How To Gain Control Over Your Impulse Buying

Do you remember Confessions of a Shopaholic, the book series by Sophie Kinsella? It is my belief that we all have a shopaholic inside of us, so in order to control your inner Rebecca Bloomwood, you’ll probably want to brush up on ways to control impulse buying.

At the start of the movie, Bloomwood is a financial train wreck; she can’t control her urge to shop and she has no clue as to the amount of debt she has been accumulating. Her problem with shopping is severe and stemmed from her childhood, where she used to believe that credit cards were “magic cards.” She ends up with 12 cards and doesn’t seem to think of the consequences or the monetary reality behind her purchases. Thankfully, as the movie progresses, she is made aware of her situation and takes steps to improve her finances and get her spending under control. For all of us not living in a movie, this is probably easier said than done.

Nobody likes buyer’s remorse, but avoiding temptation when shopping is a hard trick to master. It’s even more difficult with apps like Drrrunk Shopping available, especially if you have a penchant for wine (like me). So in order to keep a tab on your spends and your impulsive habits, here are some tips and tricks which may help you stay in control of your impulse buying.

1. Create A Budget

I talked to Merrill Lynch financial advisor Mary McDougall about some tips to gain control of impulse buying. McDougall tells me via email that, "Many people don’t even realize they’re overspending, which is why creating a budget and knowing what you spend should be first priority. To get in the habit of managing how much one actually spends, one trick can be to use an envelope system, where you fill different envelopes with cash at the time you get paid. These are for various things, like movies or eating out, and when the envelope is empty, you have to wait until the next paycheck to refill them." McDougall explains this method saying, "This way, you can better understand how much discretionary spending you are comfortable with, and how much you should be saving and investing that will have a greater impact in the long haul – such as in a 401(k) fund." So when payday comes around, get stuffing those envelopes and remember: when it's gone, it's gone!

2. Use Cash

Never take your credit card on a shopping spree, unless of course it’s for a special occasion (such as your wedding) and you have a strict plan already in place to pay off your debt. The act of physically withdrawing cash and using that instead will make spending your hard earned cash real, instead of forgetting about items you’ve paid for on your card. Little items can really add up, so using cash is a great way to keep track of your finances.

3. Stick To A List

Sticking to a list will hopefully help you reign in your impulse buying. You must be strict with yourself and only purchase items which you are in need of, which are written on your list. By adhering to your list of necessities in this way, you will hopefully not be tempted to make any last minute purchases and fingers crossed, you might end up questioning your impulses more.

4. Learn To Be More Mindful

McDougall recommends setting goals and documenting your expenditure to curb your spending. She says, "It’s essential that you set goals for yourself and follow through to ensure you meet them. For example, tell yourself that you’ll write down everything you spend as it's spent, so you start to become mindful of your habits—credit cards can lead you into a false sense of what you spend. You can also try paying yourself first, meaning you create savings—10 percent right off the top for emergencies." Ms. McDougall advises trying out alternative, thrifty activities to break expensive habits, "I’d also suggest creating a list of things to do that are free or low cost, like walking in the park or visiting a museum."

5. Use A Calculator

Take a calculator with you when you go shopping, or use the digital one on your phone. As you purchase items, or contemplate purchasing items, add the price of the items into your calculator. By doing this you will be able to keep a track of your exact spend as you go around a store or a mall and you may think twice about following through with your purchase(s).

6. Be Honest With Yourself

Don’t you already have three black sweaters at home? Do you have an occasion on the horizon which would warrant that beautiful yet expensive dress? Will you even wear those designer heels IRL, or will you just post pictures of them on Instagram and keep them in your closet? It pays to be honest with yourself and ask yourself these questions. There’s a big difference between wanting and needing something.

7. Don’t Shop When You’re Feeling Emotional

I once made the mistake of shopping directly after a breakup and it was probably one of the most expensive sprees of my life. Buying things when you feel overly emotional is not a good idea because you are using shopping as a means of instant gratification. You’ll probably feel worse after the buzz has worn off. This isn’t just limited to when you’re feeling sad – you may have had some awesome news (like you got a promotion) and you may wish to “treat” yourself, but be aware of your finances and try not to adopt an, “I’ll think about it tomorrow” outlook.

8. Don’t Shop For Groceries When You’re Hungry

Going shopping for groceries when you're hungry is never a good idea. You walk around the aisles, your stomach growling, imagining which delicious treats would satisfy your hunger at that specific moment, instead of thinking about the long run. You could end up buying tons of snacks and high-calorie junk foods which you'll obviously enjoy, but you might not be able to finish them all and you could end up wasting food. You may as well be throwing your money away!

9. Buy Online Where You Can

Online shopping has revolutionized the way we shop. You can purchase anything your heart desires with the click of a button. Although this may seem terribly convenient and an impulse buyer’s financial nightmare, there are ways in which online shopping can aid impulsive shoppers. To start, you can see exactly how much you’re spending in black and white; there’s no getting to the cash register and feeling shocked at what you’ve spent. This is especially useful when buying groceries as you may be less tempted to sway from your essentials.

Online shopping also offers the consumer the chance to shop around to find the best deals, plus there are tons of voucher codes and cashback websites just waiting for you to take advantage of. Lastly, I don’t know about you but I feel that returning items I bought online is way more of an inconvenience than taking something back to a physical store. Of course it depends how far away you live from the store you purchased from. Online returns processes can sometimes be lengthy, so by shopping online (especially in the sales,) you may question your buying choices a little more.

10. Catch Yourself Out

McDougall says, "Vow to catch yourself when you justify spending by saying ‘because I deserve it’—these are purchases you can usually live without! Try to cultivate gratitude by giving away money to those less fortunate, be proactive and, very importantly, accumulate six months of expenses in saving for a rainy day fund." Taking time to practice gratitude may help you realize that life isn't all about stuff, but rather people, love, and happiness.

So don't become the next Rebecca Bloomwood, take control of your impulse buying and your bank balance will thank you!

Images: Touchstone Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films (1); Pexels (10)