Curbing the Impulse Buy

Have you ever come home from a needed shopping excursion only to find that you didn’t come home with the things you set out to buy?  Or worse yet, you bought something that doesn’t fit within your comfort zone but on impulse, you bought it anyway?

This is the case for a lot of us.  We go shopping because we need something and come back with a bunch of stuff we don’t need.  The trick is to shop with purpose.  When we buy one thing, we are actually giving up something else.  When we view purchasing goods in this way. as a choice between two things, we tend to make better choices.  Here is the strategy:

Write a line by line list of what you need and a simple explanation of why you need them.

  • 1 pair black pants – for work
  • travel mug – to stop spilling coffee in the car

Now you have your list of two items, but how do you stick to it?  If you are budgeting properly, every dollar you make has a purpose.  Some dollars are allocated to housing and utilities.  Some dollars are for gas and food.  The rest of the dollars should be allocated to perhaps future needs or wants such as travel, retirement savings, entertainment, education, medical expenses, insurance, etc.

When you are shopping for those black pants and on impulse decide that you want the black ones and the tan ones (even though the tan ones are not on your list), you have a clear choice to make.  Everything is a choice.  Choice A: Buy the tan pants that you don’t need and take money from your summer travel fund?  Choice B: Leave the tan pants on the shelf and keep the money in your travel fund.  Suddenly the tan pants don’t seem as important when we look at what we are sacrificing to get them.

When you find the perfect travel mug for your car but you find a fun kitchen gadget as well, you now have a choice to make.  A clear choice between two things.  Choice A: Buy the fun kitchen gadget which will take money away from your retirement fund?  Choice B: Leave the fun kitchen gadget and keep the money in your retirement account.  Every single buying decision is a choice between two things.  Keep $70 dollars toward retirement or spend $70 on a fancy dinner?  Spend $30 on movie tickets or keep $30 in the summer vacation fund?  Buy an extra pair of shoes when you have 15 pairs in your closet, or keep that money in the emergency fund?

The bottom line is that few of us think of small impulse buys as a choice between two things.  We spend five dollars here and 10 dollars there without a second thought.   Ten dollars carelessly spent on silly impulse buys every week adds up to $520 at the end of the year.  However, when you view every single purchase as a choice between two things or a choice between two goals, we become more purposeful with our spending.  We become aware that to buy one thing, no matter how big or small, we are actually giving up something else.

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