Have you ever found yourself struggling to pay the bills because of your tendency to impulsively spend money?
You’re not alone.
Impulse buying can be a costly habit that leads to debt, stress, and frustration in your financial life.
This post dives into what impulsive spending is, why you may be struggling with it, and most importantly, how to stop impulse spending.
What is impulse spending?
Making an impulse buy means buying something without giving it any thought.
We’ve all done it.
Maybe you grabbed a super cute throw pillow while you were getting milk at Target.
Or you saw your favorite author’s new book on display so you just had to have it.
It could have even been as
An impulse purchase is the result of an almost uncontrollable urge to buy something immediately after seeing it.
There’s no thought or consideration about the price or practicality of the purchase. Just an impulsive spending decision and habit of buying for instant gratification.
Why do we struggle with impulse purchase?
There are many reasons people may go on an impulsive shopping spree.
- lack of self-control or awareness about the consequences
- falling prey to targeted advertising tailored to your desires
- emotional spending as a form of retail therapy
Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same: an unplanned purchase that can wreak havoc on your bank account.
How to identify your impulse buying triggers
To stop impulsive shopping you need to identify what’s triggering your buying.
Is it an emotional response to external circumstances?
For example, do you absent-mindedly order take-out every time you get stressed?
Or maybe it’s more compulsive spending like the need to collect things.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the desire to spend money in these circumstances, but knowing the underlying purpose that’s driving it will help you develop ways to counteract it.
- Identify your impulse spending triggers – Where were you? What time of day was it? Were there any other people there with you?
- Understand what you’re actually trying to satisfy – Figure out if your impulses are driven by stress, boredom, loneliness, or a need for excitement.
Once you understand the things that are causing your behavior, you can learn to recognize when they’re happening and take steps to avoid being tempted into an impulse buy in the future.
How to stop impulse spending
There are many ways to stop impulse shopping. Here are some ideas to help you start.
Know your priorities
Spend time thinking about your priorities in life.
When you’re clear on your goals it makes it easier to spend according to your values.
In fact, when you’ve assigned your money to a specific task or goal, you’re less likely to spend that money on something else.
Create both spending and savings goals so you can have a clear vision for what you want your money to do for you.
Make a budget
If making a monthly budget sounds like a chore, and sticking to it like a punishment, it’s time to reframe your perspective of what a budget is.
A budget is simply a roadmap for what you want your money to do.
It’s a spending plan that helps you focus on your financial goal so you can avoid impulsive behavior.
It’s important to know that it’s not written in stone. You can always adapt and adjust it for any purchase decision that may move up your priorities list.
Find the money first
If there’s something you absolutely must have, take a minute to find the money from somewhere else in your budget first.
That way you avoid adding debt and make sure you’re still spending according to your priorities.
Typically you can look to your other discretionary spending to move things around.
One of the most effective methods to prevent impulse buying is to prevent purchasing anything for a designated time period – a day, a week, or even longer.
The 24-hour rule is a good place to start. Make a wishlist and add anything you want to buy to it. Then check back the next day and ask yourself if you still want it.
If you know that impulse purchases are driven by boredom or loneliness, this will help combat those triggers.
Have an accountability partner
Temptations can sometimes be too tough to handle on our own. In this case it helps to have someone to talk it out with.
Find someone you trust to remind you about your goals and values and keep you from making spending decisions you’ll regret.
This could be a friend or a partner who can keep you focused and hold you accountable for your financial decisions.
Use a list
Another great way to combat impulse buying when you shop is to make a shopping list before you go to the store and make sure you only buy what’s on your list.
If something else catches your eye, make a note of it and either give yourself 24-hours or check if you can find extra money from another budget category before you buy it.
Give yourself some fun money
One of my favorite ways to deal with impulsive purchases is to set money aside specifically for that purpose.
By saving up some fun money you can reduce any resentment you feel toward your budget while still allowing yourself to splurge.
Instead of giving in to your impulse shopper bad habit, you give yourself permission to spend on anything and/or everything within the limits of your allotted fun money.
Recognize and replace negative spending habits
We all have bad habits, but it’s entirely possible to replace them with good habits.
When you’re spending money, stop and think about what triggered that purchase.
What was going on in your life? Did you have a bad day at work or get into an argument with a family member?
The impulse to buy is often born out of emotions like stress, anger, or sadness – things we typically don’t want more of.
Try replacing any bad spending habit with a healthier and cheaper one like going for a walk or reading a book.
Temptation is all around us, and one easy way to stop impulsive buying is to simply not be exposed to it.
Unsubscribe from email newsletters that send constant sales offers or texts with daily deals and unfollow the people who are constantly exposing you to spending temptations.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Don’t shop when you’re emotional
You’ve probably heard it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry.
Similarly, don’t go shopping when you’re emotional.
Emotional spending can cloud your judgment and lead to poor purchase decisions.
If you have a spending problem that seems to kick in whenever you’re feeling emotional, try to avoid putting yourself in a position to spend money at all during those times.
Use cash and only take what you need
Cash is the secret weapon of an impulse buyer.
When you go shopping, leave your credit cards at home and only take the amount of cash you plan to spend.
Not only are we mentally more reluctant to spend cash than we are to buy something on a credit card or debit card, but once you do spend it, it’s gone.
Switching to cash will keep you out of credit card debt, or help you to stop adding to it.
Take on a no-spend challenge
Money challenges are a great way to save, but they’re also a great way to adjust your spending behavior.
A no-spend challenge is the perfect way to stop impulse buying and save money.
You set the rules and then commit to not spending money on anything else during a certain timeframe.
I suggest keeping this timeframe short to start so you can keep a positive mindset and build some momentum.
Remove credit card numbers from your devices
One of the best ways to prevent impulse spending is to make buying things more difficult.
We discussed the benefits of switching to cash already, but if you’re like me and enjoy the convenience of credit, make sure you’re still making it as hard as possible to use it.
If you’ve got your credit card info saved on your phone or browser, or with your favorite shopping site, remove it.
Making yourself physically go get your card to pay for something may be enough to stop you from buying it altogether.
Shopping online can be a helpful way to stop impulse spending, assuming you’re doing it intentionally.
While being online can present it’s own unique challenges with impulsive spending behavior, it’s easier to delay gratification when you know there’s already a shipping delay attached.
It’s also easier to add things to a wishlist and give yourself the space to evaluate whether that’s really a purchase you want to make.
And if you do decide to eventually make a purchase, shopping online will make sure you’re getting the best deal by price-checking multiple sites and combining cashback apps and coupon codes.
Set spending limits
While a budget can help you set spending limits within specific categories, it can also be helpful to set a limit on how much you’re going to spend during a set time period.
You may already do this for some holidays and events, like birthday weekends or vacations.
Instead of getting super specific with your expenses, you give yourself a total amount to work with.
Setting limits like this works well for special occasions where you might frequently indulge in impulse buys.
If you’ve never tried a time-based spending limit, start small and increase the time frame as you get more comfortable with it.
And make sure you try it out during your normal daily life before you try it with a special occasion. The last thing you want is to end up halfway through a vacation and already out of money.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, practice gratitude for what you do.
Most of the impulse purchases you regret are the ones that you didn’t really need.
Buyer’s remorse is a real thing, and feeling guilt about a purchase that leads to debt will only increase your stress level.
Practicing gratitude can help you appreciate what you have and reduce your desire for more.
Track your spending
If you’re trying to stop impulse spending, tracking your expenses is essential.
You can use a program like Mint or
Once you know where your money’s going it’s easier to rein it in if it isn’t aligning with your priorities.
Make it harder to shop online
Removing any stored credit card info from your devices is a good first step with reducing impulse buys online. But there are some other practical steps you can take as well:
- install apps that block problem websites
- switch to cash so you need a gift card to buy online
- turn off your Wi-Fi if you’re feeling emotional, bored, or recognize another spending trigger
Before you buy anything get in the habit of reading the reviews.
Specifically, sort for and read the negative reviews.
This will help plant a seed of doubt about the purchase and give you some emotional space before you make a final decision.
Calculate the cost in work hours
To help you stop impulse buying, calculate the cost of an item in terms of work hours.
For example, if you average $25/hr at your current job and have your eye on a $75 shirt, factor that life cost into your decision.
Is that shirt worth 3 hours of work? Especially if buying it means you’ll have to work 3 hours more to pay for your regular bills and groceries.
Impulsive spending can be a real challenge, but it is possible to rein it in with the tactics above.
Understanding your triggers and creating strategies to deal with them will not only help you curb your bad spending habits but will help you start to grow your savings account too.
Once you know you’re spending according to your priorities you’ll find it easier to buy the things you value and say no to the things you don’t.