You finish a long day at work and flop onto the couch, scrolling through your Instagram stories absentmindedly when something catches your eye. It’s an ad for the latest hair care product you’ve been seeing everywhere. You click on the brand’s account and see tons of women with insanely glossy hair, all seeming to be having the time of their lives. Suddenly, you need it. You click on the link and check out the price (a mere $85), all the while envisioning exactly who you’ll be once you have this new product. You’ll be chic, you’ll be confident, and you’ll never have a bad hair day again! You get to the checkout and click “pay now,” and then you wait excitedly for your new purchase to arrive. However, by the time it finally does get delivered a week later, the excitement has worn off and you’re not feeling as amazing as you were when you bought it. In fact, you find yourself thinking, “Why did I buy this thing again?”
If this story sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I have personally fallen victim to many late-night impulse buying sprees, often in the form of skincare products promising to reverse the signs of aging and fitness gear that will finally turn me into the person who leaps out of bed at 6 a.m., ready for a morning spin class. What feels less great is the credit card bill that comes a few weeks later, making me wish I had taken a second to stop and think before ordering.
Whether it’s a recurring checkout-line purchase or routinely falling for influencer marketing (guilty!), check out the tips below to help stop impulse buying in its tracks.
1. Give Yourself a Waiting Period for Impulse Purchases
Trust me, nobody knows the adrenaline rush of seeing something and feeling the need to purchase it right this second more than me. I blame it on my competitive nature, but once I see something I want, I immediately start thinking that I might miss out if I wait even a minute longer. However, this thinking is not so good for my wallet. After one-too-many impulse purchases that I’ve ordered and then regretted shortly after (but often couldn’t be bothered to return), I’ve implemented a mandatory waiting period for any unexpected buys. For most things, it’s 24 hours. I’ll ask for the item to be put on hold or add it to my online cart and then wait a day, closing the browser so I’m not constantly reminded that the item is there. Oftentimes, I’ll completely forget about whatever it is and not make the purchase at all. If I do decide to buy it, I’ll sometimes get an extra discount for waiting since companies will send discount codes to encourage you to complete your purchase.
2. Get to Know Your Impulse Patterns
Take a minute to see if there’s a trend behind what you gravitate towards when you impulse shop. For me, it’s any kind of wellness product, especially if it’s something new that I haven’t seen before. Knowing this about myself is really helpful because I’m able to steer clear of certain social media accounts or store aisles where I’ll be shown things I’ll struggle to resist. If your impulse buy is always adding a baked treat with your Starbucks coffee or ordering Uber Eats every Friday (despite swearing that you’d cook), you’ll be better able to plan for it and know which triggers to avoid. You can also add a line item in your budget if it’s something you value or that brings you joy so the expense doesn’t catch you by surprise at the end of each month.
3. Think About What You Could Do With The Money Instead
I’m all for treating yourself. Life is short, and never spending spontaneous money on fun things that make you happy is a recipe for misery. That being said, it can be helpful to pause and ask yourself if the money you’re about to spend on an impulse item could be better spent elsewhere. For many years, I would walk into Forever 21 and buy whatever cute dress or top jumped out at me, but they’d always fall apart after a few wears and would cost upwards of $40 per item. After a while, I started telling myself that if I avoided buying cheap dresses, I could save up for something better quality that would last longer and make me happier overall. Now, I always stop to ask if I’d be happier spending the money on something planned rather than something impulsive, and it has saved my wallet (and my wardrobe!) a ton. Even if it’s a small purchase, those dollars add up over time and can be put toward something that would make you much happier in the long run (European vacation, anyone?).
4. Ask Yourself if You Really Need It
Growing up, my mother would make me stop and consider the question “Do I really need this?” whenever we were shopping. I hated it back then, but I find myself doing it regularly now. If I’m wandering the aisles of HomeGoods and see a cute lamp, I’m happy to buy it if I know I’ve been needing a new lamp anyway. If not, I try my best to resist. If you do need something, you can go ahead and purchase away knowing there won’t be any incoming guilt.
It can also be helpful to set a limit on how many of the same thing you can buy if you tend to be drawn to similar things over and over. If you already have five baby blue dresses for the summer (who, me?), you probably don’t need another, no matter how cute it is. Same goes for coffee mugs, mascaras, and dog sweaters, FYI.
5. Explore Why You Want This Particular Thing
Look, I completely understand not wanting to do a full-blown psychological analysis for every purchase you make. That would completely suck the joy out of shopping, and there’s a reason you don’t see that played out in Sex and the City. That being said, if you find yourself impulsively buying things often, stop to explore why you are drawn to those particular items. It might be driven by emotions like jealousy, excitement, or sadness. For me, I’ve always wanted to be someone who got up early and worked out, and owning those ankle weights or that cute workout set made me feel like I was one step closer to actually being “that girl.” In reality though, no amount of buying things was going to make me that person unless I set my alarm early, got into my workout clothes, and did the actual workout. After I faced the music, I found myself being less likely to impulse buy fitness things because I no longer felt the need to acquire anything additional to start the habit. The same can be said if you always buy clothes when you feel sad about something at work or throw in a bunch of random add-ons at the checkout because you’re bored waiting in line. If you know what triggers you, you’ll be able to proactively get ahead of yourself and stop the impulse buy.
These tips have helped me save thousands of dollars in random TikTok orders and Target hauls, so I’m confident they can help even the most impulsive shoppers. There is a time and place for allowing yourself to buy something without having planned it in advance (I know better than to completely resist the Sephora checkout line), but giving yourself guidelines in the form of a waiting period, asking yourself the right questions, and setting a limit will help you stay on track with your money goals so you can afford the things that will bring you long-lasting joy.