3 Tricks I Use to Avoid Impulse Buys

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Sept. 26, 2020

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A woman reaching for a book on the top shelf in a bookstore.

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Impulse buys can wreck your budget. Here's how one writer evades them.

Have you ever popped over to a big box store to pick up some household staples like milk and bread, only to wind up with a $100 cart full of random stuff? I have.

Impulse buys happen to the best of us. In fact, a survey by The Ascent last year found that 42% of consumers waste money on unplanned purchases. But these last-minute buys can truly wreak havoc on your budget, not to mention drive you into costly debt. This is why I do my best to avoid impulse buys, and here are three tricks that help.

1. I don't store credit card information on my phone or laptop

I'm really not someone who shops online out of boredom, but sometimes I'll come across an ad for a new product that looks interesting. Or I'll get a recommendation from Amazon when I'm on there to buy socks that tempts me to make a purchase. But most of the time I won't actually complete that purchase for one simple reason: I'm too lazy, or busy, to get up and find my credit cards.

I don't know my credit card numbers by heart and I avoid sudden purchases because they're not stored on my devices. Having to physically get up and find my card means that the item in question had better be worth buying -- and a lot of the time, I realize it's not.

2. I give myself a treat allowance

I used to have serious guilt about buying things for myself until I realized that I work hard and deserve a little indulgence here and there. But I also don't want to go overboard, and I want those little treats to be meaningful. So what I do is give myself a $100 monthly allowance to spend on whatever I want. Sometimes I use the entire sum at once. Other times I'll spend $25 one week on a couple of books, and $25 another week on a cozy sweatshirt. But either way, knowing that I have that treat money at my disposal makes impulse purchases less tempting.

It's sort of like giving yourself a bite of cake when you're on a diet. If you get a little taste of something sweet, you may be less likely to go crazy and eat seven doughnuts or a pint of ice cream because you're so sugar-deprived you can't take it anymore. Instead, that little bite might help you maintain good self-control. I use the same logic with impulse buys. They're less appealing to me because I don't deprive myself of modest treats -- I work them into my budget.

3. I bring a shopping buddy when I'm afraid I'll go overboard

I tend to go crazy buying fresh produce or gourmet grocery items. The good news is that when I make impulse buys in the form of food or ingredients, they at least feed my family. At the same time, I know that if I go to the farmers' market with the intent to buy fresh eggs, tomatoes, and melon, I really shouldn't buy two spice mixes, a jar of salsa, and a massive coffee cake. So rather than visit the market alone, I make my husband come along to keep my spending in check. That way, he can be the voice of reason when the part of me that wants to buy seven different varieties of pickles stops using logic and starts reaching for a credit card.

Impulse buys happen to the best of us, but they can lead to financial problems nobody needs. If you tend to fall victim to them, see if any of these tips work for you. With any luck, you'll save some money and, just as importantly, avoid the dangerous trap of racking up debt for things you don't need.

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