How to Avoid Spending Temptations

by Emily Guy Birken · 7 comments

ice cream cone
My most recent spending temptation was an adorable Jack-o-Lantern bowl I saw at Wal-Mart on the Saturday before Halloween. I imagined putting candy in the $2 bowl for our trick-or-treaters, and it would really liven up our Halloween. Theoretically, I was in the store to get a prescription filled, but spending an extra two bucks for the grinning bowl wouldn’t make that big a difference in my total. I was at the checkout before I realized that I really didn’t need this particular item since it was only useful one night a year. That realization was enough to have me put the bowl back on the shelf. I haven’t always been so disciplined though.

Avoiding spending temptations isn’t easy, considering the fact that we are constantly surrounded by things to buy. The best way to avoid spending money is to know what triggers your spending impulses. Here are a few ways that might help you to say no the next time temptation strikes:

1. Think about the logistics of buying the item. This is what I did with the Jack-o-Lantern bowl. I couldn’t imagine where I’d keep it 11 months of the year — and since I hate clutter, that was enough to sour me on the idea of buying it.

This is also an important strategy when shopping at bulk stores. Do you know where you’ll keep that drum of olive oil? If not, then keep walking.

2. Carry cash. Having a credit card in your pocket makes it far too easy to make that impulse purchase. If you are only carrying enough cash to take care of your errands and pre-planned shopping, then you can’t let yourself be tempted by other purchases. Studies show that people spend roughly 30% more with plastic than they do with cash. Try leaving your cards at home if you want to start spending less.

3. Don’t pay half price for something you wouldn’t buy for full price. A friend who is a big advocate for second-hand stores and garage sales uses this as her mantra. Sometimes the price of an item is what makes it a tempting purchase. But if you buy something you don’t really want just because it’s on sale, you haven’t saved money at all. You’ve just spent good money on something that will collect dust. So unless you’d be willing to pay full price for a discounted item, leave it on the shelf. Otherwise, you’re overpaying by 10% even if the item is marked off by 90%.

4. Make a list. Whether you are grocery shopping or Christmas gift shopping, the biggest mistake you can make is going to the store without a list. When you plan ahead, you know exactly what you need and about how much you’ll be paying for it. This is especially dangerous at places like Costco, where the typical shopping experience costs hundreds of dollars if you aren’t careful.

5. Remember that shopping is not a competitive sport. Don’t hang out with spendaholics. Their habits have a nasty tendency to rub off, particularly when they’re urging you to just “try it on.” If the mall is a regular hangout, find other ways to have fun — have a movie night in, go for a hike. Better yet, volunteer together. There are a number of activities more worthwhile than shopping.

6. Institute the 24-hour rule. If you find something that you absolutely must have, decide to put off your purchase by one day. This will give you time to cool off from the thrill of discovering your “must have” and will let you think about whether you really need it. It’s better to suffer the minor inconvenience of coming back to the store the next day than to be regretting the purchase in the same amount of time. Don’t buy something thinking that you can just return it because chances are high that you won’t bother.

7. Imagine having to throw out the item in a few years. As a confirmed frugal recycler, this gives me pause anytime I’m tempted by an unnecessary purchase. How would I feel about spending good money now to throw it out in a relatively short time because I didn’t need it in the first place? I’d rather find a way to re-purpose something I already own. I also don’t want to spend the time and effort to clean more stuff out of the closets and garage if I don’t have to.

I was just at Costco the other day and Christmas stuff is already on display. As the holiday season gears up, there will be plenty of shopping temptations at every turn. How will you avoid spending money on things you don’t need?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Loti says:

    Can you address the ways to avoid online (Amazon etc)overspending?
    I’ve hidden the app, removed credit cards, but I rely on it for necessities and somehow, my husband and I keep putting things in the cart on a whim.
    And even if we “save for later” we usually end up purchasing something stupid.

    We live rurally so avoiding brick and mortar is easy, but Amazon is a curse!!
    Any strategy would be helpful.

  • Jules says:

    I’ve personally moved beyond the point where there are that many things that will tempt me to spend irrationally. If I want it to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it (left-handed fountain pen, I’m thinking about you!) for a few days–or weeks, or months–then I simply buy it, or make the conscious decision to save up for it and then buy it. No regrets, so far 🙂

  • Marbella says:

    Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and what all the other days’ units were created by merchants, stores, shopping centers, and anyone else who want us to spend our money. Skip all day and save your money.

  • Jean says:

    I have become very good at avoiding spending temptations over the years but I was lousy at it for many years before that too. I’d go to a store, see somethings I like and suddenly develop an instant craze to buy it. I worked hard on being more restrained and always taking a few minutes to think it through. Do I really need this thing? How many minutes of joy will it give me before I’m bored with it? Aren’t there other more important things I need to save my money for? Gradually, this sort of self-questioning helped me a lot.


  • subhorup dasgupta says:

    I use a tip that I read many times on frugal living and money saving blogs which works across the board. We go shopping only after a full meal. This was based on the fact that this helps curb impulse buying of foods (usually processed high fat, high sugar, high carb stuff). However, over the years, we have discovered that this works even with other stuff like clothes, durables, and electronics. A full stomach makes it easier to distinguish because needs and wants, and leads to prudent buying.

  • Kody says:

    As of right now, my urge to spend money on is a new HP notepad! I have always liked the iPads, but they don’t have the Windows operating system on it. Notepads are way expensive but I am very much tempted to buy one. I used the 24-hour rule on this one. Maybe for Christmas I will get one, but even for that it is quite pricey.

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