresponding envelope.

This is the money you will use to make your everyday purchases. When you run out of funds in the envelope, you can’t buy anymore! This is a simple method that requires discipline in order to work. At the end of the month, any money left over goes into savings.

Pro tip: Apps like Qube Money (review) also implement the envelope method but offer a new way to budget via its app — it’s worth checking out.

Step 4: Unsubscribe from retail email and mobile subscription lists

Retailers have a way of playing on shoppers’ impulsive behaviors. How many times were you sitting at work and received an email notification that your favorite store was having a 24-hour sale? What about a Happy Hour 50% off sale? Oh, and can’t forget about free shipping if you spend more than $50!

All of these promotions are ways for retailers to entice shoppers into thinking they’re receiving a deal in exchange for their purchase.

If you’re an impulsive shopper, the best way to not give in to the pressure is to remove yourself from all email and mobile subscription lists.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you aren’t being bombarded will sales messaging, then you are less likely to spend your discretionary income on these items.

Step 5: Use the 24-hour rule.

Our final tip is one that requires commitment. Most impulsive shopping is coupled with a fleeting thought that most give in and fulfill. Before making any non-essential purchase, wait 24 hours.

If you still feel strongly about making the purchase, then go back to the store to buy it. You will be surprised how many items you never think about certain items again.

The 24-hour rule combats our impulsive nature and forces us to think before taking action. It can be applied in a variety of ways to help with wise decision-making. As you see your non-essential spending decrease, you should also see an increase in savings.

Other Tips to Help Stop Impulsive Shopping

Becoming frugal stems from simple lifestyle changes such as not cutting the gym membership and exercising at home or bigger commitments such as cutting down to one car for a single household.

I’ll share some changes you can make in your spending life in order to save more and spend less.

Track your spending

While it may sound tedious, start by monitoring your spending. This will help you see where your money is going and to pinpoint any “money pits,” areas in your budget where you’re spending too much and finding ways to save. These days, there are plenty of great budgeting apps such as Personal Capital or Mint at your disposal to make it easy. While tracking your spending gives you information on your spending woes and saving wins, it’s putting the work into changing your habits so you become a successful saver that makes the ultimate difference.

Take inventory of what you have

While taking inventory of your possessions, use it as an opportunity to do some decluttering. It’s a great way to see firsthand how much stuff you end up not using and can stop you from buying stuff you don’t need. To start your purge, you can apply Marie Kondo’s ever-popular KonMari Method. Make sure you get rid of stuff shortly after you’ve decided to toss or donate it. Otherwise, you may find yourself having second thoughts.

Go on a digital cleanse

The Internet can be a huge gateway to impulse shopping. Sometimes all it takes is an email notification to pop up about a flash sale to trigger an impulse buy. To curb buying things you don’t need, Flanders suggests unsubscribing from your favorite stores’ email newsletters and unfollowing them on social media. Be sure to also unsubscribe from lifestyle blogs, as they can also create unnecessary material wants. “Don’t feel bad about it—even if you know the store owner,” says Flanders. “You need to remove all temptations.”

Keep a list of your spending regrets

We’ve all experienced buyer’s remorse at one time or another. We would suggest creating a list of recent purchases you regret. Keeping this list in your wallet or on your phone to serve as a reminder will help you from continuing the same habits.

It’ll also help give some insight to when you made emotional purchases and impulse buys. Were there certain times during the past year where you were going through a difficult time in your life, such as stress on the job or a bad breakup, and splurged to boost your mood? Or maybe you tend to fall prey to super sales? By pinpointing circumstances that caused you to make these purchases, you may think twice the next time.

Go on a fiscal fast

To help you change your bad money habits, you can go on a “fiscal fast,” which is when you stop spending money for a week. This forces you to make do with items you already have in your home. You can turn it into a group event, where you do it with your family, friends, or co-workers.

Once you’ve completed your fiscal fast, you may find out that there’s a lot you can do without. It can also help you realize that a lot of the times we may spend out of habit and not from necessity. You can do this once or twice a year for a week or commit to a longer amount of time.

Stay accountable

During your financial cleanse, you may find it difficult at times to stay on track. If you’re determined to stick to your financial cleanse, stay accountable by partnering with a friend or make an agreement with someone. Besides support, your friend can also offer you financial tips. If you fall off the bandwagon and relapsing into a bad habit, don’t be too hard on yourself. It happens to the best of us. Just recommit to your goals create checkpoints to help you along.

Going on a financial cleanse will help you develop a better relationship with your money and develop saving habits. By going through a cleanse, it will put you back the driver’s seat so you can take control of your finances.

Remember This Before You Impulse Buy

Although these tips will provide you with guidance as you try to save money, it all starts with your willingness to make changes to your financial habits. It is okay to make a few impulsive buys as you start your journey toward saving.

As you make steps forward (and sometimes backward), find a friend you can talk with, who will help keep you on track toward reaching your savings goals.

Also, keep up with financial blogs like My Millennial Guide, which will help keep finances top of mind.

About the author

Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs is a personal finance expert, and the founder of My Millennial Guide, a personal finance site helping you put more money in your pocket. He helps millennials follow the smart money in order to increase their earning potential and start building wealth for the future. He regularly writes about side hustles, investing, and general personal finance topics aimed to help anyone earn more, pay off debt, and reach financial freedom. He has been quoted as a top personal finance blogger in major publications including Yahoo! Finance, NASDAQ, Discover, MSN Money and more.
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