How To Cut Down on Impulse Purchases, Save Money, and Buy Things You Really Like

published Jul 22, 2014
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(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

I have a love-hate relationship with shopping. On one hand, plotting purchases can be fun, and it’s nice to have new things. Then, on the other hand, there’s the self-loathing you feel when you look at your bank account balance… or clean out your closet and realize how much money you spent on things you don’t really use. So over the years, I’ve developed some tactics for shopping smart. This post isn’t about not buying things at all: rather, it’s about developing strategies to limit your purchases to things you really like, so that your bank account will be happier, AND you’ll wind up with things you’ll be satisfied with for years to come.

1. Unsubscribe from all those flash sale emails.
Shopping can be really fun, and flash sale sites add a certain element of urgency, making shopping seem almost like a competitive sport: gotta click this email NOW! Gotta shop this sale NOW before everyone else snaps up all the good stuff! The resulting adrenaline rush can override that little voice of reason that says things like “do you really need this?” To make things worse, many flash sale sites have restocking fees or store-credit-only return policies, which makes them terrible places for impulse buys. So unsubscribe from all those flash sale emails that give you the urge to shop, or at the least send them to your ‘promotions’ inbox in Gmail, to make them a little less in-your-face.

2. Make a ‘wants’ list.
One of the best ways I’ve found to combat impulse purchases is by maintaining a ‘wants’ list. I do a lot of shopping online, so my wants list is a notebook in Evernote where I save photos of and links to things I want. Whenever I run across something I decide I just have to have, I add it to the list. I try to let things sit on the list for at least a few weeks before I actually buy them: a lot of times, I’ll end up deciding that I don’t really need that thing, after all. (Another great thing about the ‘wants’ list is that when people ask you what you want for birthdays or holidays, you have a whole list of suggestions right at hand.)

3. If you can’t decide between two items, consider that you may not need either one.
Can’t decide which pair of sandals you like the best? Try on the idea of not buying anything at all. I’ve found that often, being completely unable to chose between two things means I don’t really feel strongly about either of them.

4. Deny yourself right now and put the money towards something you really want.
Just not spending money at all doesn’t feel very fun. But the idea of not spending money so you can get something you want even more later — now that’s satisfying. Set a long-term goal for something pricey that you really want, and then when you’re tempted to make an impulse purchase, ask yourself: what do I want more, these shoes or that amazing sofa (or light fixture, or vacation, or what have you)? It has a way of putting things into perspective and reminding you that self-denial now = way better things later. I’m currently coveting this amazing credenza from Organic Modernism. I may never actually get it, since it costs more than any piece of furniture I’ve ever owned, but for its sake many pairs of shoes have gone unbought.

5. Find small ways to satisfy your craving for newness.
I’ve realized that a big part of my love for shopping is that it’s fun to have new things. I get a little surge of pleasure seeing a shopping bag, tissue poking out the top, sitting on the floor, and having new things around the house gives a little extra spice to my daily routine. Fortunately for you (if you’re anything like me), there are ways to scratch the itch without spending a ton of money. Allow yourself a little impulse buy every few weeks, or once a month — a magazine, a new candle or some kitchen towels. You’ll get all the fun of a little indulgence, without the remorse of a big one.

Re-edited from a post originally published 7.23.14-NT