Impulse Purchases: 7 Ways to Help Resist Them
An impulse purchase is an easy way to feel good: you see, you buy, you’re satisfied. But then if your bank account is hurting, you’re left wondering why you did it. We’ve all been there, and during COVID-19, 72% of consumers surveyed in a recent study claim that an impulse buy made during the pandemic affected their mood in a positive way.
That’s why impulsive spending is so insidiously addicting: it’s an easy feedback loop to get into and it feels familiar enough to seem harmless, or at least easy to avoid. But figuring out how to put an end to your impulse buying isn’t as simple as just saying “this stops now.”
Even when we recognize the harm of impulsive spending, we tend to convince ourselves that it’s something we’ll stop doing on a set date that’s usually pinned to tomorrow, or next week, or just after this vacation is over, or once the wedding is planned.
As long as the stop date is delayed, it allows us to feel a false sense of calm in the way of already having decided to stop the behavior. Indeed, research shows that we’re less likely to achieve a goal when we announce that we’re going to do something and other research shows that our inherent “restraint bias” means most of us overestimate our ability to practice and use self-control.
So, naturally, many of us are guilty of taking a long time to rein in our impulse purchasing. Fortunately, we know that recognizing the problem is the first step toward changing a damaging behavior. Here are a few ways to move forward and help avoid making an impulse purchase — or 10 — in the future.
Figuring out Your Tendencies
Do you tend to impulse buy online, or is it usually an in-store thing? Consider how your spending happens and what your impulse purchases tend to be: is it always a coffee in the morning before work, or is it a pricey candy bar on every Whole Foods trip.
Or is it a cart of cool under-$20 Amazon products you read about on Buzzfeed, or is it a nice pair of boots you saw in an Instagram ad? Think about what you’re spending on and where you’re being tempted by marketing. Of course, carefully looking over a month of your bank statements—or using a budgeting app—can help this process along.
Do you tend to spend to make yourself feel better in tough times? If you notice your shopping aligns with particular emotional triggers, that’s something to be aware of. And knowing how to stop using shopping to self-soothe is powerful. Here are a few tips shared from Experian on how to avoid a “retail therapy” pattern:
• Know your emotional triggers, perhaps a certain mood, and avoid shopping during those times.
• Track purchases made during emotion-based shopping and determine when you’re most vulnerable to over-spending.
• If you aren’t sure if something fits your budget, wait 48 hours before deciding whether or not to buy.
• Have a friend you can call when tempted.
Deciding How You Want to Improve
Once you’ve identified how your spending happens, it’s time to consider how you might stop impulse buying. Consider these different paths that might make sense for you, depending on your circumstances:
• Remove your card information from apps and websites where it’s saved: next time you order on Postmates, Amazon, or wherever, you’ll have manual entry to promote your consideration of the spending
• Walk it off: if you tend to spend in the mall or grocery store, physically leave the space (or set aside time before) and give yourself some time to make a plan before heading in
• Block websites you spend on: use a browser extension to block websites where you overspend
• Commit to never buying right away: make it a point to never buy something immediately and define the amount of time you’ll wait before doing so
Starting Small and Planning Realistically
Once you’ve decided on the best strategy—or multiple strategies—for stopping your impulse spending, you might want to consider a softer, piece-by-piece approach to putting those actions into place, rather than doing so in an all-or-nothing way.
Breaking one big goal—like “no more spending on Amazon while I’m at work”—down into smaller goals is one way to promote your own success, even if the steps seem silly in their smallness. For reducing your impulse spending, that could look like:
• Put all online purchases on a 72-hour consideration hold before making them
◦ Find a place to put the product, its link, its cost, and its pros and cons
◦ Set aside time to take a mindful look at these products every week
◦ Check budget before each purchase to stick to spending goals
◦ Of course, this sort of process will look different for each person, but it can universally help all of us be more pragmatic in our grand plans, and therefore more effective in executing them.
Using a Clever Tool
If you tend to overspend online, using a browser extension like Put it on Ice can be immensely helpful: it works on most major e-commerce and retail websites to turn the “add to cart” buttons into links that add the item to your ‘icebox’, where you’ll establish a sort of waiting room for all these purchases.
You can set the amount of time that they stay in that icebox, ensuring that you can only actually add the item to your cart after an allotted amount of time has passed. You’ll be shown how much you save whenever you opt to not purchase something from the icebox. Not spending can be fun, too.
Practicing Rewarding (or Disciplining) Yourself
Tip Yourself is another simple option, but for rewards: you can set the app to remind you to “tip” yourself (AKA put money in a designated savings account) for different behaviors.
For example, if you set it to remind you to tip yourself on Sundays for less overspending, you can have a weekly rewards system for getting impulse buys under control.
The “halo effect” is a term for a sort of psychological trick most easily explained as “we tend to assume familiar things are good and we behave accordingly, even when we don’t have the correct information.” In short, we fill in the blanks.
When applied to shopping, this means that the marketing of one product can influence your spending on another product or in another category entirely: we see familiar language or branding (like “deal” or “high-quality”) and we think “a steal!”
To avoid falling victim to this sort of cognitive bias we all experience, plan your purchases ahead of time: you might use a browser extension like Honey to make sure you’re getting the best price on your purchases, or you might use an Excel sheet to plan all of your spending ahead of time, as you might for a vacation.
Doing purchase-planning year round is a simple way to make sure you’re spending within your means.
Being Honest with Yourself
When you’re honest about your financial standing, you can be honest about where your spending boundaries need to be.
And when you’re honest with yourself about what are necessary expenses—the bare bones of your budget—and what is simply something you desire, you can focus more on actually saving up for the big ‘wants.’
Learning how to stop impulsive spending is clearly a very personal process: you need to be clear about your own spending tendencies, your behaviors, your goals, and the practical steps you can take to achieve them.
If you’re working on saving instead of spending, it might be time to consider opening a cash management account that fits your lifestyle. With SoFi Money® you can spend, save, and earn all in one product. Plus, it allows you to track your spending online and via our SoFi app.
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