5 Tricks to Curb Impulse Buying

May 15, 2014Reading Time: 4 min

From the grocery store to the online boutique, to the outdoor mall and to the restaurant, billions are spent each year trying to fill our psychology with reasons to buy. Impulse buys play such a major part in the success of businesses, that they’ve concocted countless techniques to influence consumers to spend. Advertising is a battle fought on psychological grounds—whether it’s filling the air with loud music to cloud your thinking, placing spicy images on products to influence our judgment, or planting the most lucrative items in places where they’re most easily seen.

Nine out of 10 people are impulse buyers. A whopping two-thirds of these people end up immediately regretting their purchases after the fact. The inevitable spending hangover occurs, and many of us wonder how we could’ve been so coaxed into seeking instant gratification. Since people on average drop an additional $200 a month on impulse purchases, I feel this is a subject that has to be tackled once more.

As they say, doing brave things make you brave; and what’s braver than denying those hostess cupcakes at the checkout counter? Here are five tricks to curb impulse buying:

Don’t shop in a bad mood. For many of us, once we start to feel that dopamine drought, we immediately take measures to get back to that happy place. Like a mirage of a watery oasis, we hold products in higher esteem when we’re feeling dissatisfied. The same goes for shopping at grocery stores when you’re hungry — every single item will look more delicious and the less rational your decisions become. Instead of going on a shopping spree when you’re feeling a bit blue, understand that you might make a purchase you’ll soon regret.  

Use the 30 second rule. It depends on context, however. If you’re shopping in a grocery store, take a minute to regain objectivity on the product. Once the thought enters your mind to buy, take a step back and reassess the reason why you feel you need to purchase it. Once you dissociate yourself, rationality will trump emotion, and it will become easier to walk away. If you spot an attractive product online, wait a day. The moment is a powerful thing—one minute you’ll be wanting, the other you’ll feel no desire to buy. The next time you get the urge to shell out a few bucks for something, take some time to ask yourself if you truly need it.

Pay with cold hard cash. You’ve probably heard this one before. There have been countless studies linking credit cards to impulse spending. Frugal instincts take over the brain when you have crispy, tangible bills. It makes spending real, as opposed to an invisible transaction you can immediately forget thereafter. Personally, I always feel a little bad when I spend with cash because I have a visual measure of how much I just spent. And feeling bad is good, and will remind you continuously of the waste that is impulse buying.

Be conscious of ploys. As mentioned previously, the sole goal of advertisers is pull the money out of your pocket, to manipulate you into feeling you should buy. That is one of the reasons why we see such slogans as “reduced fat,” “contains antioxidants,” and “no artificial flavors” on so many of those food packages. You should always acknowledge the intention behind a sign, instead of the positive words and desirable deal you’ll get. In 1998, North Americans spent more than $4 billion on impulse buys, and these powerfully designed manipulation tactics are the culprit.

Ask yourself how you’ll feel about the purchase tomorrow. The thing we usually tell ourselves the day after an impulse purchase is, “Well, it felt like a good idea at the time.” The question you need to ask yourself when you’re pondering a potential buy is, “Will I be proud of this purchase tomorrow?” If the product won’t pay dividends in the long term, move on.