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5 Simple Ways to Curb Impulsive Buying

  • Mary Hunt
  • Updated May 11, 2022
5 Simple Ways to Curb Impulsive Buying

Having just come through Holiday Spending Extravaganza 2013, otherwise known as Christmas in America, and getting dizzy by the pronouncements of how many billions of dollars we spent—I can’t help but think about what an impulsive shopper I am. It’s that momentary thrill of the impulse purchase, the destroyer of budgets. It’s in my DNA It’s who I am and trust me when I tell you that I fight it every day of my life.

Over the years, I’ve employed a bevy of counterattacks to deal with my impulsive nature. But honestly, stiletto pumps have never made my list.  

Shop in heels. According to Brigham Young University researchers, balancing activities like wearing high heels could lead to wiser purchasing decisions.

How on earth could pinching your toes help you pinch pennies? The study concludes that being slightly off balance while making spending decisions—whether that is walking on high heels in a store or shopping online while tipping back in your chair and balancing on two legs—helps us to make more balanced choices.

Specifically, the research concludes that balance, “is metaphorically linked in the mind to the concept of parity,”—and our subconscious awareness of common metaphors has the power to influence our actions.

I have not tested this theory. I don’t have to. If I were sentenced to only buy things while wearing and walking in stiletto pumps, I don’t know that I would buy anything. That’s just how difficult it is for me to walk in super high heels. Apparently that’s the point. 

Cash only. This is my favorite impulse killer. Forcing myself to carry only cash—no plastic at all—keeps me on that proverbial straight and narrow.

Yes it is a pain in the neck in this Digital Age to plan ahead in this way. But it’s hard work that pays off big.

Cash makes me count, it makes me think. Knowing I have only cash in my wallet keeps my mind in high gear and out of that “coma spending” territory that so easily kicks in when paying with plastic.

Try it: Leave all the plastic at home. Stop by the ATM to get the amount of money you can afford to spend before you head for the grocery, shopping mall, gas station, coffee shop—any of those day-by-day destinations that are calling for you to spend.

Show up full. And I’m talking about a full stomach. Never shop hungry. You can’t think straight, you’ll make silly choices especially if you’re shopping for groceries. Even if this means heading straight for the bakery department and grabbing a cookie, do it. That will stave off hunger long enough for you to keep your wits about you and your impulsive nature at bay.

Time rule. This is one of my most successful impulse killers. I rely on it often.

Sometimes it’s my “1-Hour Rule,” or “24-Hour Rule,” but could as easily be a “30-Day Rule.” The idea is the same. When I think about or see something I want, the rule requires that I wait a certain amount of time before purchasing it. The longer I can go, the better.

If, once the required time has passed, I still want to make the purchase (usually I don’t and isn’t it funny how that works), then I can move forward.

Shopping companions. Shopping with the wrong people—or any people at all for some of us—can be deadly. If you bring the kids along to the grocery store, for example, you could easily become distracted. Kids can be so persuasive. If I have an impulse-happy shopping friend in the mall, it’s so easy to let her persuade me to let down my guard and just go for it because “it’s so you” or “it’s on SALE!” You know.

Of course we are all different, but I’m best when I fly solo. I can keep my concentration intact, I don’t feel compelled to explain my frugal actions, and I lose that feeling that I need to impress anyone. I can just get in and out of there fast—on my schedule.

Shopping location. One of the things I love about shopping online is that it’s much easier to ignore non-related items. I go to Amazon, put what I need in my cart, and check out.

If I am in a store, I’m much more likely to happen upon a dress that I suddenly really want. I’m so easily swayed by extraneous things!

The solution? Except for groceries and pharmacy items, I rarely shop in physical stores. That means I probably don’t need to worry about making an impulsive purchase of a pair of stiletto pumps to wear shopping to keep me from making impulsive purchases.

That would be wrong on so many levels.

This article appeared originally in the Debt-Proof Living Newsletter in January 2014.

"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/ Thomas Barwick