Maybe you stroll into a store to kill a few minutes before a matinee movie, but find yourself leaving an hour later, having missed most of your movie and with a ton of bundles and bags in tow. You try to convince yourself you’re a savvy shopper who ferreted out deep discounts, but buyer’s remorse takes hold even before your bloated credit card statement arrives.
If you’ve ever found yourself in this shopping scenario, learn the strategies to resist the bad spending habits affecting your family.
Shop With a List
Go shopping with a plan in place and stick to it once you’re in the store, advises Patricia Stallworth, a certified financial planner and money coach.
“In other words, shop with a purpose and on purpose,” said Stallworth, author of the upcoming book “How to Become a Wise, Wealthy Woman.” “Having a list helps keep you grounded and focused so you purchase the items on your list and then move on to the next task or just relax.”
Stop While You’re Ahead
When she plans on purchasing something, Holly Wolf focuses on the excitement of putting it to use to help her stay away from other temptations in the store.
“Take the purchase to the checkout and focus on leaving the store,” said Wolf, director of customer engagement at SOLO Laboratories and a personal finance enthusiast who writes often on the topic. “You’ve got what you need — you don’t need anything more. I’m excited to get home and try it on, put it in my closet or put it to use. That’s usually distraction enough to stop looking at other items.”
It’s a simple strategy, but simply looking one direction helps keep shopping trips short for Wolf.
“Keep looking forward rather than side to side,” she said. “You’ll make a line to the checkout and not be distracted at what is on either side.”
Question Why You’re Attracted to an Item
GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor at PsychPoint Mental Health Center, advises her clients to ask themselves why they want to buy an item. Do they think it will make them happy and, if so, for how long?
“If it will bring you prolonged happiness that will last months or even years, then buy it,” she said. “If you are buying it because you like it and you expect it will not bring you happiness in a day, week or even month from now, then remind yourself of all of those other impulse buys that you regret.” Remember, impulse shopping is an easy way to burn through your paycheck.
Ponder the Purchase Price
As a marketing expert, Philip Murphy doesn’t often get sucked into the impulse buy trap.
“My main strategy for resisting impulse buys is to think about how much it cost to produce the item relative to its price,” said Murphy, who recently launched a career and parenting blog. After thinking about a product’s profit margin, he asks himself if that money can be better spent elsewhere. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I don’t buy the item.”
Plan for Impulse Buys
If you know you’re prone to impulse shopping, giving yourself some preplanned permission to indulge will keep you from binge buying in the store, says Erik Richardson, who teaches personal finance courses at Carroll University.
“One of the important strategies I teach my students is to create a manageable outlet for impulse buying. Trying to resist any impulse buying sets up a negative dynamic, much like trying to resist all desserts when working to improve your eating,” he said. “Instead, set aside a small portion of your budget each month as an impulse fund.”
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Let Logic Take Over
The emotional part of our brains almost never considers consequences, says Robert Frick, corporate economist with Navy Federal Credit Union. But the logical part weighs other options — buying groceries, giving to charity, or even checking if we can find an impulse purchase somewhere else for cheaper.
“To put our logical brains in gear, delay the decision, even by an hour,” Frick said. “Eventually, the chemical dopamine that’s firing our desire to buy will subside and we can think more rationally. Think about how much you’ll enjoy that purchase in the future, and if you’ll regret spending the money eventually. Future thinking is logical thinking.” When you’re a logical shopper you’re a savvy shopper, and savvy shoppers save money.
Rely on Research
Telling yourself you should do more research on an item or shop around a little more is another strategy for putting off purchases, says John B. Dinsmore, an assistant professor of marketing at Wright State University.
“Typically, the best way to resist any impulse is to put time between the impulse and the action. When you feel an initial impulse, it’s a very strong pull toward making a certain move,” Dinsmore said. “The longer you take to consider the purchase, the more the urge cools and the easier it becomes to resist.”
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Institute Your Own Waiting Period
One-click ordering has made impulse shopping easier than ever online. Phil Risher, founder of the financial site YoungAdultSurvivalGuide.com, recommends letting items sit in your virtual cart before taking the purchasing plunge.
“Add items to cart and don’t order for 24 hours,” Risher said. “This gives you enough time to consider if this something you need or really want or a random impulse purchase.”
Natasha Rachel Smith, consumer affairs editor at the cash back and coupon site TopCashback.com, recommends only carrying the cash you can afford to spend on shopping excursions and leaving credit cards at home.
“When shopping with cash, you’ll be more likely to ask yourself personal spending questions like ‘Is this worth what I am about to pay?’ or ‘Do I really need this?’ You’ll find yourself being more financially responsible since you can’t just swipe your card,” she said. “By paying for things in cash instead of credit cards, you can see where your money goes.”
Steer Clear of Money Pits
Don’t tempt financial fate by putting yourself in a place where impulse buys are almost inevitable, says Smith.
“If you know you’ll compromise your goals by passing by your favorite store at the mall then stay away,” she said. “Old habits are hard to break so don’t tempt yourself by looking online or walking into a store because you have time to kill.”
Smith recommends cleansing your inbox and mailbox by unsubscribing from any notifications or catalogs that encourage you to shop.
“You no longer will receive notifications when your favorite store is having a sale, but it’s worth it to avoid any impulse buying,” she said.
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Don’t Rely on Retail Therapy
If you’re having a bad day, you might want to stay away from stores. Smith recommends taking a walk or phoning a friend instead.
“People who are upset tend to be more impulsive and could potentially spend more money during a retail therapy shopping experience,” she said. “Retail therapy is only temporary and once the feeling of buying something new wears off, you’ll be upset again.”
About the Author
Charlene Oldham specializes in education, workplace issues, consumer finance, health and wellness and business personalities. A former business news staff writer for the Dallas Morning News and whose varied resume includes a stint with Teach For America, Charlene has written freelance works that have appeared in publications including the Orlando Sentinel, SUCCESS, Organic Gardening and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.