Have you ever gone into the store for a handful of items on your list but left with $100 worth of decorations, groceries, and toiletries? You needed to grab an item from the back of the store, but on your way, you stopped to feel the knit blankets and check out the workout gear, which led to you placing items you didn’t need into the cart. When you checked out, you stared dumbfoundedly at the cashier when they read your total wondering how your few items could cost that much. Most people have experienced this exact situation, mindlessly wandering the store to add items to the cart and buy on impulse. A survey found that five out of every six Americans admit that they have impulsively bought an item.
What is impulse buying?
Impulse buying is the act of purchasing an item without planning to do so ahead of time. These purchases are usually made on a whim and happen just before you go to checkout with your original purchase. This makes it so you won’t have time to change your mind or think twice about it. Often, these impulse purchases are not necessary, meaning that they are strictly wants and not needs. When you think of impulse buys, an easy example is a candy bar that you pick up in the checkout line or a new graphic tee just because you felt like it.
Why do we make purchases on impulse?
Impulse buying can be related to your emotions, according to New Neuromarketing. When you are feeling down, adding a face mask or a new speaker to your cart may make you feel better, which is better known as retail therapy. The Cleaveland Clinic also states that the same can be said for when you are adding items to your cart in a good mood. Impulsively spending money on home goods or those steaks that caught your eye in the meat department is supposed to bring you happiness, but it usually isn’t long-term.
Another reason people tend to rush their purchases is that the item is on sale, as stated in an article by Psychology Today. If a customer believes that the price of the item is at its lowest price, they will be more inclined to make the purchase. Sales like “Buy One, Get One Free” and “50% Off Today Only” rush you into feeling like you need to make the purchase now. People think that they are getting a good deal, and don’t want to miss out on buying the item.
What is the issue with impulse buying?
Picking up seemingly small items when you’re out and about, like a coffee at Starbucks or a Dairy Queen Blizzard, are impulse purchases that can really add up over time. Just one impulse buy a day can create a huge deficit in your savings.
Additionally, the consistent advertisements on the internet make it hard to control your spending habits and manage your personal finances. Websites consistently post promotions, send emails, and provide coupons in their newsletters that make it easy to be an impulse buyer. Online shopping can be dangerous because you don’t have to leave your home to make a purchase.
Impulse buying can also lead to waste. Some of the promotional sales that stores put on can encourage you to buy more products than you can normally consume. Discounts such as “Buy One, Get One Free” on perishable items can be enticing, but they may result in disposal of the extra item if it’s not used by the expiration date.
How can I stop impulse buying?
Although impulse buying can be a tough habit to break, there are things you can do to help prevent yourself from falling victim to the temptation of sales or shopping after a bad day. This process takes time and discipline but will allow you to be more comfortable and secure with your finances in the long run.
1. Shop with a list
Before you leave your home, make a list of the items you are going out to purchase. Not only will you focus your thoughts on which items you need, but you will also be holding yourself accountable to only buy what is necessary. A list can also help save you time while in the store.
2. Calculate how many hours you would need to pay for that item
If you get paid an hourly wage at your job, another way to avoid impulse buys is to calculate how many hours you would need to work to pay for that item. Reminding yourself that the name-brand sweatshirt will take working an eight-hour day to cover the cost may deter you from buying it. This method puts the cost of the item into perspective and keeps you accountable.
3. Avoid therapy shopping
Therapy shopping is buying items with the main goal of improving your mood. Now that you know impulse buying is linked to your emotions, you can recognize these triggers by avoiding shopping when you are feeling down. Although buying a comfort item feels good at the moment, it won’t help you save money for your future.
4. Don’t shop in groups
Have you ever been shopping with some friends who encouraged you to buy an item you wouldn’t normally buy? Chances are if you were alone, you would have talked yourself out of it. Steer clear of shopping with a group so you can avoid taking something home that you didn’t plan to buy.
5. Spend money on experiences, not stuff
When you buy items on impulse, the happiness you gain from them is often short-lived. Those purchases also take away from the money you could be spending on more meaningful experiences. Saving up to purchase tickets for travel, concerts, or other forms of entertainment may be a more fulfilling way to spend your money, and will lead to less clutter in the long term.
6. Use a waiting period
To eliminate the regret that can come with making an impulse purchase, set up a period of time that you must wait before allowing yourself to purchase the item. For example, if you see a new blender and want to try it out, wait 24 hours before you buy it. Most of the time, you may find yourself realizing that you didn’t want the item that badly after all.
7. Don’t buy anything that can’t be returned
Too often, customers buy items on a clearance sale or another type of sale that doesn’t allow returns. If the item is defective or doesn’t fit, you are left to bear the cost and will have to keep the item. Make sure that all items are returnable before you purchase them.
8. Unsubscribe from retail emails
If you are tempted by the emails filtering into your daily inbox, it is time to unsubscribe from the mailing list of your favorite retail stores. Yes, you will miss out on some of the best deals, like saving 40% on that leather belt, but you will save 100% of your money if you do not know about the sale in the first place. Avoiding daily temptations will decrease the amount of money leaving your checking account.
9. Read the online reviews
Scrolling through the reviews of customers who have bought the item before you can save you a ton of money. You should always read the reviews of an item online, but especially if you are unsure if it lives up to its expectations. The product reviews can determine if customers are satisfied, upset, or indifferent about their purchase.
10. Remind yourself of your financial goals
To convince yourself not to buy an item that will bring you momentary pleasure, like an ice cream cone, keep your financial goals fresh in your mind. Write down your financial goals on sticky notes, and post them to your mirror so you have to look at them every day. You cannot reach your long-term financial goals if you aren’t sacrificing some of your wants in the short run.
Although it can be fun to impulse shop, most of the time you will look back on the situation and wish you thought about your future financial situation. When you wait to buy an item, you can calculate it into your budget. That way, you won’t be thrown off track with your finances. Giving yourself an adequate time frame to think about the purchases will help you save money in college. The bottom line is that in order to achieve your financial goals of graduating from college debt-free, going on a dream vacation to Venice, or owning a sports car, you will need to make some spending sacrifices now.
👛After you've learned the impulse buying basics, read 6 Things Not to Buy with a Student Credit Card.
💸Want to learn how to save more money? Read 6 Smart Ways to Save for Your Future.