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6 Tips to Combat Impulse Spending

Every day our email in boxes are filled with tempting offers from online stores and brick and mortar retailers — bait for the millions of “fish” they hope to land. If the bait works and you bite, guess what? You’re part of the billion dollar catch! There’s a carefully planned strategy behind their actions. The strategy has one aim and one aim only — to convince you that if you don’t buy now, you’ll miss your chance to snag their great deal! That’s why you’ll often see phrases like “last chance!” or “sale ends at midnight!” on so many online solicitations. And so you “bite”, grab the “deal” and feel a mixture of temporary elation mingled with guilt for breaking your budget and spending money you know you shouldn’t spend. The next day, new offers from the same retailers unfailingly appear with phrases like “sale extended for one more day!” or “absolutely your last chance!”.

Since the whole strategy behind creating a workable budget is careful planning, impulse spending has to be one of the biggest budget “whammies” there is, since by its very nature it’s unplanned. According to Ian Zimmerman, PhD for Psychology Today, impulse buying is related to anxiety and unhappiness. Paradoxically, impulse buying typically results in buyer’s remorse and unhappiness, which should be a convincing argument for finding a way to stop doing it!

Some of us are more likely to succumb to impulse spending than others. Zimmerman says that’s because some of us have a personality trait called, logically enough, “impulse buying tendency”, meaning that impulse buying isn’t an occasional trap we fall into, but rather a habit that we succumb to regularly. People who possess the trait are more social, more conscious of social status, and concerned with their image. They also tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and have trouble controlling their emotions.

But whether you’re spending on impulse to look better in the eyes of your peers, or to get yourself out of a bad mood by “buying” a little (short-lived) happiness, there are ways to combat your urges and take control of your finances. Here are 6 tips to help you combat impulse spending once and for all:

1. Don’t shop when you’re upset.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of buying something you don’t really need in the hope that it will make you feel better. (It might — for an hour or a day!)

2. Stop thinking of the mall or online shopping sites as “entertainment”.

Real entertainment makes us feel good. Shopping for entertainment tends to do the opposite. We wind up feeling cheated because we can’t afford something we see that we’d like to have, or we buy it and feel guilty for spending impulsively and breaking our budget. It’s a no-win situation! Start by unsubscribing to any physical catalogs or online solicitations you’re regularly receiving. You can use a service like Unroll Me, to unsubscribe from multiple retailers at once, or simply find the “unsubcribe” link usually found at the bottom of a retailer’s email message and click on it.

3. Go shopping with a list.

Buy only what’s on the list and get out of the store as fast as you can — no browsing!

4. Ask yourself questions.

“Do I really need this?”, or “Will buying this really change my life and make me happier?”. Be honest with yourself! Don’t try to “sell” yourself to justify an impulse buy.

5. Watch out for the “on sale” trap.

An astonishing number of us buy things simply because they’re on sale and we “could use it”. Truth is, we could all use the extra money more!

6. Keep a list of the things you really want/need.

(That way, if you find one of them on sale and have the cash on hand to buy it, it really will be a good deal!)

There will always be “stuff” out there that we’d love to have, and there will always be people who have more than we do. Those are things we can’t control. The only thing we can do is learn to control our impulses by stopping, taking a breath, and remembering we can actually find happiness without acting on every impulse!