Want To Cut Back On Impulse Buying? Use These Financial Therapist-Approved Tips
Sometimes when I go shopping, I walk in with one item in mind—and leave with way more than I budgeted for. How can I keep myself from making impulsive purchases, even when they seem so reasonable in the moment?
We've all been there: You enter a store with a plan to purchase one, singular item you actually need, and you walk out with a cart full of items you thought you needed in the moment. (It was a great deal! This will come in handy later! It looked too good to pass up!) These are impulsive purchases, and on average we spend roughly $5,400 a year on them, according to a report from last year. And while a little thoughtless spending here and there shouldn't send you into a shame spiral, it is good to at least keep these habits in check—as it's always good to be mindful with money.
On the macro level: The best thing you can do to curb mindless spending is to track your purchases and budget accordingly, as we've learned about keeping a money diary. This will help you be aware of patterns long term. "I'm a big fan of having people notice what is happening with their money. Physically writing down your purchases is creating an awareness that's in the moment," financial expert Lynne Somerman told us. She goes on to compare it with meditation: "When you meditate, you are learning to be in the moment. And you know when you have thoughts that pop in and out, and you're taught to acknowledge it, observe it, and let it pass? That's like our purchases: Witness that you bought something and move on; the core of what you are doing is teaching yourself to be present with your money."
But for day-to-day control over these urges, it's as simple as holding yourself accountable and asking yourself a few questions in the moment, says financial therapist Bari Tessler, founder of The Art of Money. First up: accountability. "This can be as simple as making a shopping list before you leave the house," she says. Of course, many of us likely know a shopping list is beneficial—but we often think of it as beneficial so we don't forget anything, not necessarily as a tool to keep us on track. This way, when you're in the store and you see an item that piques interest, you're able to revisit a solid, in-real-life reminder that said purchase likely isn't necessary. Tessler also jokes she's even posted on social media to help keep herself accountable. "I posted on Facebook, OK going to Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a dustpan and nothing else!" You, of course, don't need to post to your followers about your shopping excursions, but perhaps texting a friend or family member that your Target shopping trip is just for picking up cleaning supplies will keep you away from the other, more tempting sections.
And finally, when you actually go shopping: "Bring yourself back to your body," says Tessler. "When you start to feel fuzzy and overstimulated in a store, you turn into a zombie and check out." Here's what she recommends. First, start with a body check before: "Ground yourself before you go in, so you are clear-minded at the start." Entering a store with a more present mindset will help later. If you find something that's not on your list, but you are drawn to buying it, ask yourself these questions: "Why do I want this? Do I need it? How often will I actually use it? Am I going to enjoy it by the time I get home?" This will help you suss out any less-than-ideal buys. And finally, when you get home, double-check your shopping list with what you actually got: "Did you stray from the list, and was it for a good reason? Is there anything you might want to consider returning later?"
Over time this will all get easier and might even become second-nature.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.