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9 ways to stop impulse buying

Here are simple and solid methods for reducing the temptation to buy items you don't need and can't afford.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 25, 2012 10:31AM

This post comes from Meg Favreau at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread on MSN MoneyAh, the impulse purchase -- that momentary thriller, that destroyer of budgets. The impulse buy is a nefarious beast. No matter how good we are at saving and living frugally, sometimes it can be hard to resist that impulse purchase.


But fear not! These nine strategies can help. (See also: "The case of the martini: Is instant gratification financially responsible?")


(Post continues below.)

1. Follow the time rule.

I've seen this defined as something as small as the "one-hour rule" and as big as the "30-day rule," but the idea is the same: When you see something that you want, make yourself wait a certain amount of time before purchasing it. The longer you can go, the better. If you still strongly want to make the purchase at the end of the period, consider doing so only then.


2. Don't shop when upset.

It's easy to look for a product (whether it's food, clothing or something else) to cheer you up when you're unhappy. One of my worst impulse purchases happened at a liquor store. While I was there picking up a bottle of wine for a friend's party, I received a call with some bad news. Now, I'm a bit of a cocktail geek -- if I'm going to have a drink, I want to enjoy something with good, interesting ingredients -- and in an effort to cheer myself up, I purchased three kinds of liqueurs I had been wanting to add to my bar. Oops.


Image: Shopping bags (© Photodisc Red/Getty Images)3. Consider changing how and where you shop.

One of the things I love about shopping online is that it's much easier to ignore extraneous items. I go to, put what I need in my cart and check out. But I know if I try on clothing in a store, I'm much more likely to happen upon a dress that I suddenly really want. The solution? Except for groceries, pharmacy items and thrift store finds, I rarely shop in physical stores.


4. Don't shop with the wrong people.

If you have impulse-happy shopping buddies, it can be easy to let them convince you that all the outfits you just tried on look greaaaat, and you should TOTALLY buy them. If you want to shop socially, do it with people who have frugal spending habits (and if they are able to tell you when a dress really looks great on you, well, all the better).


5. Give yourself a splurge budget.

You're much less likely to make big impulse purchases if you allow yourself some smaller discretionary spending. Whether it's budgeting for one new clothing item a month, allowing yourself a fancy coffee every now and again or giving yourself spend-it-however-you-want cash, give yourself some room so you don't feel like a penny-pinching miser.


6. Buy only things you can return.

If you really have a problem with impulse purchases, at the very least buy from stores with good return policies. One impulse spender Nora Dunn wrote about made herself take a three-day "Do I really need it?" cooling-off period after a purchase and then would return several items she had bought.


7. Remember to not be fooled by sales.

Sales with huge markdowns can make impulse purchases very tempting. I tend to think of products I've bought on sale as falling into two categories -- "I really wanted this" and "Oh, I could use this!" The trick is to buy things only in the first category. For years, half my shoe collection was made up of shoes I only sort of liked but had found on sale. Remember, if you see a product on sale, you will always save more money if you don't buy it at all.

8. Keep a list of things you really want or need.

That way, if you do see them on sale, you can buy them with confidence.


9. Don't give yourself access to your money.

Whether it's leaving your credit cards at home or carrying only a certain amount of cash, you can't make impulse purchases if you don't have the money to do so.


How do you curb impulse spending?


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

May 9, 2012 12:33PM
A trick I use, especially when going into store like Target, is to not take a basket or cart.  Just using your bare hands to hold the only few things you meant to buy when walking into the store.  This helps if you are a single person without any dependents.
May 9, 2012 1:42PM
I make myself go home and think about it. If I really must have, I go back the next day [which seldom happens - I usually talk myself out of it] and if it is still there, I buy it.
May 9, 2012 1:23PM
i break everything down on how much it costs vs how long i had to stand at work to pay for it. for example if i make $10 an hour & the item is $20 is that $20 item worth the 2 long grueling hours i had to put in to buy it? more than likely not.
Jun 14, 2012 12:41AM
Don't go anywhere.  Stay home.  Each week my family is just excited going to Trader Joe's!  Food is a necessity, not impulse buys.  The one problem we do have and can't control is going to fast food places like Mickey D's, and those are impulse buys. 
May 9, 2012 3:27AM
Or just come to live and work in Montenegro :)
Wow, there's a lot of spam today.

Here's an idea to stop impulse buying, and it doesn't rely on cheap gimmicks. It's called self-control. You have a budget, you stick to it, and you don't buy worthless crap. End of lesson.
May 9, 2012 1:01PM
It's the easiest thing in the world to stop IMPULSE BUYING...just go buy some corrupt Republican OIL corporate's GASOLINE! Presto! Your impulse buying is GONE 'CAUSE YOU AIN'T GOT NO MONEY LEFT!
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