How Do You Manage Your Impulse Buys?

by Miranda Marquit · 4 comments

impulse buy
I visited an antique shop with my cousin recently, as we sought inspiration for an apartment she will be moving into in a few months. I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I saw a piano bench that looked perfect for our piano. My son had been complaining about our bench and the hinged top of this bench appealed to me; the current bench didn’t have a place to store music.

On impulse, I bought the bench for $65. I don’t regret the purchase. It’s a nicer bench than what we had before, and now my son has a place to store his sheet music and lesson books — instead of just tossing them on the floor.

This prompted me to started thinking about impulse purchases, though. Normally, I plan out most of my purchases because I don’t like to spend money that could go towards my vacation fund. Still, I clearly make unexpected purchases. And it’s not just me. Impulse shopping is far from uncommon in America. According to a survey from, about 54% of Americans have spent $100 or more on an impulse purchase. The survey also points out that 84% of Americans have made impulse purchases, and 20% have even made purchases of at least $1,000 on impulse.

Curbing that Impulse

Most of us feel the impulse to buy something we hadn’t planned on at some point. Curbing that impulse can be difficult, especially if you feel as though the purchase is small and mostly affordable. According to the survey data, though, it might make sense to avoid shipping in the store, since that’s where eight out of 10 impulse buys happen. Only about 13% of impulse buys happen on a computer, and 6% happen on a tablet or smartphone.

This holds true for me as well. When I shop online, it’s usually for a specific purpose. I know exactly what I’m looking for, and I shop to find the lowest price. Even with Amazon placing other items in front of my eyes, I usually move on. But there’s something about being in the store — physically present — that makes me more susceptible.

Curbing the impulse, then, is often about avoiding places where you are more likely to break down and give in to the impulse of the moment. Pay attention to where you are when you make most of your impulse purchases, and be on your guard. Shopping with a list, and adhering strictly to it can also help you reduce your impulse buys.

Another strategy is to think about what else you plan to do with the money. Spending $65 on the piano bench didn’t break my budget. It meant not going out to eat one extra time during the month, but it didn’t impact my long-term priorities of saving for retirement and saving up for a trip later this summer.

Stop and think about what you’re spending if you find yourself in an impulse buy situation. When you spend that money, what will you have to give up instead? Will it impact your high-priority spending? When you think about what else you could use that money for, that might be the most effective way to curb your impulses.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • A practical solution that may help many people is to actually have a little pot of money set aside for unexpected purchases. Since we are all susceptible to it, even though we shop and see something that we hadn’t “planned” to purchase, we may feel less guilty about it if we already have a bit of designated funds set aside.

    • David Ning says:

      Good idea Latoya, but I would emphasize the “little” in the little pot. Otherwise, that money just becomes an excuse to keep spending money you shouldn’t spend because you already have it set aside!

  • freebird says:

    I think this can be a problem for those who enjoy shopping as entertainment. Malls play all sorts of mind games to turn browsers into buyers, and the online world is quickly climbing the learning curve on how to do this. I think the best way to deal with this without getting stuck at home all day is to avoid the temptation by hitting the library, taking a walk in the park, or putting in some overtime at the office.

    Still once in awhile I get the urge to hunt for something interesting, and I’ve found one way to reduce the damage is to troll thrift stores. Sorting through the often disorganized piles of stuff is part of the challenge– and the fun. If you’re good at it and have an eye for what sells on eBay, you can become a professional scavenger to help cover the cost of the stuff you keep or re-donate.

    • David Ning says:

      I hear some department stores even spray a scent that makes you more giddy in order to entice us to buy more. It’s really amazing what we are subject to on a daily basis without knowing!

      I’m always excited if I find something at a thrift store. Like you said, searching can be part of the fun!

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