8 Secrets of Shoppers Who Resist Impulse Buying

published Sep 5, 2016
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(Image credit: Bridget Pizzo)

Our current culture of having instant access to all the pleasures of the material world with the click of a button or the swipe of a card has many of our pleasure-seeking brains going bananas. It’s almost too easy to satisfy our instant gratification impulses through impulsive buying, but this type of buying comes at a cost—literally and metaphorically.

If you’re looking for a few ways to check yourself before you wreck your wallet, check out eight ways to stand strong in the face of Sephora on your lunch break or Amazon at midnight.

1. Make a list

The trusty list is a tried-and-true method for keeping impulse shopping under control. Sure, it’s still possible to stray from a list, but having a set of pre-determined items helps keeps purchases on target (which really helps at places like, er—Target), which in turn helps cut down on picking up random items while wandering through store aisles. And, if you’re like me, the wandering is when the weird purchases happen.

2. Ask questions

You’ve seen this person—the question-asker—standing in an aisle, holding an item, deep in thought. Are they ok? you wonder. Are they having a moment? Chances are, they’re just asking questions we impulse shoppers tend to quell: Is this purchase going to improve my life? Do I already have something similar? Will this item help me in some tangible way? If the questions they’re asking can’t be answered in the affirmative, these shoppers will put the item back on the shelf. Good ol’ logic for the win.

3. Keep the long view in mind

These shoppers try to remember their long-term goals when facing down an impulse buy. They’ll consider the cost of a trip they’d like to take, a car repair they need, debt they’re trying to pay off, or savings they want to increase. Keeping long-term goals and plans in sight can help fortify your willpower when dipping into Nordstrom Rack for just one thing you need, like a new fall jacket, and trying not to also leave with shoes, a new sweater, bath oil, sunglasses…

4. Don’t pounce. Circle

It’s okay, go ahead and put that thing in your cart. Walk around with it while you shop. Then look at it again when you check out. Chances are, by the time you get to the checkout line, you may very well have cooled on the item you felt an impulse to buy. Some shoppers take a picture of an item with their phone; if they still want the item pictured after a few days, they’ll go back and buy it. It’s a stalling tactic that helps us think more critically about our purchases.

(Image credit: Katy Cartland)

5. Use cash more often

Unless you roll with wads of hundreds, using cash instead of a card instantly limits your ability to impulse buy. Try leaving your card at home and just bringing a set amount of cash on your next trip to the grocery store or even when dining out. A recent article in The New York Times also shines light on how the little bit of pain we feel from parting with cash helps us value the experience of making a single purchase.

6. Grocery shop on a full stomach

Researchers from Cornell conducted a field study where they sent hungry shoppers out into the wild of a grocery store to see how hunger impacted their shopping choices. The results? A lot! Hungry shoppers tended to buy more food in general, and more snack style/junk food, in particular. So eat some cheese and crackers when making your grocery list to keep those impulse bulk Doritos purchases at bay.

7. Reward yourself with experiences rather than stuff

I can verify that small-scale impulse buys feel good, but usually only for a very brief period of time. I used to regularly buy little pick-me-ups, often after a hard day or when I was feeling down. And sometimes pick-me-up shopping is just what we need, but it’s a practice that can easily become habit. A few years ago, I started thinking about other ways to reward myself in the form of experiences. I’ve found that giving myself some time during the week to have some wine, grab dinner with a friend, listen to music, or write is a much more gratifying reward than buying another pair of shoes I’ll rarely wear.

8. Resist using impulse buys as kid bargaining chips

I think we’ve all been there, desperately trying to get errands done and you hear yourself bargaining with your four-year-old like some Prohibition Era whiskey dealer, “Listen kid, if you can just stay cool for 10 more minutes, I’ll get you that shiny $3 toy candy deal that sort of looks like a giraffe and has a glittery fan-thingy that spins and also has six Skittles in it.” It feels like the easiest solution but you know the truth: she’ll be entertained by it for two minutes and then it will break or wind up in the nether world of wicker baskets that house all the tiny $3 toys you’ve impulsively bought when trying to GSD. This can be a tough rule to follow in the heat of the moment, so let’s take it one shopping trip at a time (reality check: I’m writing this after buying a $5 pack of Pokemon cards for my son and $3 My Little Pony stickers for my daughter—pure and utter bribery).

And good luck out there, shoppers! Let’s keep our eyes on the prizes of better vacations, less debt, and bigger emergency funds. Please add your own tips in the comments!