Published in: Credit Cards | April 16, 2020

Americans Make 156 Impulse Purchases Each Year. Here's How to Break the Cycle

We are committed to full transparency in our mission to make the world smarter, happier, & richer. Offers on The Ascent may be from our partners - it's how we make money - and we have not reviewed all available products and offers. That transparency to you is core to our editorial integrity, which isn’t influenced by compensation.

Now that's a lot of potentially wasteful spending. 

The temptation to spend money is everywhere. You log onto your laptop to buy vitamins and see a special on organic snacks, so you decide to load up even though it's not one of your usual brands. Then you hit up a big-box store to purchase a couple of pantry staples and household cleaners and come away with a new spring wardrobe.

Impulse purchases are extremely common, but they're also extremely destructive. Not only can they thwart your savings efforts, but they can put you at risk of racking up serious debt that hurts your finances for years. 

Of course, the occasional impulse buy may not do much long-term harm, but most Americans don't make unplanned purchases just here and there -- they make them all the time. Specifically, the typical consumer makes 156 impulse buys every year, according to a study by OnePoll commissioned by Slickdeals. Not only that, but Americans spend an average of $450 a month on impulse purchases. 

If you're tired of falling victim to unplanned spending, there are a few ground rules you can implement to break the unhealthy cycle. 

A woman baking muffins in her kitchen.

Image source: Getty Images

The Ascent's best cash back credit cards

The Ascent's best cash back credit cards

Our expert's scoured hundreds of credit card offers and our top picks deserve the title. From up to 5% cash back, no annual fees, and long 0% intro APR offers, these cards are stacked, to help you rake in the rewards.

See the picks

1. Make lists and shop only with cash

Credit cards make it very easy to give in to impulse spending -- you just swipe a piece of plastic and deal with the consequences later. But if you make it a point to leave your credit cards at home when you go shopping, that option won't be on the table.

Before you hit the stores, make a list of the items you need, and bring only enough cash with you to cover those purchases. Or bring a little extra cash in case a really great, sensible deal comes up (say, your go-to cereal brand is half-off), but keep those credit cards far away so your added spending is truly minimal. 

2. Implement the 24-hour rule

Leaving your credit cards at home is a good way to prevent impulse buys while you're shopping in stores. But what about when you're shopping online and your credit card information is stored on your computer? 

In those situations, the key to avoiding impulse purchases could boil down to the 24-hour rule, which goes as follows: When you're tempted to buy something out of the blue, force yourself to wait a full 24 hours before completing that purchase. Chances are, you'll forget about the item in question or come to your senses and realize that you either don't need it or can't really afford it. 

3. Don't let yourself shop out of boredom

When you're stuck at home on a rainy Saturday, it's easy to bust out your tablet and start browsing your favorite online retail sites for fun. But online window shopping can easily turn into buying things that you don't need, so as a general rule, shop only when there's a specific item you're looking for -- don't do it as entertainment. Instead, find other ways to keep yourself occupied, whether it's binge-watching a TV series, curling up with a good mystery novel, or tackling that baking project you keep putting off. 

The more money you spend on impulse purchases, the less you'll manage to save, and the more you'll increase your chances of landing in troublesome debt. You may not manage to avoid impulse buys completely, but if you cut down on them substantially, you should see your finances improve in a very big way. 

Don't pay credit card interest until nearly 2022

The Ascent just released a free credit card guide that could help you pay off credit card debt once and for all. Inside, you'll uncover a simple debt-cutting strategy that could save you $1,863 in interest charges paying off $10,000 of debt. Best yet, you can get started in just three minutes!