How to Stop Impulse Buying and Blowing Your Budget

Impulse buys are one of the top budget busters. We have such a hard time saying no to ourselves in the moment, because — as we like to tell ourselves– we work hard and damn it, we deserve to treat ourselves.

And we get it. You DO work hard! That’s why we need to start reframing our mindset to this: I work hard for my money. That’s why I don’t blow it on crap I don’t need.

When you truly honor your money and recognize how hard you work to earn it, you start to make decisions differently. 

If you want to know how to stop impulse buying, this post is for you. After working with hundreds of people, I’ve learned a lot about weird little hacks or things we can do to keep us focused and on track with our finances by minimizing impulse buys.

Know the Opportunity Cost
If more people really understood opportunity costs, we’d all be more likely to be wealthy and living our dream lives. The concept is simple: for everything you say yes to, you are saying no to something else.

Let’s break this down in a really easy to understand example. If you choose to take on a larger mortgage, then it’s likely that you cannot put as much money into savings, take a sweet vacay twice a year, or channel your inner Joana Gaines and redecorate your house.

It’s pretty simple to understand, but where it gets difficult is the small daily expenses that compound over time. For example, every time you go out to eat, you might be saying no to investing more into your future. Sure it’s only $8 here and there, but $8 spent five days a week, over the course of 40 years, invested in index funds with a rate of return at 10 percent turns into $612,524.27. We’re talking about a $160 per month contribution over the course of an average career span.

Train your brain to see that it’s not just about the money spent today, but that it’s about the money you lose out on because you can’t invest it. This will help you change your mind about those last-minute impulse buys.

24-Hour Think About it Rule

Confession: During my early college days, I used to be a shopper. I loved going to the mall, browsing around, and spending money. I saw something, thought it looked cute, and walked to the register to purchase and go on my way. I didn’t even feel guilty about it either… until I looked at my bank account and saw that I had barely any money. 
I specifically remember blaming my utility bills for being too high, or complaining that my income wasn’t high enough. I did everything in my power to deflect responsibility and admit that the reason I had no money was because I spent money on stuff I didn’t need.

That’s where the “24-Hour Think About It Rule” came from. After seeing that I was spending money on things that I really didn’t need and wouldn’t impact my long-term happiness, I promised myself that anything I didn’t truly need could not get purchased for at least 24 hours.

So if I saw that cute sweater at Costco and it was only $35, I would have to go home, sleep on that decision, and if I still wanted it AND could afford it, I would buy it. I still do this today.

Pay in time, not money

At one of my jobs, I was making about $15 per hour. If I wanted to go out to eat and grab drinks with a girlfriend, that ultimately cost $30, I had to work two hours to pay for that one meal.

What if this was a $100 pair of jeans? That’s almost seven HOURS of work to pay for that one pair. Had I actually ran the math, and realized how long I would have to work to pay for a pair of jeans, I might have done things differently.

The key piece to remember here is that we don’t pay for things in money–we pay in hours of our life.

Online Grocery Shopping

The best thing you can do to avoid impulse buys is stay away from the grocery store. I know I’m not alone when I go grocery shopping, get home and realize I bought 20 things and only 3 of those things were actually on my grocery list.

Online grocery shopping is the solution for this one. We purchased an Instacart membership and we order groceries AND have them delivered to our door every Sunday from Costco. We both live incredibly busy lives, so when we get a day off together, we really don’t want to spend two to three hours running around from grocery store to grocery store and fighting the crowds.

It has totally changed the way we view grocery shopping and has significantly reduced impulse buys because we aren’t tempted to browse the aisles and add more to our cart.

Unsubscribe from Emails

I am a sucker for a great deal. Who isn’t? But instead of falling into the trap of simply spending money because you got an email that said there is a “50% OFF TODAY ONLY!” sale, don’t let yourself be tempted and just unsubscribe from all store/promotional emails.

You can manually unsubscribe from every email, or you can use my preferred method and use Unroll.me. Unroll Me allows you unsubscribe to hundreds of emails is just a couple minutes. It’s free and will save you big time if you spend money triggered by promotional emails.

Give Yourself Fun Money

Sometimes you just want to spend a little extra without feeling guilty or overly restricted. That’s where a fun money fund comes into play. Give yourself a little wiggle room in your budget and allow yourself to have $50-$100 for fun money. This is for truly whatever the heck you choose to purchase that seems petty or just for fun. (The Nav.it App can help you track how much “daily play money” you have in your budget.)

My suggestion: keep your fun money in cash and train yourself to ONLY spend that cash. When you’re out of fun money, you’re out.

Leave your Cards at Home

You can’t spend if you don’t have your card on you. A lot of people get concerned about this and say things like, “but Whitney, I might need to fill up on gas or stop by the store for a couple things on my way home.” Valid. But with a bit of planning this absolutely works!

I personally, leave my card at home when I can feel myself being extra tempted to buy things I don’t need. I have found that when I bring my coffee with me, fill up my gas tank on weekends, and actively do my grocery shopping online, there really isn’t anything that I need on a normal basis.

Be disciplined and try this tip out. It is guaranteed to work!

Remove your Card Info 

Online shopping is too easy. You go the website, browse around for a bit, click a couple buttons, and bam! You just made some impulse purchases. The whole goal of preventing or minimizing impulse buys is to put barriers between you and habits you don’t want. If you are an online shopper, the best thing you can do for yourself is removing your card from your computer.

If you are browsing Amazon and see all the things you think you need you might add it to your cart, but if you have to manually pull your card out of your wallet and type in the numbers, you *might* not be as likely to purchase the items.

Make it a bit harder for yourself by removing the card info from your computer AND your phone.

Keep a Running “Wants” List

One of the sheets in my budget is a Wants tab. Anytime I find something I want from a podcast episode or a YouTube video that mentioned some really sweet products (or even while browsing Insta) I will hop over to my budget and jot down the item, the cost and the store name.

Then, I will occasionally review my list and purchase one of those items if I still want it and can afford it. I try to time my purchases as a reward for accomplishing a goal. For example, I’m working on a new course “Become A Financial Coach” and one of my rewards for finishing the course will be an extended weekend on the beach.

Recognize that Sales aren’t Saving you Money

One of my friends loves thrift shopping. She came up to me one time and showed me all the amazing name-brand items she got at a consignment store and kept telling me how proud she was.

“Whitney, these leggings typically cost $120, and I only paid $45.” You might have saved money on the purchase, but if you weren’t planning on buying the item, all you did was spend more money that you didn’t want to spend.

Just remember- spending money is NOT saving you money.

Watch Your Mood

Do you ever find yourself spending money when you are bored, sad, mad, happy, or not confident? You’re not alone! We are all emotional spenders. The key is to become self-aware enough that you understand what emotions are your triggers.

My two primary emotional spending triggers are: boredom and lack of confidence.

In college, I found that I was spending a ton of money on coffee every month. I would get to campus, have about 30 minutes in between classes and buy coffee. My trigger was boredom. I had some down time and instead of doing something productive like studying in those 30 minutes, I would fill time and buy coffee. I didn’t need coffee. But it was something to do.

Whenever I feel insecure, I find that I am much more likely to go shopping. That’s my time where I want to buy makeup or clothing that makes me look and feel like a million bucks. Once I learned that my insecurity was causing me to spend money, I was able to channel that into better habits- like hitting the gym or listening to inspirational podcasts of self-worth.

Once you know your emotional triggers, you can avoid impulse spending when you’re feeling those emotions.

Tape your Budget to your Debit Card

When I was paying off debt and I had to get my finances in order, I found that having my monthly budget taped to my debit card was the reminder that I needed to stay on track. One time during tax season (I was a Staff Accountant), I was exhausted and burned out from working seven days a week (80-100 hours without a day off in three months). You better believe that I felt entitled to buying my SF-Vanilla Soy Americano from Starbucks.
When I got to my car, I opened my wallet and saw my budget taped to my debit card. It was a smack in the face reminder that I was working towards a bigger goal and I wasn’t the kind of person who didn’t commit to a goal fully. So I did the walk of shame back to my cube and drank the mediocre office coffee.

I didn’t care that taping my budget was cheesy to others. I personally felt that having my debt around for 10+ years was worse. Sometimes seeing that you don’t have money for impulse buys is all you need to get back in check.

Be Careful about the Impulse ‘Yes’

Yes, I’ll meet you for happy hour. Or yes I’ll go shopping with you. Yes, I’ll host dinner at my house.

These are all common scenarios that tend to bite us in the behind. When we impulsively say yes without planning for the items in advance, you find yourself spending waaaaay more than you initially planned. It’s important to say yes to experiences, but not if they are sabotaging your financial life. Be selective about what you say yes to. 

Remember, like we discussed earlier, everything you say yes to means saying no to something else. If you planned correctly, you likely already have a small fun money account that allows you to say yes to the occasional last minute happy hour.

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