4 tips to minimize impulse buying

Sienna Kossman
Personal finance writer
Statistics enthusiast focused on data-driven content

Have you ever bought a new sweater in five different colors just because a sign said they were on sale for a "limited time only" or ordered a copious amount of takeout because you had a stressful day? If so, your actions aren't out of the ordinary. In fact, 84 percent of American adults say they've impulse shopped before, according to a new CreditCards.com poll.

(See: Survey: 5 in 6 Americans admit to impulse buys.)

However, just because impulse shopping is a popular habit doesn't mean it's a good one. Financial experts urge consumers to be conscious of their spending habits, especially if it means adding onto existing debt.

"There are some people who don't have to worry about their spending, but large majority of people do," said Karen Lee, author and certified financial planner. "If you need to watch your spending, you've got to evaluate wants and needs with each and every purchase." If you're an impulsive buyer wondering how to avoid making another unplanned purchase, here are four tips to help keep your spending in check:

1.       Recognize when you are being played by retailers.

The candy bars at the cash registers, toys placed on store aisles endcaps and those colorful, attractive productive displays are not set up on accident. Retailers use such tactics to get your attention and persuade you to spend more money.

"There have been teams of behavioral scientists hired by retailers that have worked to hypnotize you and entice you to buy even more things," said Brad Klontz, co-founder of the Financial Psychology Institute and associate professor of economics and finance at Creighton University. "If you think about that as you are walking through a store, you'll start to notice these things. Like, bread is on one side of the store and the milk on the other. You've got to walk through the whole store -- and by other items -- to get what you actually need."

2.       Wait, think about it and then think about it again.

You may have had an emotionally draining workday or fight with your spouse, but that doesn't justify spending money to make yourself feel better. Step back and give yourself a chance to contemplate why you suddenly want to make a purchase before handing a cashier your credit card.

"Before making an impulse buy, ask yourself, 'What are my needs and what are my wants?'" Lee recommends. "It's all about being conscious when you are doing things. Evaluate each purchase you make to keep yourself on track."

If emotions continue to drive your spending habits, take another step back.

"Look at your behavior: What are the feelings you get when you purchase such an item? Will this feeling that you think you're getting last?" Lee says. "Try to figure out if there is any other thing you can do to help you feel that feeling."

3.       Plan ahead.

If you frequently go shopping intending to pick just a couple items and walk out with twice as much, make a shopping list before walking into the store.

"Have a plan," Klontz advises. "Then, if you are considering buying something that you didn't plan on buying, put some time between the impulse to buy and pulling the trigger. In that time, you can ask yourself if you really need it. You can save yourself a lot of trouble (and money) by just taking another lap around the store." If you concentrate on making only the purchases on your list, you'll be much less likely to overspend. And if you are intentionally going shopping without a plan, establish how much money you have to play with so you don't ruin your budget with purchases you didn't need to make in the first place.

4.       Take control and be responsible.

You don't have to feel guilty every time you order a late-night pizza or grab a few packs of gum while standing in a checkout line, but if impulse buys have become a large portion of your monthly spending totals and threaten your financial stability, it's time to take control. Even small transactions can really add up.

"Whenever I needed to take a break at work, I would walk to Starbucks," explained Rachna Ahlawat, founder and vice president of Ondot Systems Inc., a mobile payment software development company. "A month later I realized I was spending close to $200 a month on Starbucks lattes and coffee. Spending $4 to -$5 a day on lattes didn't seem like a lot at the time, but it really added up."

If you make an impulsive mistake one day, don't sweat it. In most cases, physical items can be returned.

See related: How trauma leads to destructive financial choices, Lessons from cities with the best and worst credit scores

Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.

Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.

Updated: 01-21-2019