Four Simple Ways to Stop Impulse Buying

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Hi. My name is Libby. And I’m a clearance-a-holic.
(Enter a rousing chorus of “Hi, Libby.”)

My husband laughs at me, but it’s true, and the grocery store is the worst for me. If it has a reduced sign and I might want to cook it some time, it leaps into my cart (and the deep recesses of my freezer). And I think a lot of us have the same issue! We see a good-looking black shirt and buy it, only to remember when we get home that we did the same thing the month before. And the month before that.

It’s called impulse shopping and the cost can seriously add up. Particularly when we’re moving into the season where we’re purchasing not just for ourselves, but for family and friends for the holidays. The problem is that we move straight from desire to fulfillment without any additional steps or thoughts in between. And it’s a very difficult habit to break if we come at it straight on. The solution is to create a space for thinking through the choices, and here are a few ways to stop impulse buying that have worked well for me:

1. Tag Cutting Ceremony

This one is for purchases made in stores. I tend to take the prospective new item home and think it through. Does the shirt go with the rest of my wardrobe? Is this kitchen gadget something I need and have space for? Will cousin Nancy appreciate another red sweater this year? Once it gets the nod of approval, then I have the tag cutting ceremony, and the item joins Casa Ludwig for good. If not, that impulse buy gets returned.

2. Carting Overnight

Returns are such a hassle for most online shopping, I found that I had to do something different when I purchased virtually. I put the items I’m interested in in my cart and then let them sit there, usually overnight, sometimes a couple days. It gives me time to think whether it’s really a necessary replacement for something we have or a good gifting idea for the holiday. To be honest, sometimes I forget about the cart and when I get back to Amazon or Target a week later, I realize it was just a frivolous impulse purchase, empty the cart, and window shop again.

3. Lists Are Your Friend

I know this one is obvious, but I can’t tell you how much I’ve saved by creating a menu and grocery list bi-weekly. Likewise, I keep a list of who I need to buy for along with gift ideas starting in October/November. I use a simple notepad app on my phone. You can also use a free app like Gifster to help you organize your gift list. That way if I’m out shopping or have time to peruse a website on my lunch break, I can hone in on specific gifts for people.

4. “Only one”

For a while now, I’ve had a plan for grocery shopping with my kids. They will whine every aisle about things they want. So I made a rule: “only one.” That could be a drink, a candy bar, a small toy, whatever. But if they choose and open the wrapper, that’s the one. And if they request something extra?
(Gentle mom reminder: ) “How many things can we have this week’s trip?”
(Small pouts ensue as they reply:) “Only one.”
It worked well enough with them, I now do the same for myself. If I want to get something that’s not on my list, I limit myself to a single $5-$10 item. And if I see another something? I remind myself, “Only one today.”
Sorry, clearance cute black blouse. Let me get through Christmas shopping first. Then we’ll talk.


Stop impulse buying with a holiday budget, check out our Money Minute blog:

Effective Holiday Budget: Easy as 1-2-3

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