We’ve all suffered from moments of impulse spending at some time in our lives, or made unwanted impulse purchases that we’ve later regretted. Here are seven of the best tried and tested ways to prevent yourself from spending impulsively.
1. Stick to cash
Credit cards, PayPal, contactless payments and other, newer instant payment methods make it far, far too easy to hand over your money before you’ve truly thought your spending through. Fortunately there’s a simple but effective option that can disrupt the process.
It’s an old fashioned trick, but it’s a good one: work in cash. Take your money out in cash at the start of the week or month, divide it into envelopes for different categories of spending, and hide your cards. Once the cash is gone it’s gone – you can’t spend any more. This process forces you to remember that your finances are finite, and is a handy way to stop yourself from going over budget because it makes you stop for a moment and weigh up your choices before you start spending.
2. Deal better with sales pressure
Skilled salespeople are amazing at reading customers and working out which buttons to push to drive purchases. If you come across as proud, they might create a situation that boxes you into a corner because you can’t bring yourself to say ‘I can’t afford that.’ If you’re obviously looking for a low price or a bargain, they might pressure you with a ‘today only’ offer that you’re scared to walk away from. If you’re out with friends, they might subtly take advantage of the fact that you don’t want to be a seen as a party pooper or not one of the gang, and so on.
If other people have driven your urge to make impulse buys in the past, be honest with yourself about it. You can even grudgingly give them some respect for being clever gits. Then teach yourself a few stock phrases to get yourself out of any situation where you feel you’re being railroaded. For example, you could try: ‘that’s not quite what I’m looking for right now,’ or ‘I’m going to have a coffee and think about it,’ or ‘I’ll come back to you later today if this is the best deal.’
In restaurants where you’re being upsold to, say, a more expensive bottle of wine, you could ask if you can buy a single glass of it instead, mention you’re not really in the mood for that variety, say how much you like the house wine, mention that someone in your party is driving, or say you’re on a health kick. Whatever you like, as long as it temporarily takes the pressure off you so that you don’t end up with something you don’t really want.
3. Work around your trigger times
It can also be helpful to plan ahead to break the impulse spending cascade of thoughts, decisions and actions. Have a really good think about it – are there specific situations and occasions where you’re most likely to overspend? Most of us have at least one. Common triggers are payday, Friday night, Christmas, being tired after a long day, and meetups with certain friends or relatives.
Now plan alternative activities or put other things in place in advance that will help to make life easier at these times. For example, invite friends over or plan a gym trip instead of arranging to go round the shops on payday weekend. If you order takeaway on the way home whenever you’re tired during the week, stock up your freezer in advance at the weekend with convenient meals you can microwave.
4. Get into the habit of waiting
Some of us respond very strongly to setting ourselves rules and / or creating helpful habits. If that applies to you, then you could choose a set waiting time to allow yourself before spending your money, so that you’ve properly allowed time to weigh up the pros and cons.
It all depends on the type of impulse purchases that you tend to make most often, so you have to tailor it to your individual circumstances. For example, if you impulse buy small items while you’re out and about, you might decide to step away and walk around the block or wait for 15 minutes to think it through. Many impulses and cravings pass away after 15 minutes, so this is often highly effective.
Alternatively you could set a rule such as waiting for 24 hours before making any medium-sized purchase, so that you can have a cooling off period. Or you might decide to always wait a week or month before buying something more expensive while you carry out a price or product comparison – you don’t want to make an expensive mistake, after all. Also, you’d be surprised at how many ‘one day only flash sales’ and special offers are repeated a few days or weeks later, so there’s no need to rush.
5. Deal differently with negative emotions
Much of our overspending is driven by feeling stressed, down, depressed, lonely, unattractive, desperate to impress others, afraid of being left out, restless or bored. If a strong negative emotion is behind your impulse spending, take a moment to acknowledge this.
No amount of budget-setting or repeating of phrases is going to help with a situation like this – it’s best to tackle the problem at its root instead. Feeling bored? Step away from trawling eBay in front of the telly and start a new project, such as giving a room in your home a makeover or joining an evening class. Feeling stressed at work? Maybe it’s time to talk to human resources or start looking for a new job, and so on.
If there are serious impulse control issues at play, maybe it’s time to be honest with yourself. Do you have some form of addiction that needs to be addressed, such as alcohol or drug problems, gambling or compulsive shopping? Could talking to your GP, a counsellor or a charity help? There’s some excellent support available out there.
6. Allow some pocket money
Some of us subconsciously rebel and go on spending binges if we try to completely restrict our spending, or act ‘good’ all the time. If that strikes a chord with you, it’s best not to set yourself up for failure by following a super-strict or highly controlled spending regime.
Put aside a set amount of money each month that won’t harm your general budget, and give it to yourself as guilt-free pocket money. You can spend it on absolutely anything you want, and it’s nobody else’s business. If you can’t stick to a budget allowance in this way without spending extra on top, try taking the money out in cash or pay it into a separate easy-access savings account to prevent it becoming mixed up with other spending. Most of all, enjoy it.
7. Aversion therapy
Are you plagued and tormented several times a day by the urge to splurge, even though you’ve tried everything positive you can think of to ignore it? You might simply be one of those people who doesn’t respond well to positive reinforcement, and that’s perfectly okay because we’re all individuals and different things work for different people.
Try wearing an elastic band on your wrist for a week or two, and ping it against your skin whenever you notice yourself thinking about unnecessary spending. This slightly unpleasant shock can help to snap you out of the early stages of the impulse purchasing process, and if nothing else has worked for you it’s worth giving this a go to see how you get on.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these seven ideas and reminders for preventing impulse shopping and other spending. I’m currently working on a definitive Stop Impulse Spending list, so expect some more of these in the future.
Are you struggling with one issue in particular? What works for you? Please leave your own tips in the comments section.