Whether you thought a new sound system would be nice for your living room, a sweater from the mall would look great on you and feel extra comfy, or a frozen yogurt would be a tasty treat to enjoy on your way home from working out, you’re probably familiar with impulse buying.
This is as dangerous as it sounds when you make it a habit. Buying things that you probably don’t need is not how you should manage your finances.
Why We Impulse Buy: Wanting More and More
There’s nothing wrong with wanting something. However, it’s easy to get into the habit of wanting more and more, which can become a never-ending cycle.
These wants are often driven by emotion and a feeling of unhappiness, according to Psychology Today. We tend to want things so we can look better, feel a certain way, or reach certain results.
What’s worse, when we actually get the things we want, we only feel better temporarily. Once the feeling fades, we start the cycle of wanting more all over again in the hope of regaining it.
I used to impulse buy a lot, especially during college. Getting the latest trends gave me a status boost. However, it put me in a financial hole, and I had nothing to show for my efforts once I lost or forgot about all of my things.
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Steps to Stop Impulse Buying
If you’re eager to limit your purchases this year, I have a few recommendations for how to stop impulse buying:
1. Avoid Triggers
What’s the common denominator that causes you to impulse buy? Is it a particular store or a television ad? Do you regularly receive emails from your favorite brands or feel tempted to walk into the department store next to your dog’s groomer just to “browse”?
It’s important to identify your shopping triggers so that you can avoid them.
For instance, I found that the mall is where I used to make most of my impulse purchases. So now I don't go there unless I really need something. There are two big malls in my town, and one of them just expanded to add 150 additional stores last year.
People give me weird looks when I tell them that I’ve only been to the new-and-improved mall once over the past 18 months. But I no longer have the desire to go because I’d rather hold onto my money and avoid any unplanned purchases.
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2. Deal With Emotions
After you eliminate your sources of temptation, you’ll need to confront and manage the emotions surrounding new purchases.
For example, I used to buy clothes when I felt bored or down because it made me feel happy to get something new. I loved the atmosphere that surrounded shopping, the smell of new clothes, and the confidence that I felt when I wore a new item I’d purchased.
When I decided to get a tighter grip on my money, I started dealing with my emotions in a healthier way. When I felt bored or sad, instead of impulse shopping, I’d talk to someone or ask my husband to go for a walk with me.
Dr. April Benson, a psychologist who works with recovering shopaholics, recommends that people stop and ask themselves why they’re really shopping and what emotional needs spending helps to soothe. “It’s important to determine whether it’s love or affection that you need or the need for autonomy and the feeling of belonging,” she says.
Benson conducts an exercise with her clients in which they pretend to look in on their own funeral and listen to what people say about their life.
“Thinking of what people might say about your values is an effective way to bridge the gap between who you are and who you’d like to be and how you’d like to be seen which is commonly referred to as the self discrepancy gap,” she says.
On an episode of Spark Joy, Benson provides helpful tools and resources for people who want to avoid impulse shopping.
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3. Focus on a Long-Term Goal
By getting your emotions in check, you can spend more intentionally. It can help to focus on a long-term goal like getting out of debt.
“Keep those long-term goals in the front of your mind,” Benson says. “Put a little sign on your computer, wall, or in your wallet so you always know what you’re really aiming for.”
Give yourself at least 48 hours to decide if you should make a purchase or not. Ask yourself if you really need the item and if it will add value to your life or if it’s just a fad. If you’re not thinking about the purchase at the end of the 48-hour period, you’ll have your answer.