How to Stop Impulse Buying: 12 Ways to Quit Shopping Without Thinking

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Impulse purchases are random, unnecessary purchases that eat into your potential savings. You make them without thinking, which is why you can’t remember what happened to that $20 bill in your wallet or how you got so much balance in your budget.

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It all adds up—your morning Starbucks pick-me-up ($6), the stylish bag you saw and just had to be during your goal grocery run ($30), the cookies you bought from the Girl Scouts in the entryway— It’s a good reason, isn’t it? ($5), and the Chipotle you decided to grab on the way home because you’re too tired to cook ($9).

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Before you know it, you’ve spent $50 during the day on impulse purchases. It happens to the best of us.

Retail marketers are trained in sneaky tactics that sway our urge to buy. Our personalities and moods can also lead to impulsive shopping – retail therapy is real. In an article in Psychology Today, public health expert Elana Sandler noted that retail therapy can be a beneficial way to feel renewed, especially in difficult times.

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No matter what your trigger is, it’s important to be more aware of your spending habits. Imagine how much better your finances would be if you saved every penny you thoughtlessly spent on stuff you don’t really need.

How to Stop Buying Impulse

Finding yourself being sucked into extravagance? Here are some practical tips that you can apply to keep more money in your wallet.

1. Get Serious About Your Budget

Have a clear picture of your finances and review monthly if not weekly. Everyone with a budget could use a little help or inspiration, and there’s an app for that. Or, use the cash envelope method to help you stick to the budget you set. When you have defined financial goals and a budget to match, it will be harder to justify impulse buying.

Unless you have the self-discipline of a sage, there are going to be times when you just want to indulge a little. A budget that covers only the basic necessities of life? It’s not fun. Add room to your budget for discretionary spending. That way you can make those random purchases without feeling guilty.

2. Set a Goal That Motivates You to Avoid Spending

All those little impulse purchases can drain your savings or leave you paying off debt instead of enjoying what you love. Maybe it’s a much-needed vacation. Then put reminders around your house and in your wallet to remind you why you really don’t need to make that impulse buy. It can be pictures of your dream destination or silly things like a straw hat and sunscreen – anything that reminds you that you have big plans for your cash.

3. Ask Yourself If Every Purchase Is Worth It

Before you reach for your debit card (or hit the buy button if you’re shopping online), ask yourself a small question: Is it worth it? You can also attach a sticky note to your credit card with that question. If it’s the $3 magazine that will keep you from getting bored to death on a flight, then maybe that answer is yes. If it’s a pair of shoes that’s worth an entire day’s salary and you’re already stressed about debt, take a hard pass.

Staying mindful of your goals can keep you away from unnecessary purchases. If you’ve got the idea that you want to get out of debt in 12 months, you might not be inclined to buy that $15 graphic T-shirt.

Changing the way you think can help you break out of the habit of unnecessarily buying stuff you don’t need. Take some time to consider what you are spending money on and why.

4. Delete your ordering information from retail websites

Online retailers want shopping to be as simple as the click of a button. They offer to save your debit or credit card information so that you don’t have to take out your card and type in a bunch of numbers every time.

If you’re trying to fight impulsive shopping, however, taking that extra step gives you more time to reconsider your purchases. Delete your financial information from online sites to prevent spontaneous impulsive purchases.

5. Put parental blocks on your own devices

You don’t have to be a child to find benefits in parental control settings. Block your favorite retail sites or set purchase restrictions for the App Store or Google Play. Sure, you’ll know the code to evade parental controls, but getting that extra layer may keep you from making impulse purchases.

Completely removing retail apps from the device can also help.

Getty Images 6. Unsubscribe from Email and Text Alerts

Oh, the temptation of all deals. That email for 30% off all footwear just arrived in your inbox Have you ever dreamed of getting new sandals, even if you already have several pairs. Did someone tell them that shoes are your weakness? Avoid the trap by unsubscribing from email lists or text alerts from shops, restaurants or businesses that will be hard to resist. There will always be another sale.

Pro Tip

Take advantage of deals when shopping makes sense for your budget, not just for fear of missing out.

7. Understand the Tricks Retailers Play

The stores you frequent have entire marketing teams working to entice you to buy through product placement and other clever strategies. If you’re trying to save money, fight the temptation.

That could mean ignoring the pretty display for stuff you didn’t think you needed until you saw it. Or perhaps a closer look at that “great sale” reveals it’s for a product whose packaging has shrunk, making it easier to walk away. And those outlet mall deals may not be such a steal.

Teaching yourself to be a smart shopper can help you avoid being tempted by clever marketing.

8. Shop With Your Financial Accountability Friend

A friend or family member who is aware of your financial challenges and goals is the perfect person to bring along on shopping trips. Your responsible friend may rule over your tendency to overspend on unnecessary things. Just make sure it’s someone who isn’t afraid to speak on behalf of your budget.

9. Carry a limited amount of cash

If you rely on your credit card to cover impulse purchases when you shop, switch to cash and only carry the amount you need for that day.

Using your credit card for impulse purchases only adds extra cost in the form of interest — something you didn’t need to buy before. You can literally freeze your cards in a block of ice, cut them into pieces, or simply hide them at home.

Stick with cash only, plan your purchases in advance and only take what you need for that one shopping trip.

10. Give Yourself Time Before You Decide to Buy

It should be now, that feeling is what drives many of us to buy things on impulse. But putting a stop to shopping is often all it takes to realize that what we’re craving isn’t really something we should have. Some enforce the 30-day rule—delaying purchases for about a month—but you can really give yourself any amount of time.

Pro Tip

When shopping online, use the Google Chrome extension Icebox, which prevents you from making instant online purchases, giving you time to rethink how you’re spending your money.

While you wait, take inventory of what you already have.

You know that coffee mug that’s jokingly saying you just gotta buy it? This will end up with a dozen identical ones in the kitchen cabinets that you probably already have. Coffee is life, but when you can fill the entire dishwasher with a mug alone, you need to start saying “no” for more.

Taking stock of what you already have at home – whether it’s clothes, shoes, books or dishware – can help you put things in the right perspective when you notice something flashy while shopping.

11. Track Your Daily Spending

Don’t wait until the end of the month to analyze your spending and see if everything matches what you plan to spend in your budget. When you pay attention to what you spend each day, those unnecessary impulse purchases are left like a sore throat.

12. Find something you love besides shopping

Many people consider shopping a hobby or something to do to pass the time on the weekend. Others use shopping as a cure for a bad mood, but turning to retail therapy as a form of entertainment or to give you pleasure may make you more susceptible to spending.

Instead of shopping for fun, find activities to fill that void. Have a picnic in the park. Walk or meditate. call a friend. You can also earn some money by doing workouts.

When Impulsive Buying Becomes a Big Issue

As penny hoarders, we hate losing potential savings to extravagant impulse spending, but sometime shopping isn’t the end of the world.

However, if shopping habits seem out of your control or are becoming detrimental to your financial life, relationships, or general well-being, you should seek professional help.

A licensed therapist can help you manage impulsive behavior. Debtors Benami also provides assistance to those whose shopping habits lead them to unmanageable debt.

Contributor Veronica Leon Matthews is a North Carolina-based freelance writer with 11 years of experience working for nonprofits and higher education. She covers lifestyle topics for The Penny Hoarder.

Nicole Dow is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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