14 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying and Save Money

Instead of caving, use these 14 tips and tricks to resist bad spending habits so you can save more money.

No matter how frugal you are, no one is immune from making impulse purchases from time to time. But the more you give in, the more harmful it can be to your financial life.

Overspending is a common barrier to achieving key financial goals, such as saving 10% of your gross income for retirement or building a 3-month emergency cash cushion. Spending more than you can afford, or buying things you simply don’t need, can throw your financial stability off kilter.

Instead of caving to impulses, develop strategies that stand in the way between the compulsion to buy and buying. Use these 14 tips and tricks to resist bad spending habits so you can save more money.

14 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying and Save Money

  1. Shop with a list.
  2. Use a waiting period rule.
  3. Calculate the value in time.
  4. Don’t buy items that can’t be returned.
  5. Reevaluate what you already own.
  6. Plan your splurges.
  7. Give yourself a no-spending challenge.
  8. Unsubscribe from retail newsletters.
  9. Only shop with a clear head.
  10. Never shop for entertainment.
  11. Read the reviews.
  12. Minimize the damage.
  13. Think about your last purchase regret.
  14. Remember your goals.

Here’s more detail about each strategy to kill impulse buying.

1. Shop with a list.

Whether you’re shopping for groceries, holiday gifts, or clothes, have a list of what you really need to buy and challenge yourself to stick to it.

You’ll always find something you didn’t know you wanted, whether it’s Oreos or designer shoes on sale. Using a list as your shopping plan keeps you focused so you’re less likely to become distracted by anything that’s not on the list.

A good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least 24 hours to decide if buying something is a need, or just a random impulse purchase, by “sleeping on it.”

2. Use a waiting period rule.

Create a rule that before buying anything over a certain amount, such as $50 or $100, that you’ll give yourself time to think about it. It could range from an hour to a month, depending on your propensity to splurge. But the longer you can wait the better.

A good rule of thumb is to give yourself at least 24 hours to decide if buying something is a need, or just a random impulse purchase, by “sleeping on it.” That allows enough time for your impulse to settle down so you can approach the purchase with a clear mind if you really do need it.

If you’re shopping in a brick and mortar store and find something that you think you can’t live without, take a picture of it and its price. You can revisit the item after your waiting period has expired and even use the information to do comparison shopping online.

3. Calculate an item’s value in time.

Since a spending impulse is often emotional, engaging the logical part of your brain is a powerful way to stop it. One tactic is to think about how much time it would take you to earn what an item costs.

For example, if you earn $25 an hour after taxes, buying a $250 suit costs you 10 hours of work. Is it worth the equivalent of a long workday? Only you can decide. Being a more logical shopper can instantly change your mindset so you think more rationally and put the brakes on an impulse purchase.

4. Don’t buy anything that can’t be returned.

Sometimes the most tempting purchases are the ones you can’t return. Like a super low final clearance price online that you think is too good to pass up. Sometimes there’s a reason a marked-down item hasn’t sold well, like not fitting well or being different from the picture.

We’ve all experienced how terrible it is to regret buying something you can’t return. At least buying something you regret that you can return allows you to undo the damage once you come to your senses.

5. Reevaluate what you already own.

Sometimes paring down is the key to figuring out what you really use so you can find more satisfaction in those items instead of accumulating more.

If you’re a compulsive shopper, you probably have a lot of stuff, such as a closet full of clothes or a garage full of gadgets. So, instead of buying the next item that you probably don’t need, reevaluate what you already have.

Sometimes paring down is the key to figuring out what you really use so you can find more satisfaction in those items instead of accumulating more. I’m a big believer in buying fewer, better quality things.

Another strategy is to organize your belongings in better ways so it’s easy to see what you have. I really enjoyed arranging my closet and kitchen using the method made famous by Marie Kondo. Her techniques and mindset for approaching clutter have become a global phenomenon.

6. Plan your splurges.

If you’re exceptionally prone to impulse purchases, trying to eliminate them altogether may be pointless. Instead, give yourself permission to make smaller purchases on a regular basis.

If you plan for one new inexpensive item a month, or a relatively expensive treat once a quarter, that can keep you from random binge buying. Setting aside a small amount of your budget as an impulse fund can give you a manageable and responsible outlet for spontaneous purchases.

7. Give yourself a no-spending challenge.

Set up a personal challenge that cuts impulse spending over a set amount of time. For instance, you might:

  • Only buy essentials (such as groceries, housing, utilities, and insurance) for an entire month.
  • Cook at home every day for a month instead of eating out.
  • Not buy any new clothes for 60 days.
  • Wait at least 24 hours before buying anything more expensive than a certain dollar amount.

Turning no-spend days into a game can make them easier to sustain and help you clearly identify spending triggers, such as surfing the web for clothes or dining out too frequently. If cutting all frivolous spending is too intense, identify specific categories that cause you trouble, such as shoes or expensive cocktails, and cut them out during a period.

Turning no-spend days into a game can make them easier to sustain and help you clearly identify spending triggers, such as surfing the web for clothes or dining out too frequently.

Also put reminders of your challenge in strategic places, like a sticky note in your wallet or on your credit cards. If you slip up, just resume the challenge right away. You might even impose a good-cause penalty, such as matching any slip-ups as donations to your favorite charity.

8. Unsubscribe from retail newsletters.

The next time you see a retail newsletter in your email inbox with a tempting promotion or sale, look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom and break the cycle. Something you just happen to see on sale that you don’t really need doesn’t save money—it just hurts your financial life.

What’s out of sight will be out of mind. That’s one less way to spend money compulsively.

9. Only shop with a clear head.

Be sure to notice when and why you make impulse purchases. Are you sad, stressed, tired, tipsy, or all the above?

You’ve probably heard the term “retail therapy.” But there are many better ways to ease stress that don’t involve spending money.

Even just being tired or hungry when you’re shopping can be dangerous. Instead of thinking about a purchase logically, you just load up the cart and buy. Consider putting off shopping until another day when you’re more rested and don’t have a grumbling stomach.

Spending to boost your mood might work in the moment, but really hurts you in the long run. It can lead to a vicious cycle where you’re upset or stressed and buy something impulsively, then you get stressed further because you bought something impulsively!

Shopping in the evening can be a particularly bad time to make decisions if you’re home alone, bored, or impaired after a few glasses of wine. So, remember never to shop when you’re restless or having a bad day. Instead, call a friend, go for a walk, or take a hot bubble bath to cheer yourself up.

Shopping in the evening can be a particularly bad time to make decisions if you’re home alone, bored, or impaired after a few glasses of wine.

10. Never shop for entertainment.

If hitting the mall or main street shopping is hurting your finances, change your idea of entertainment. When you put yourself in the center of shopping temptations, you’re probably going to buy something.

So, stay away from outlets or your favorite stores when you have time to kill and need to curb impulse buying. And don’t hang out with friends whose lives revolve around shopping when it just isn’t in your budget.

When you really need something, shopping solo can be a more mindful experience that keeps you in control and calm compared to the chaos of shopping with friends or kids.

11. Read the reviews.

The next time you’re tempted to buy something, read its product reviews, especially the low ones. Oftentimes bad reviews are exaggerated claims, but sometimes they show you the truth about the bad side of a product that may make you realize it’s not worth buying.

12. Minimize the damage.

When you find yourself in a situation where you’re about to give in to a buying impulse online, try putting the item in your cart, but then leave the site. In some cases, choosing the product may be enough to satisfy your urge to shop—even if you don’t go through with the purchase.

If you’re in a store and feel like you’re overcome with the desire to buy lots of stuff, consider taking one inexpensive item to the checkout and get out of the store with minimal financial damage. It’s not an ideal habit to follow, but stopping while you’re ahead may be a way to ease away from shopaholic tendencies.

13. Think about the last purchase you regret.

Before you pull the trigger on your next shopping impulse, think about the last time you made a buying decision that you regret. That may reveal a pattern in your behavior that you want to squelch.

Before you pull the trigger on your next shopping impulse, think about the last time you made a buying decision that you regret. That may reveal a pattern in your behavior that you want to squelch.

Decide that you won’t let yourself make another bad impulse purchase today that you’ll be sorry for in the future.

14. Remember your goals.

The idea behind curbing impulsive spending is so you can use that money to achieve your most cherished financial goals instead. So, write down your goals and keep them in strategical places you can’t avoid if you choose the wrong path.

For instance, you might use a black Sharpie pen to write your goal on your debit and credit cards. Put it on sticky notes or laminated cards for your refrigerator, desk at work, or bathroom mirror. Use it as a screen saver for your mobile devices and computers.

Creating visible triggers that prompt you to think about what you want to accomplish can be a powerful way to sidestep destructive financial behaviors. Any strategy you can use to keep your goals top-of-mind will help you focus on what’s most important and reinforce your commitments. Your goals will guide your behavior, but only if you remember them.

The best way to resist any impulse is to put time between the impulse and the action. So the more time you give yourself to settle down, remember your goals, and reconsider the purchase, the easier it becomes to resist.

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