I could save myself a ton of money if I could avoid impulse buying. It is clear to me that impulse buying is the bane of my budget. I go to the store to buy one or two items and suddenly there are ten in my shopping cart.
Mostly, the impulse purchase arises from some sort of psychological need. I feel better about myself when I buy things. I am somehow more competent and capable when I can afford that extra item. Buying that extra impulse good makes me feel better when I have been beaten up by my boss, slighted by my wife/girlfriend and/or ignored by my dog.
Since the impulse purchase is mostly about psychology, the first, best way to fight it is on the psychological front. You have to understand what need that extra purchase is filling. Then you have to find some other, hopefully cheaper, way to fill that need, or you have to set up a way to delay your impulse.
The Time Rule
I avoid impulse buying mostly by the imposition of a time rule. For most impulse desires I will make myself wait at least a day before making the purchase. If I still feel that I must have the item in question at the end of 24 hours, then I go out and buy it. A good 98% of the time, I don’t make the purchase.
I have heard many people use this time rule with different times, ranging from one hour to 30 days. I suppose that the more an impulse purchase costs, the longer you may want to wait. Choose a time that works for you and then stick with it.
Avoid Impulse Buying When You Are Upset
Another good way to avoid the impulse purchase is to NOT shop when you are upset. Personally, when I am down, I buy stuff that I think will make me feel better. Sometimes that stuff does, for a moment, improve my mood. Invariably however, I don’t end up using what I buy and I’m still stuck with the bill. This makes me feel worse and I end up going out to buy more so that I will feel better. It becomes an endless cycle, broken only when I run out of money.
The Return Strategy
If you can return what you have purchased, then you can go ahead and buy on impulse, secure in the knowledge that in the end, you will do no damage to your budget. You need only return what you bought.
Personally, I don’t do this. Once I have purchased something I feel an ownership attachment and can’t break that attachment to return the item. But if you can sever that ownership attachment, then the return strategy could work for you.
Shopping with the right people can help to curb your impulse buying. When you shop with other people, make sure that they are as frugal as you want to be. Be sure to give them permission to slap your wrist when you are about to make that impulsive purchase.
Give Yourself an Impulse Budget
They say that when you are dieting, you should give yourself some freedom to eat food that is not on your diet. You should do this so that you don’t end up feeling deprived and splurging or binge eating. The same logic holds true for impulse buying. Put a line item in your budget specifically for the impulse buy. Then, when you make an impulse purchase, you won’t beat yourself up so much for having done it.
You can also use having reached your impulse purchase budget maximum as another way to fight more spur of the moment buying. You just need to remind yourself that the budget is reached and you cannot make that extra buy which would send you over budget.
Books are my best friends and my worst enemies. I buy books impulsively all the time. I have had to learn to fight that impulse using the tools and techniques outlined above. For my efforts, my book cases remain sadly empty, but I am able to eat, pay my rent and stay mostly out of debt. I do buy the occasional book, now and then, but by waiting 24 hours and by having an impulse book buying budget, I am able to save money when I avoid impulse buying.