Impulse Buying: Why It Happens and How To Stop

Impulse buying can be more than just that pack of gum at the grocery checkout aisle. These unplanned impulse purchases can wreak havoc on your budget and personal finances over time. Spending money is inevitable, but understanding your spending habits — how much you spend, why you spend it and what you spend it on — are essential pieces to achieving your financial goals

4 Types of Impulse Buying

An impulse buy, as the name would suggest, is when you impulsively buy something you did not plan to and did not factor into your budget. The products themselves can be anything you impulsively spend money on, such as candy, coffee, books, clothing or gadgets. What you buy will vary, but why you buy it can be categorized. There are four different types of impulse buying.

Pure Impulse

This impulse buy is the most common and is often referred to as an escape impulse.

For example, you buy a candy bar you normally wouldn’t get at check out when you see it. Even though it wasn’t planned, you see it, you want it and then you buy it.

Suggestion Impulse

This is a purchase of something you don’t necessarily need but have rationalized it to yourself that it is better than something else.

For example, the next time you are out for drinks, instead of going with your standard draft beer, you change it to a gin and soda. You tell yourself this will be healthier as it has fewer calories.

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Reminder Impulse

You’ll notice ads for something you have purchased in the past, which triggers this reminder impulse form of buying.

For example, next time you are grocery shopping online and you see an ad for toilet paper, the ad will trigger your impulse to stock up on more, even though you already have plenty. It makes you feel like you are saving money even when you didn’t have to spend any money.

Planned Impulse

If a promotion or discount code has been sent to you, alerting you to an upcoming sale, you may plan on buying something you weren’t intending to buy. The planned impulse triggers a fear of missing out on a good deal and often is amplified if you feel a product may run out.

5 Reasons You Impulse Buy

Now that you understand and may start to recognize what types of impulse buying you are participating in, it is time to dive deeper into the psychology behind why you impulsively buy the way you do. The triggers can range from social media pressure to just having a bad day, but once you start to see through the compulsion a bit, it may help you nip your next unneeded purchase in the bud.

Here are five reasons why you impulse buy. 

Retail Therapy and Love of Shopping

Shopping can be fun, and it is okay to enjoy it. Where this can take a turn is when you use shopping as the only way you release dopamine. Boxing shopping into your only source of joy makes it an addiction that will rack up your spending and potentially create some serious credit card debt.

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Deal-seeking and Desire To Save

Marketing teams know what they are doing and understand that people do a lot of their impulse buying when they think they are getting a good deal.

An item that normally would be at too high a price point for you now suddenly seems more reasonable, so you want to act quickly and buy it. This makes you feel like a savvy shopper and as if you have somehow cheated the system.

Loss Aversion and Fear of Missing Out

This works in a variety of ways but especially on items you buy anyway.

For example, you see the store has toothpaste marked as “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” and though you don’t need any at the moment, you don’t want to miss out on the savings. You also don’t often know how long the sale will last, which triggers the loss aversion instinct, because if the sale was over the next time you shopped, you would be annoyed you didn’t make the purchase — even though it wasn’t an item you needed.

The Need To Stockpile

If you are someone who plans for the worst-case scenario, you may feel the need to stockpile. This impulse is triggered by the fear of running out of resources, so you would rather store a bunch of stuff you don’t need — and may not use for a while — rather than ever not having something at hand.

Biased Evaluation of Use

People often overestimate how much they will use a product they purchase.

For example, even though the last few times you purchased lettuce at the grocery store, it has gone bad before you have eaten it, you still add it to your cart every week. This unsupported optimism can also be found in such purchases as exercise equipment or clothing items.

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How To Stop Impulse Buying: Helpful Tips

If it was easy to determine when impulses would happen, they probably would be called something else. However, knowing why you shop a certain way may help prevent you from impulse buying in the future. Here are some helpful hints to help you get through your next shopping trip — impulse free.

  • Plan out your shopping list and don’t deviate.
  • Stop joining superfluous email lists — and consider unsubscribing from the ones you already get.
  • Don’t shop when experiencing heightened emotions.
  • Bring a buddy shopping to help keep you in check.
  • Comparison shop to give you time to think about your purchase and get the best deal.
  • Unfollow brands on social media that tempt you to spend.
  • Do a budget, savings or no-spend challenge.
  • Leave your credit card at home and don’t memorize the number.
  • Outline your budgetary goals and keep them in mind next time you shop!

Final Take

One of the easiest ways to stop impulse buying is to make a budget and rigidly stick to it. You can even get an expense-tracking app to help you with this.

Shop with a plan in mind, and include a little fun money in your budget so you will be less likely to go off the rails. It could also help to limit your social media, or at least unfollow brands you often buy from, to remove the temptation altogether. Out of sight, out of mind.

Next time you go to pick up an item you weren’t planning on purchasing, put it back down and wait 24 hours. You may be surprised how often this will work to talk yourself out of that impulse buy.

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  • What is an example of impulse buying?
    • An impulse buy is anything you spend money on that you did not factor into your budget ahead of time or wasn't on your shopping list. Here are some common examples:
    • Video games
    • Shoes
    • Gum
    • Cleaning supplies
    • Take out
    • Home improvement items
    • Toys or treats for your kids
  • What are the four types of impulse purchasing?
    • The four types of impulse buying are as follows:
    • Pure impulse
    • Suggestion impulse
    • Reminder impulse
    • Planned impulse
  • What are the five reasons we impulse buy?
    • Though impulse buyers may not give much thought to what and why they buy something they weren't planning on, there are five reasons people often impulse buy:
    • Retail therapy and the love of shopping
    • Deal-seeking and the desire to save
    • Loss aversion and fear of missing out
    • The need to stockpile
    • Biased evaluation of use

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