You’ve likely made some impulse purchases in your life — or at least purchases you later realized weren’t all that wise or well thought out. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying something new or “just marked down,” that you lose sight of your better instincts — not to mention your budget.
One way to avoid making impulsive or bad buying decisions is to hit pause just before you make a purchase to ask yourself a series of simple questions. This extra step forces you to step back and honestly consider how the potential purchase fits into your life. You might ultimately decide you don’t want the item after all. And, if you do decide to buy it, you can feel confident that you’re doing it for the right reasons.
9 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying Something
Knowing some key questions to ask yourself before you buy something can help ensure that you spend according to your values and cut down on purchases you’ll regret later. After all, the last thing you want is to spend money on things that don’t really enhance your life — and may add to your debt (especially if you’re already paying off some debt).
Here are some key pre-purchase questions to consider.
1. Is This a Want or a Need?
A great first question to ask is whether your prospective purchase fulfills a need or is just something you want. If it’s an item you need — and you can afford it — then you might just go ahead and buy it. If, on the other hand, it fills a want, it’s a good idea to continue vetting the purchase with the questions that follow.
2. What Do You Gain From Buying This?
Consider what you hope to gain from making the purchase. Is it the admiration or approval from other people? Does someone you know or follow on social media have it? Is this something that will genuinely improve your quality of life?
Research suggests that people feel more satisfied when they spend money on things or experiences that mean something to them and reflect their values.
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3. Is This Something That Will Actually Sell Out?
Though retailers will often make you think you need to act quickly (due to low stock), there’s a good chance that the items that you’re thinking of buying will still be available at a later date. If you’re feeling pressured to buy due to a limited-time sale, keep in mind that sales pop up all the time. Waiting for the next one could save you even more money, as you may decide you don’t really want it that much.
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4. Can You Get It Used or for a Better Price
If you’re thinking of pulling the trigger on a full-price item you don’t need right away, consider whether you may be able to find a better deal. For example, you might:
If you’re looking at a piece of equipment (like sports, exercise, or baby gear) or furniture, keep in mind that you may be able to find it in great condition on a second-hand marketplace online or even a yard sale.
While buying used is not everyone’s cup of tea, buying on sale should be. These days, there are websites and apps that can help you do quick price comparisons to find the best deals. Some apps will even alert you when the price for a wanted item drops.
5. Do You Own Something Similar?
If you were to look at what you already own, you might be surprised to find how often you purchase nearly the same items over and over again. Buying similar items is totally understandable. We all know what makes us comfortable and what we tend to wear or like, so we gravitate to similar-looking clothes, shoes, home decor, and so on.
If you already have several coffee mugs, jean jackets, baskets, whatever that are similar to your prospective purchase, you may want to pass.
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6. Why Do You Want to Buy This Now?
Sometimes there is a clearcut reason to make a purchase, even an impulse purchase. You might be at a store and remember you need hand soap or a certain tool to make a repair. But if there isn’t a clear reason for making this purchase right now, you may want to pass.
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7. How Often Will You Use It, Really?
If you will only use or wear the item you’re thinking about buying once, or even a handful of times, you may want to rethink the purchase. It’s possible you can get by with something you have, can rent the item, or can borrow it from a friend or neighbor. This can end up saving you money — and potential buyer’s remorse.
8. If the Item Was Full Price Would You Still Buy It?
A sale price can make an item look particularly appealing. You might even think you’d be a fool to pass it by. But it’s important to put the price tag to the side for a moment and consider whether or not you really want and love the item. Would you even be considering it if it were full price? If the answer is no, it’s likely you can forgo it.
9. Would It Be Better To Put the Money Elsewhere?
If you can ask yourself this question, then you’ve arrived. You’re thinking of the big picture and wondering whether there may be other things that are more important than what’s in front of you. This involves delaying gratification and knowing how to control your spending habits.
The Psychology Behind Reflecting Before Purchasing
One common reason why we shop for new (and often similar) things is because we don’t fully appreciate the things we already possess. But there is a way you can turn this psychology around.
Before you make a purchase, consider whether or not you already own something that can fulfill the same purpose. If you do, next think about whether there is a reason you need something similar. If you can’t, you can probably easily pass on the purchase. The process of reflection not only avoids an unneeded expense but allows you to re-focus on the item you already have and appreciate it more.
How Budgeting Can Curb Compulsive Spending
Creating a budget involves looking at where your money is currently going and making sure that your spending aligns with your priorities. There are many different kinds of budgets but one simple framework is the 50/30/20 rule.
The idea is to divide your monthly income into three categories, spending 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings (and debt payments beyond the minimum). This set-up helps curb compulsive spending because you only have so much “fun” money to spend each month. It also allows you to spend money without feeling guilty, since it’s baked into the budget.
Budgeting and Saving With SoFi
If you like the idea of managing both your spending and saving all in one account, take a look at SoFi.
When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.
How do you determine if you should buy something?
A good first step is to determine whether a prospective purchase fulfills a need or is simply something you want. If it fills a need, you can go ahead buy it, as long as you can afford it. If it’s a want, you might next consider why you want to buy it. Also think about whether you may already have something similar, and whether the money might be better spent on something else.
Should a budget include flexibility for impulse purchases?
Yes. A budget will typically allot a certain amount of money just for “fun” each month. This frees you up to make the occasional impulse purchase without feeling guilty or worrying that it will hurt your long-term financial health. In fact, building in flexibility to your spending plan can help you stick with it.
What questions should you ask yourself before buying something?
Some key questions to ask yourself before you make a purchase include:
• Do I need it?
• What do I gain from buying this?
• Do I own something similar?
• If the item was full price would I still buy it?
• How often will I use it, really?
• Could I get it used or for a better price elsewhere?
• Is there a better way I could use this money?
How do you stop impulse buying psychology?
One effective strategy is to establish a waiting time before you make any discretionary purchases. If you see something you want to buy, put the purchase on pause for a week (or more). Tell yourself that if, at the end of the waiting period, you still want the item and can afford it, then you can go ahead and buy it. You may find, however, that by delaying gratification (and the purchase), you lose interest in the item and opt not to buy it after all.
Photo credit: iStock/Talaj
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