Tips to avoid impulse buying: how to stop buying stuff.
Have you ever bought something that you don’t need, without it being a planned purchase? That right there is called impulse buying. In this post we’ll go over what impulse buying means, the causes of impulse buying and shopping addiction, and how to stop impulse buying behaviour.
What we’ll cover:
What is impulse buying?
Many definitions of impulse buying define it as a tendency of an individual to buy goods/services without planning for their purchase in advance. I’m going to add that not only an impulse purchase is not budgeted for, but it is also redundant: you don’t need it.
For example, if my dog gets sick and I need an emergency vet visit, that is an unplanned purchase but definitely not impulsive, as it was a necessary spend. However, if I go on Amazon to get some pen cartridges and end up getting that Fitbit I saw advertised on the sales page, that is definitely an impulse buy. I don’t need a Fitbit, no one does, although Amazon does a great job at momentarily convincing us that we do, that we have the money for it, and that we absolutely have to take advantage of that 25% discount because otherwise it will disappear forever and we will be FOOLS for missing such a steal, right? Right?! Wrong.
We, society, have completely normalised that every day we are actively manipulated to feel needs we don’t have and purchase stuff we don’t need. I would like to encourage you, my brilliant reader, to engage with your spending behaviour and catch yourself being tempted by adding something to your cart, physical or virtual, that won’t really add any value to your lived experience. Repeat after me: not today, Jeff Bezos.
What motivates of impulse buying
Let’s dig deeper into the factors affecting impulse buying: why are we so thrilled to throw our money right into someone else’s pocket?
The store’s marketing strategy
Companies have become incredibly smart at understanding what makes us whip out our pockets. Here are some examples:
- Positioning. Have you ever grabbed a packet of gums or crisps while waiting for your turn at the tills? Or, have you ever shopped for hot dogs and noticed that the hot dog buns were right next to them, separate from the bread aisle? Or, have you ever noticed the ‘suggested items’ when buying something online? It’s like the store is nudging you towards a product that you might not have considered buying, but that you will likely buy if you notice it.
- Psychological pricing. Even if intellectually we know that if something is £9.99 it’s essentially £10, psychologically we tend to ignore it, and we read it as being closer to £9 instead. A long-standing, evergreen strategy to trick our feeble minds!
- Discount strategies. We are much more likely to buy something if there’s a big fat sale sign slapped on top of it. Does it matter that we wouldn’t have bought that item in the first place because we don’t need it? No! We know that most sales are temporary and we don’t want to miss a good bargain. So we end up spending more than what we wanted to. Makes sense, right?
- Packaging. We tend to be attracted by stuff that is visually stimulating to us. Furthermore, we subconsciously assign meaning to certain colours or patterns, making us think that a product aligns with our values. For example, brands are getting smart with designing products that trick us into thinking that their stuff is eco-friendly, aka they greenwash their marketing. Look at some examples here.
- Add-ons and upselling. A clever way to encourage customers to impulse buy is to structure your products to have add-ons you can throw in for just a few more quid. For example, I was recently in the market for a resource that would explain to me how to optimise my SEO for this blog. I found an e-book that was highly recommended by a successful blogger, and at the checkout, they offered to add another e-book on backlink strategies for only $6 more. Was I planning to buy an e-book on backlinks? Nope. But did I? Yes, I bought it like the sucker I am. Here’s to hoping I can call it an investment in the long run.
Your psychological traits
There are some personality traits that make us more susceptible to impulse buying. For example, you are more likely to be an impulsive buyer if you love to shop, and shopping gives you an endorphin rush.
Being in a particular emotional state might also trigger you to want to buy something: for example, you are rewarding yourself for a great day at work. Or perhaps you are in a bit of a rough patch at you find it easier to indulge in a pick-me-up tub of your favourite ice cream.
Those who are averse to loss tend to make less impulsive purchases. Having the loss aversion switch means that you are worried about regretting something in the future. This of course helps you take a beat before green-lighting an unplanned purchase.
Lifestyle and habits
If you grew up in an environment where spending on trivial items was no big deal, you are more likely to continue that behaviour in your adulthood. On the contrary, if your parents were particularly frugal, some of those behaviours may have rubbed on you.
Have you ever wondered why, no matter how many times you’ve been able to get a raise over the past few years, the money is just never enough? A bit of it might be economic inflation, sure. However, it is also likely that you have fallen victim to what is called lifestyle inflation. This occurs when you adopt new habits or purchase new things when you start earning more, and then you are stuck with continuously maintaining them.
For example: moving to a higher rent apartment, getting manicures, buying a car, hiring cleaning staff for your home, or adopting a pet. These are just some of the decisions that can snowball you into having a blown-out overhead spend without you really realising it until it’s too late, or until you get your butt in gear and draw up a budget for your household.
I advise reading the book Your Money or Your Life by Vicky Robin: it will change the way you look at your day-to-day spending habits, and the value you place on the money you earn.
7 ways to stop impulse buying
I have been guilty of impulse buying too, as you know by now. I still occasionally do it, but it never causes me to feel any remorse like it has in the past: this is because I have learned to assess whether an unbudgeted spend is worth breaking my own rules for.
This is my advice to you.
1) Put together a budget.
You guys, a budget should be one of the pillars of a happy, financially stable household. It is never too early or too late to draw up a budget and take ownership of where your money goes, and why.
Having a plan for your money is a rewarding and empowering habit, and it takes away the fear of not knowing what your financial position is. And most of all, sticking to it forces you to think thrice before buying something that wasn’t budgeted for: you don’t want to waste your hard-earned money, especially if it will reduce how much you have left to spend on other more important things.
Don’t forget that you can give yourself permission to have a ‘fun money’ category within your budget: this allows you to have a pot to draw from every month to buy stuff for your own entertainment, even if you don’t necessarily need it.
2) Set a savings goal.
When my husband and I decided to get a motorhome, setting a savings goal was a game-changer. We knew that anything we managed to save would get funnelled over to the motorhome savings pot, and it made impulse buying a rare event.
Think about something you have wanted for a long time: a holiday, a house, an emergency fund, a new washing machine, a new kitchen, a new bed. Something you’re excited about that you always thought you’d never have the money for. Now, set yourself a savings goal, make yourself a budget, and start putting your money aside. You will be surprised at how much you’re actually able to cut from your expenditure, and you will be much less likely to impulse buy that Amazon Fitbit.
3) Pay with cash.
This is kinda old school, but it works. I recommend this if you are one of those who walk into the grocery store with 5 items on the shopping list, and walk out with two full bags of stuff.
It can be hard to get used to buying less, and you may still find yourself justifying buying something that wasn’t on your list. If you only bring cash with you, you know that you have a limited amount available, and will have to carefully select the items you choose to buy.
4) Wait 7 days before your purchase.
Say that while you’re grocery shopping you come across your store’s new collection of barbecue tools. They are all tidily displayed with fun infographics everywhere, and you think: it is summertime. The days have been nice and sunny. I do like the idea o having a barbecue… why just not get these?
Now, this would be the perfect moment to walk away. Don’t act on the momentary temptation to spend £50 on new barbecue equipment, because if you give yourself a few days you may remember that, actually, you never barbecue, never have, and you live in the UK so you will be able to use all of that stuff for like 2 weeks per year, because it rains all the friggin time. Also, your girlfriend is a vegetarian.
If you think you want something, give yourself a week before deciding whether you buy it. It will do wonders for your wallet: most of the time you will get back to your senses and let it go.
5) Unsubscribe from mailing lists.
Saving money is hard enough without getting constant reminders of all the deals you are missing.
Don’t get lured in by endearing marketing copy written by people trained to sell. Unsubscribe and stick to your budget.
6) Unfollow certain influencers.
This is helpful if you have a soft spot for a specific category of items, such as clothes and accessories. If you consume content made by people who advertise that stuff for a living, you will eventually click on their affiliate links and buy what they recommend.
This isn’t necessarily always bad. For example, this article includes an affiliate link to the book I recommended a few paragraphs above: you may not have planned to buy a book today, but you might decide to do so anyway, because reading adds value to your life, and so does learning, and that is a great book. You should never regret spending money on books (unless it’s compulsive and you never end up reading them).
On the contrary, it is very hard to justify buying your umpteenth sweater/purse/pair of shoes. Who needs all those clothes? No one does. I am a supporter of a capsule closet: if you have 5 pairs of pants, 10 tops, 4 sweaters and 2 pairs of shoes, you’re good to go for the entire year. Okay fine, get yourself a dress just in case, but that’s it!
If you are trying to control your impulse buying, I advise you to carefully select to whom you give your time and attention.
7) Notice your triggers.
All of us are more inclined to spend under particular circumstances. These are very different from person to person, so you should notice when the shopping impulses arise, and ask yourself the following questions:
- How am I feeling today?
- Am I hungry?
- Who am I with?
- Why do I want to buy this? Will I want it tomorrow?
- What content did I just consume?
These will help you identify the personal and environmental variables that may affect your decision-making.
I for one, tend to spend more when I feel complacent. If I think that I have stuff under control, I am more likely to reward myself with something I don’t need. When I notice this, I remind myself that every penny I spend is taken away from the motorhome pot, and will delay that purchase.
Identifying your triggers will help you take a beat, and act more responsibly.
At the end of the day, impulsive buying is a behaviour we can absolutely learn to control. The immediate tingling satisfying feeling you get when you buy something impulsively is not worth the long-term effect that overspending brings to you: saving money is always, always worth it. We are living in times of economic doom: bills are skyrocketing and we will be struggling to keep up with inflation and cost of living increases. this is why we need to gain control over our spending habits and learn how to eliminate impulse buying behaviour for good. You can do it!
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