Spending

5 Smart Tips to Help You Stop Impulse Shopping

Lisa Ferber@lisaferber

If you want more control over your impulse purchases, you don't need a shock bracelet or to freeze your credit card in a block of ice. You can curb your spending by learning to be more mindful about what you buy.

One key move is to ask yourself if you really need whatever you've got your eye on, or if you're just in automatic shopping mode. "Impulse purchases are part of a larger bundle of issues related to impulsivity," says Michal Strahilevitz, who is a marketing professor at Saint Mary's College of California. "Perhaps the earliest account dates back to the famous story of Adam, Eve, and the apple. Failing to say 'no' to temptation is something that everyone can relate to, even if they hate apples."

Here are a few savvy tricks that experts say can help you stay strong when you feel the pull to spend.

1. Threaten yourself with unpleasant consequences

"Commit to a friend what your spending caps are, and then promise that if you break your commitment, you will give $100 to a predetermined charity you hate," says Strahilevitz. This could mean anything from funding an organization that goes against your principles or contributing to a disliked political candidate.

Aside from the personal effects, you'll feel that $100 a lot harder than you'll feel the gain of whatever you spent it on, according to a study coauthored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman.

2. Fill up your cart, then walk away

"I tend to shop online through apps, and I'll put it in the cart and make myself wait a couple days, and if I really want it, it's in the cart! Most apps will save your cart," says Jina Etienne, a certified public accountant as well as a member of the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission.

This sleep-on-it approach works for Marian Rosin, a comedy performer/writer: "I used to tell myself if I still wanted it, I'd come back another day to buy it, and 99.999999999999999999% of the time I didn't go back. Maybe even 100%. Laziness pays off." Rosin estimates she has saved hundreds per year on sparkly clothes and knicknacks, plus occasional big ticket items like furniture and a second guitar.

3. Don't let websites save your info

Shopping websites will try to save passwords and other info for you to make your experience as frictionless as possible. Don't let them.

"Not saving your credit card online can also help," says Strahilevitz. "It will add a time lag as well as a bit of hassle to every purchase, which may give one enough time to say, 'I don't really need this anyway.' This could help give the impulse shopper enough time to change their mind."

If the purchase isn't worth the hassle of reentering your credit card number, it probably isn't worth the money, either.

I used to tell myself if I still wanted it, I'd come back another day to buy it, and 99.999999999999999999% of the time I didn't go back. Maybe even 100%. Laziness pays off.
Marian Rosin
comedy performer

4. Ask yourself if you can get it for free, for cheap, or rent it

Remember that what you want may already be available for far less than retail, or even for nothing. "I got a domed serving-room platter for cakes on FreeCycle, and I didn't pay a dime for it," says Etienne.

You can find more giveaways on neighborhood-based sharing communities like Buy Nothing and Nextdoor. And, these days, you can borrow books, e-books, audiobooks, magazines, newspapers, music, movies, and even museum passes from your local library.

If you want to dress for less but you crave novelty, consider providers like Rent the Runway.

5. Buy yourself a gift card to a store you frequent

"A gift card that is at the same budget amount that you want to spend in a given period may help with self-control and budgeting if the shopper sticks to that gift card amount being all they spend at that store," says Strahilevitz, who adds that gift cards help you keep track of spending automatically. "Multiple shopping instances add up, and you may not be aware of how much you spent over a given month."

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