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How to Stop Impulse Buying and Learn to Just Say No

by:
Chantelle Magee

You know you don’t need it, but for some reason, you just gotta have it! Curb impulse shopping (forever) with these 8 easy tactics retailers don't want you to know.

Retailers and advertisers have been relying on our impulses to get us to buy their goods for a long, long time, but it didn’t really begin to attract the interest of consumer research groups until the 1950s (and it continues to this day). According to researchers, while there are several types of impulse purchases we make, most focus on making us feel certain emotions, such as happiness or calmness, to get us to hand over our cash.

Impulse buying also happens thanks to the thrill we get from purchasing a “forbidden” item. Of course, that high doesn't last long and is swiftly followed by feelings of regret and guilt, especially when the credit card bill arrives.

But enough about what impulse buying is—you want to know how to stop it! So without further ado, here are eight easy-to-apply strategies that can help you break the habit of impulse shopping behaviour, and learn to just say no!

1. Always have a list and a plan for purchases

Create a list before going shopping (that includes online), especially when grocery shopping; if something isn't on your list, don't buy it. It’s really that simple. Hardcore people dedicated to breaking their impulse shopping habit have even been known to map out their route through grocery stores to avoid certain aisles (Hello, potato chips.) Ignore those end-of-aisle displays too! They can be kryptonite to your budget.

2. Avoid shopping areas as a pastime

Spending time in a mall when you’re an impulse shopper is like going to The Burger's Priest when you're on a detoxjust don't do it! Why tempt yourself? Unless you’re buying necessities, avoid shopping areas as much as possible. As a counsellor, I’ve heard the excuse, “shopping is my pastime.” If that's the case, might I suggest finding a new pastime, or at the very least a shopping buddy who can keep your urges in check. I’ve also heard of people getting together at malls to walk the mall together, which is great exercise if you don’t easily give into temptation. But I’ve also heard of mall walkers who walk out three bags deep in new clothing. If that sounds like you, try a treadmill instead.  

3. Avoid online shopping

Online shopping can be more dangerous than actual shopping because it's just too easy.  When you’re physically in a store, you usually have to wait in line for a few minutes before making your purchase, which gives you some time to contemplate whether you really need to make the purchase. And sometimes, people decide they don’t. (Ever notice the bizarre items left behind at check out areas?) But in the online world, there’s no wait time. It’s just a couple taps and voila, you’ve booked a surfing trip to Portugal. To avoid online shopping, delete retailer apps from your phone, block their sites on your computer, and don't open the newsletters they email to you—better yet, unsubscribe from their newsletters altogether.

4. Beware of the checkout lane

Sneaky retailers know all about temptation. So once you’ve made your way through their store and successfully stuck to your list, they give it one last shot and litter the checkout aisle with candy bars, sugary sodas, and cheap toys the kids will definitely want. Some countries in the United Kingdom have already passed legislation banning junk foods from checkout lines, and the not-for-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest is also trying to enact similar action across popular  Canadian and American-based retailers. In the meantime, don’t let their sneaky tricks get the best of you—keep your eyes on your cart during checkout, and if possible, don’t bring the kids shopping with you.

5. Stop using credit cards

This is a good idea in general, but it’s an especially good idea for impulse shoppers. Using credit cards can get people into the dangerous mindset of "I'll worry about it later". The problem is "later" comes much sooner than you think, along with interest charges to boot. Using credit cards also gives us this false sense that we have all this extra money to spend, when the truth is every swipe is money owed, not spent. (You need to have money in order to spend it, so if all you got is credit, all you really got is debt.) So, when you’re going to go shopping, try to plan ahead and only bring cash. Then once the cash is gone, the shopping is done! (Read about how people got by without credit cards in the past in our recent blog; you might what to try a couple tips.)

6. Give yourself a two-week cooling period

When you see a big-ticket item you’re tempted to buy, write it down on a piece of paper and stick it in your purse or pocket. Then take a deep breath, and walk away. In the short-term, you can avoid the impulse buy by telling yourself you’re not necessarily denying yourself the purchase, just delaying it. A couple of weeks later, chances are you’ll have long since forgotten about the item. But if it’s still on your mind, at least the hiatus has given you time to reflect, maybe do some research on the item and comparison shop to see if you can get it for less money somewhere else. This also gives you some time to check your account balances and determine if it’s really worth the spend.

7. Keep foods you like at home

You’re driving along, minding your own business, when all of a sudden you see them: Those glorious golden arches promising delicious fries or Starbucks taunting you with a fresh roast. Rolling through the drive-thru has become as much of an impulse as anything else, but by keeping foods you like at home you’ll be more likely to shut down that impulse knowing you can sip your french-pressed gourmet roast in your traveller's mug. (Bonus tip: Eating healthier at home can also save you money.)

8. Remember your goals

What are your financial goals? Are you saving for a new phone, courses, a car, or vacation? Maybe it’s more long-term, like your child’s education or your own retirement. Whatever it is, remind yourself of this goal every time you’re about to make an impulse buy. Consider that every little purchase adds up, while also subtracting money from your real financial goals which actually add value to your life.

Impulse buying, while exciting in the moment, usually leads to a sharp comedown, and can often lead to troubling debt. (Take a look at our budget calculator and see how quickly even some low-cost impulse buys can add up.) It’s important to remember—before making an impulse purchase how crappy you felt the last time you gave into your indulgences when the bill arrived.

Living in the moment is no fun when the moment comes back to haunt you, but oftentimes, we can’t avoid the temptation. If you’re looking for some free financial advice on how to curb your impulse buying, or you'd like an expert to work out a budget for you, or you're just curious about any non-profit debt consolidation options you have, give us a call at 1-800-267-2272. You can also contact us online. It’s free and completely confidential.

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Topics: Budgeting, Debt Management, Debt, Saving Money, tips for saving money, credit card tips, Impulse Shopping

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