I never thought of myself as an impulse spender, but the truth is: I am. Yet I’ve managed to pay off debt and save a chunk of money despite that.
I always thought impulse spenders were people who came home from the mall laden down with packages, or who couldn’t pass an electronics store without buying the latest gadget. But that’s not the whole story.
Turns out, an impulse spender is also someone who decides to go out to eat on the spur of the moment — or to the movies, or on trips, etc.
Basically, it’s any type of unplanned spending — whether or not that involves shopping.
An impulse spending example: that trip to Paris
For example, I once booked a trip for two to Paris with all of…oh, five minutes thought? Now it’s true that it was screaming deal and I knew it, because I’d had fare alerts on the route for several years. And I had wanted to go there for more than 20 years.
But still, it was a complete impulse purchase because there wasn’t any money earmarked for those tickets. Instead, I spent money that I had intended to send to debt — which was my stated goal at the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad we went. But that’s exactly the kind of thing I used to do all the time on a more local level. When I couldn’t afford to and would put things on the credit card.
Impulse spending adds up, and keep you from your real goals if you let them get out of hand.
Why oh why do you buy?
Once you’ve identified yourself as an impulse spender, figure out what triggers the spending.
For me, it generally comes down to being bored and feeling restless. I want to go do something new and exciting — and that often involves spending money. A big part of that may be because I have ADD. I know I am much, MUCH more restless and apt to want to do things like go to Disneyland or the beach right. now. when I haven’t taken my medication.
Maybe you also spend because you’re restless. Or maybe you like to cheer yourself up using retail therapy, reward yourself, or just be social. Those are all common reasons to spend on impulse. Take a moment and figure out your triggers. Often, if you work on the reasons behind the spending problem, it’ll reduce on its own.
(For example, medication for my ADHD is much cheaper than the spending I used to do because I got bored.)
But there are lots of tricks and tips you can use to reduce impulse spending regardless of the reason.
How to stop impulse spending
So how do you curb the spending and turn “impulse” into “planned” so you can get the things you really want in life instead? Here are a few steps to make that happen.
1. Eliminate opportunities.
It’s often easier to avoid the temptation to spend in the first place than it is to convince yourself not to later.
Unsubscribe from the email alerts, deal sites, offers, and catalogs. The FTC has a good guide on doing so for all kinds of offers. You can also just manually unsubscribe from emails by clicking the unsubscribe links in them, or cancel physical mailings by calling them. (It typically takes a few months for physical mailings.)
Stay out of the stores and off the Facebook groups dedicated to the things you like to collect. For example, if you pass a Target on the way home from work and regularly stop in because you remember something you “need”, take a different route home instead.
Avoid your poison, and distract yourself with something else instead. Make an actual list of alternative things you could do so you’ll have it handy when the urge to impulse spend happens.
2. Use delaying tactics.
Oftentimes, the desire to buy will pass as quickly as it came if you can delay the urge. So tell yourself that you’ll revisit the idea in a week or a month instead, and then don’t set any type of reminder.
If it’s just an impulse buy, you’ll either forget all about it before you even get home to add it to your budget, or else you’ll lose interest before you’ve saved up the money for it.
If it turns out to be something that you really want, well, you can get it once you’ve got the money. You can buy anything you want to with money you already have (that isn’t earmarked for something else.)
You can use delaying tactics with eating out too. If you’re constantly eating out or ordering in, make a rule that you can never do so without planning it at least a day (or week, or whatever) in advance.
3. Understand what a “good deal” really is.
Remember that a good deal isn’t a good deal if you don’t already have the money for it. And by “having the money for it” I mean having the money on hand, right now, earmarked specifically for that sale item or category of item.
Going into debt to buy something isn’t a good deal, because it costs you more. Neither is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Plus, there are very few sales out there that really are one-time things. Use your delaying tactics, and chances are you can get the item or take advantage of the offer later on too. You may even get a better one.
4. Enlist help with impulse spending.
Ask your family and friends to remind you that you don’t want to spend money on impulse, and to remind you of whatever your greater goal is when you talk about something on the spur of the moment that involves spending. For example, they could say things to you like “But I thought you wanted to pay off the house, how will this affect that?”.
5. Avoid enablers.
Literally tell the people who are always urging you to “have a little fun” that you WILL thoroughly enjoying doing whatever it is you have planned, once you get the money for it. If all else fails, agree to do whatever they’re urging you to do right now — if they want to pay.
Keep out of situations you know will make things worse. For example, don’t talk about how you really want to take a trip to Cancun in a roomful of avid travelers who know all the best spots in Mexico. Don’t ask your friend that’s always up for movie if they want to see a show right now. (Of course you can still hang out with them — do something free instead, or plan the movie for a future date instead. )
While you’re at it, plan for fun.
Many people forget that not impulse spending doesn’t mean not spending. It just means sitting down ahead of time and limiting the amount you spend to what you can afford. And by “afford” I mean “what you already have the money for.”
There’s nothing quite so freeing as saying “I’ve got $150 (or whatever amount works for your life) this month to spend on anything I want.”
You get all the fun, and none of the guilt!
Keep focused on the end goal
Finally, remember that you’re not trying to change who you are. You’re trying to change what you do by reducing impulse spending. That’s absolutely possible, and it frees you up to get the things you really want in life.
If you want to make that even easier, check out the 4 simple rules. Not only did they help us stop impulse spending, they helped us pay off over $147,000 in debt!
(The article I linked to goes into detail, but you can also just get a copy of the rules by signing up below.)