Skip to main content

Impulse buying: 5 Strategies to help stop

minute read

    Whether it’s a pack of gum as you ring up some groceries or a new gadget you spotted while scrolling online, making an impulse buy can be a common occurrence for many. While the occasional impulse buy may not break the bank, a sustained habit of impulse buying may start to deplete your finances. Thankfully, there are some tools and techniques you can use that may help you curb impulse buying.

    Understanding the psychology of impulse buying

    What is impulse buying? Impulse buying is a sudden decision to buy something without really considering how it affects your money or financial goals. Impulse buying is often rooted more in emotion than reason.

    Where does this behavior come from?

    According to evolutionary psychology, impulse buying may come from a time when human beings were more intensely focused on immediate survival rather than long-term priorities like budgeting effectively. Our brains haven’t changed drastically from way back then, and they’re still wired to seize opportunities and gratify immediate needs. This may be why we still sometimes feel compelled to grab something that catches our eye, even if we don’t necessarily need it.

    Impulse buying can occur when this hardwired tendency meets modern shopping environments, full of attractive displays and targeted advertisements that actively encourage sudden spending decisions. Impulse buying isn’t anything to be ashamed of — it may simply be a byproduct of a survival instinct that served our ancestors well.

    1. Recognizing your triggers

    Now that you know the origins of impulse buying, one of the first steps to help manage this behavior is learning to recognize your possible triggers. A trigger is any external cue or stimulus that sparks the urge to make an impulse buy. These vary from person to person, but there are some common threads to look out for:

    • Visual appeal: Our brains are quite responsive to visual stimuli. Bright colors, attractive packaging or striking displays may grab your attention.
    • Emotional states: Feelings such as stress, happiness or even boredom might act as triggers for many people. Shopping may be a fun activity that provides temporary stress relief or enjoyment. It’s possible that, over time, you end up creating a pattern where impulsive spending is used to regulate your emotions.
    • Social influence: We’re social beings, so the things we want are often influenced by what others have or recommend. This influence is especially powerful when it comes from people we respect, such as trusted friends and role models. This is why many brands rely on celebrity endorsements as part of their advertising.
    • Sales and discounts: The thrill of getting a deal or snagging a limited offer appeals to a sense of satisfaction as well as the survival and scarcity instinct mentioned above, triggering an urge to buy before it’s “too late.”

    Being attentive to the situations where you tend to impulse buy may help you start to see it coming ahead of time, so you might resist the urge before it arises. You might slip-up every now and then but understanding your impulse buying triggers can potentially go a long way to helping you cut down on the habit.

    2. Using a budget

    Learning how to stop impulse spending may sometimes feel like you’re competing against your nature, especially given the triggers we discussed earlier. Creating a solid budget may help you persevere when you’re getting the urge to spend.

    Having a budget doesn’t just mean tracking your dollars and cents. When it comes to stopping your impulse spending, budgeting is about creating awareness of where your money is going and aligning it with your financial goals. By knowing your spending limits and keeping an emergency fund aside, you may start to create a safety net that helps make room for some unplanned spending.

    3. Building healthy shopping habits

    One of the first steps in learning how to stop impulse buying is to develop shopping habits that help, rather than hinder, the pursuit of your financial goals. Here are a few core principles and strategies that may form the bedrock of more effective shopping.

    Shopping with intent

    • Using a shopping list: Writing down what you need before heading to the store might help keep you anchored to your priorities at the store.
    • Shopping with support: Having a friend or family member who understands your financial goals could help provide accountability and remind you to stay thoughtful with your spending.

    Finding balance

    • Setting discretionary spending limits: Allowing specific limits for indulgences or treats might help keep shopping enjoyable without risking your overall financial stability. This may be the key to the longevity of any savings plan.
    • Picturing your financial goals: Consider how a potential purchase fits into your life. Remembering why you desire your long-term financial goals may serve as a buffer against the temptation of whatever’s in front of you.

    Embracing flexibility

    • Avoiding harsh restrictions: Healthy shopping habits don’t always mean rigid rules. Embracing flexibility means acknowledging both your needs and your wants and making room for both while staying mindful of your priorities.
    • Staying mindful: This means working with strategies that help keep your shopping a positive, purposeful experience.

    4. Harnessing delayed gratification

    Delaying gratification means resisting the temptation of an immediate reward in favor of a later, often more meaningful or satisfying, outcome. In terms of shopping, it’s about taking a moment to pause and reflect on a purchase rather than acting on the immediate desire to buy. Here’s how you might harness delayed gratification in your daily spending habits:

    • “Sleeping on” purchases: Before making a big purchase, take a night to think it over. This break allows emotions to settle and more reasoned thinking to take over, and may lead to a more mindful buying decision.
    • Avoiding shopping in trigger situations: This could mean staying away from online shopping on the phone or in bed where you might be more prone to impulse buying. Or it could mean choosing a different way to blow off steam or have fun when you would otherwise go shopping. The key is to stick to designated shopping times when you can be more intentional and focused.
    • Setting clear goals and rewards: Aligning your purchases with your long-term goals keeps your money in perspective. If a purchase doesn’t align with any of your objectives, consider postponing it, reinforcing your ability to delay immediate wants for more significant gains.

    5. Ask yourself questions

    Asking yourself the right questions at the right time might help frame your spending decisions in a more purposeful, less impulsive, way. Here are three questions you could ask yourself when debating a spending decision:

    • What’s the purpose of this purchase? Directly stating why you want to buy something may help determine if it’s a necessity or just a fleeting desire.
    • How does this fit into my budget? Assessing how a potential purchase aligns within your budget might help prevent overspending before it happens.
    • Will this contribute to my long-term goals? Reflecting on how a purchase aligns with your broader financial or personal goals might provide clarity and keep you working toward the things that really matter to you in the long run.

    In summary

    Everybody’s made an impulse buy or two — or three. Try learning to recognize the triggers and situations that tend to encourage your impulse spending. After that, better budgeting and good goal setting will often take you the rest of the way in your journey to regain control of your money habits.

    Not a customer yet?

    Not a customer yet? 

    What to read next