How To Stop Your Impulse Spending

Written on 9/19/2008 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: iboy_daniel

Impulse SpendingHave you ever spent the morning at the shopping mall, returned home and realized that half of your purchases were junk that you didn’t need? Have you ever been persuaded to buy something just because it was on sale, near the register, or packaged in your favorite color? Do you look at your receipts with a sense of dread, unwilling to total up how much you’ve spent during your shopping trip?

Ok, if you said no to all of those, I am not sure that I believe it. At one point or another, all of us have failed to resist the impulse.

Something tells us that we need this belt, shirt, candy bar, magazine, etc.

So let’s lose the denial and face facts. If we cannot control this erratic behavior, we’re wasting tons money – either cash or worse, by credit. Like any habit, there are ways we can set ourselves up for a successful quit. Let’s go through some of them.

Always make a list
Before you go on any shopping trip, make a list of what you intend to purchase. Most of us do that when we’re off to buy groceries – but you should write out a list even when you’re going to a hardware store, a furniture store, etc. For example, if you need stationary, write down exactly what you’re after – pens, ink, paper. This means you won’t forget some vital item and you’ll be less likely to pick up things which aren’t on your list – magazines, or sweets.

If you’re clothes shopping, make a list of what items you need. Perhaps you’re looking for a new pair of jeans and some socks. You’ve got plenty of sweaters – so just because you see one half-price doesn’t mean you should buy it. Yes it’s 50% off but it’s 100% more than you intended to spend on a sweater.

Don’t buy when you’re browsing
Some of us, of course, like to go around the shops just for fun. Whether you’re browsing a bookshop, clothing outlets or a computer store, be clear in your head that you’re just looking. Don’t grab something on impulse. If you see a great offer, or an item you really love, then make a note of it and go home to think about it. You can come back a few days later if you’ve decided you really do want to buy it. To be even more strict with yourself, consider using the 30-day rule.

If you really can’t wait a few days, then at least go and do the rest of your shopping before you return to the store. Half the battle against impulse buying is just stepping back and taking time to think before you buy.

Spend cash
It’s easy to spend far more than you realize when you’re putting it all on plastic. One sure-fire way to curb the urge to buy is to take out a set amount of cash (maybe $50 or $100) at the start of your shopping trip, then only spend cash. Once your money’s gone, it’s gone.

And if you always spend cash, you won’t be running up debt on your credit card. Yes, you’re planning to pay it off on time every month – but a little too much impulse shopping and a few expensive emergencies is all it takes for you to be unable to make the payment. Unless you have a flush emergency fund already set aside, I’d stick with cash instead of worrying about lost credit card rewards.

Keep a spending log

If you need some heavy duty help with impulse control, keep a spending log. Writing down everything that you spend keeps you accountable to yourself. Being able to look back at the end of the week or month and figure out when you’ve wasted money can help you to curb your spending in future.

Another way to do this is to use a site like Joe’s Goals and enter a negative “goal” of “bought something on impulse”. Any time you buy an item for the wrong reason – because it caught your eye and you didn’t stop to think about it – give yourself a cross against this goal. You’ll soon be able to see how often you impulse shop.

Are you an impulse buyer or do you have your shopping habits totally under control? Who’s benefiting from your shopping trips – you, or the big chains of stores that encourage you to spend, spend, spend? Have you got any great tips on curbing the urge to buy?

Ali

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