As a recovering impulse buyer, I’d had to say this can be one tough habit to kick. With modern conveniences like credit cards and online shopping, it’s certainly a battle for me. It can be so bad that I’ve made purchases before allowing any sort of buying rationalization takes place in my mind.
There are many ways that you can get rid of impulse buys from your life: The Simple Dollar has a great article (10 Simple Ways to Beat Impulse Buying). With inspiration from this article, here are some of my personal favorites:
1. Get rid of credit cards. If you’ve got a serious problem, this is definitely the most effective solution. Credit cards go hand in hand with impulse buying; you don’t even need to figure out if you have the money to purchase something, you just pull out the card. Online shopping is borderline impossible without a credit card, so if you tend to buy online a lot, removing credit cards from the equation will definitely cut down or eliminate these purchases.
You don’t have to close your credit accounts to make this work. Leave the credit card at home when shopping in a store and don’t save credit card information in your account on sites like Amazon.com.
2. Avoid abusing free shipping deals or subscriptions. My biggest downfall was my Amazon Prime subscription. I paid $70 a year for the privilege of free two-day shipping on anything from Amazon.com. My approach to this quickly turned into getting onto Amazon as fast as I could after thinking of something I “needed”. After two years of Amazon Prime, I dropped the $70 service and my purchases on the site fell dramatically.
3. Require a mandatory waiting period for any large purchases. While I’m not convinced this works in the gun control world, it’s saved me from impulse buy casualties many times. My simple rule: if something costs more than $50, I have to wait at 2 days to buy it. This inevitably forces me to think more about the consequences of the purchase and often results in not buying at all. Considering that the idea to purchase just occurred probably means that I don’t need it right away and can just as easily purchase it a few days from now. I haven’t kept any stats on this, but I would say more than half the time I don’t end up making a large purchase that goes through my waiting period.
4. Research the purchase first. This prevents a lot of in-store impulse buys for me, as I’ve become a customer review junkie and review products rating before virtually any purchase I make. The idea that I may not be selecting the item of the best price, quality, and value is enough to stop me in my tracks. While this does not always stop me from buying in the end, I automatically revert to tip #3.
5. Don’t make emotional buys. In Your Money or Your Life, the authors point out the urge of many people is to buy something to cheer them up when they’re down. Yet we also buy to reward ourselves for a hard week of work or finishing a semester of classes. We even just buy things when we’re bored. It seems that virtually any mood can result in buying for one reason or another. I would also add “don’t make purchases under the influence of alcohol” here, too. All purchases should be made with a clear mind and free from outside influence.
6. Think about how you will feel about your new purchase when it isn’t “new” anymore. The allure of simply owning something shiny and new may be what drives a lot of purchases. I remember this succinctly when I purchased a new car at age 17. Wow! It was great to have a shiny new car! It was clearly a big improvement over my old beater. It was hard to find anything I didn’t like about it for the first several weeks. But after a few months, it wasn’t “my new car” anymore. It was just “my car”, complete with hefty monthly payments, higher insurance, and increased taxes. I could’ve settled for less of a car and been happier without having to make payments.
One final note: I would recommend that the larger the purchase, the more seriously these tips should be taken and the more scrutiny is needed before buying.
The idea isn’t “never buy anything.” It’s about buying slower and smarter and realizing that purchasing with care can go along way to keeping spending down.