How To: Stop Impulse Shopping

It’s always interesting to see how many personal finance bloggers used to be impulse buyers. Personally, we are the opposite of an impulse buyer. We think of ourselves as damn near shopping anorexic, so perhaps we are not the best person to write guide for impulse buyers. Thank goodness for Get Rich Slowly:

I knew my spending was out of control, but I didn’t know how to stop it. If only I had been aware of the following strategies:

Exercise mindfulness. Ask yourself, “Why do I want this? Why do I need to purchase this now instead of a week from now?” Try to discover what is motivating you to make the purchase, and try to find some other way to fulfill this urge.
Remind yourself of larger goals. I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. Whenever I’m tempted to eat something bad, I ask myself, “Will this help me or hurt me?” The same question can be asked when you’re about to make an impulse purchase. Will your new toy bring you closer to your goals or move you further away?
Use the 30-day rule. When you feel the urge to splurge, stop. Put the item down. Go home. Write down the name of the thing you want, its price, and the store where you found it, and then post it someplace obvious. If you still want the item after a month, purchase it.

There are a bunch more in J.D.’s post. They seem helpful, but a girl who has been wearing the same pair of Dr. Marten’s since the Clinton administration isn’t the best person to judge. Let us know your tips in the comments. —MEGHANN MARCO

How to Fight the Urge to Splurge [Get Rich Slowly]
(Photo: Ben Popken)


Edit Your Comment

  1. battlerobo says:

    Wow, I had never thought of the 30-day rule! That’s very clever! I need to try that right away.

  2. xkaluv says:

    Pay cash! If you have to save to purchase something, you appreciate it more. Buying on credit is why America can’t stop over shopping. (Or over-eating for that matter, oddly enough, we started getting fat when we started using credit.).

  3. Brad2723 says:

    These are some good tips, but most of them require sheer will power. I like the idea about only spending cash and not using credit. It gives you more of a visual clue.

  4. Buran says:

    Why do you need to go trolling malls and the like anyway? Another preventative measure: don’t expose yourself to temptation. Find a hobby you can do at home that isn’t too expensive, and enjoy it. I love to build models (aircraft, etc) and it’s something that can be done at home while watching a movie. Plus, when you finish something new, you can show off your handiwork to others and be proud of it.

  5. traezer says:

    Make a budget for each paycheck. Budget in about $20 or so for spending on anything you want. When you know you only have $20 to play with, you become much more selective of what you want to buy with it, and you begin to realize all the stuff you really dont need.

  6. traezer says:


    Also, if you have the need to go look around at the mall, leave your wallet at home. By the time you get home to grab the money to buy that one thing you just had to get, you probably dont feel like going back to the mall.

  7. traezer says:


    I second the hobby thing. My hobby is free and good for me, books from teh library, and bike riding.

  8. jamesdenver says:

    Buran said it. I go shopping when I need something – and I know exactly what I’m getting. I bike, camp, ski, take Spanish lessons, and have enough of a life doing things that do cost money I don’t need to blow it on cheap plastic crap or overpriced clothes.

    Also – have you actually been IN a Discovery Store Wal-Mart, or even Brookstone? The stuff is garbage. Cheap, non-durable battery powered shit. It’s not worth cluttering up my house with. I’d rather go to a retro store and buy a nice metal toaster, or hunt around on the internet for something cheap and worthwhile.

  9. jamesdenver says:

    Buran said it. I go shopping when I need something – and I know exactly what I’m getting. I bike, camp, ski, take Spanish lessons, and have enough of a life doing things that do cost money I don’t need to blow it on cheap plastic crap or overpriced clothes.

    Also – have you actually been IN a Discovery Store Wal-Mart, or even Brookstone? The stuff is garbage. Cheap, non-durable battery powered s–t. It’s not worth cluttering up my house with. I’d rather go to a retro store and buy a nice metal toaster, or hunt around on the internet for something cheap and worthwhile.

  10. traezer says:


    Brookstone sucks! Discovery is ok if you want to get a kid a book or something, otherwise they are crap too.

  11. 3ZKL says:

    @ hobbies:

    does drinking cheap beer on your couch after work count?

  12. SadSam says:

    My trick/delay tactic is as follows. I do most of my shopping on-line (not a mall person) and I pick out a variety of items and put them in my shopping cart (cart linked to me/my account with that retailer) and then I go back at some later time and decide if I still want the item(s).

    Works well for me.

  13. acambras says:

    A few tips:

    1) If you have to get something from a particular store in the mall, find out which parking lot/mall entrance is closest (call ahead or go online). That way you’ll do minimal walking and expose yourself to less temptation.

    2) Set a time limit. Once I had went to WalMart to get laundry detergent. Knowing I had an appointment elsewhere in town within the hour, I made a beeline to the detergent aisle, then to the checkout, and got the hell out. Cheapest trip to WalMart I ever made.

    3) Spend time with people who share your values (or the values you’d like to adopt). If you’re trying to cut back on restaurant spending, join a cooking club. If you are trying to cut way back on your clothes spending, don’t spend time around a clotheshorse who’s always wanting to talk about (or shop for) clothes and shoes. That’d be like having Keith Richards as your Narcotics Anonymous sponsor.

  14. jamesdenver says:

    Another psychological skew that’s been happening for years is shopping is now branded as “entertainment” rather than necessity. Malls are “lifestyle centers” rather than stores.

    I blogged this story last fall from CNN, when Ellen Davis, spokeswoman at National Retail Federation, flat out said “People want to be entertained by shopping” I was appauled yet amused at how blatant and crass the comment was! I thought retail psych was supposed to be much more subtle:

    I have nothing against the mall. I know where my sale racks are and I’m a SELECTIVE shopper. Who on earth would WANT to spend their day barreling through Wal-Mart? Or through a mall where every foot of former walking space is now packed with kiosks selling cell phones, crocs, and ab scissors.

    Jeez. I’ll take a sunny, (or cloudy), day biking through the city and country anyday.

  15. acambras says:

    Great idea!

    One more idea I had:
    If you have to go to the mall for a specific item, try to do so after a long, hard day. Then you’ll be less inclined to browse aimlessly. (Of course this will not work for people who consider shopping to be a sort of therapy.)

  16. valet_of_the_dolls says:

    I wait 14 days (a full pay period) instead of 30, but that suggestion has worked very well for me.

    And paying cash is good too, but to that suggestion I would add: make a shopping list, & then take only enough money with you for the things you’re actually planning to purchase.

    One thing not mentioned in J.D.’s post is sale items.
    I may break the 14 day rule if, for example, it’s a piece of clothing from a store/line that I like & have good previous experience with, especially if the item is in short supply. Mostly though, I ask myself if I would pay the full price for said item. If I wouldn’t, then it goes back on the shelf.

  17. contradictions says:

    Here’s the problem with the cash suggestion: How do you do a CHARGEBACK when the cheap, dumb $20 item you bought (hello? what can I buy for $20 other than drugs and candy?) breaks and you don’t want to wait on the 1-800-dofus line with the indian named “sally” who wants to watch you shower? Cash is for SUCKERS and poor people.

  18. not_seth_brundle says:

    My weakness is online shopping, not brick & mortar shopping. What I did to limit temptation was unsubscribe from all the e-mail newsletters that online retailers send out. Not getting the “10% off today only” or “free shipping with $200 purchase!” e-mails has definitely saved me money. Ignorance is bliss.

  19. iandouglas736 says:

    Best tip I ever had for impulse shopping:

    1. Put your credit card in a ziplock bag, and squeeze any excess air out of it.
    2. Fill a mug with water, place the bagged credit card in it so it’s pretty much totally submerged.
    3. Place the mug in the freezer.

    Now if you get impulse to use the card, you’ll have to let a small brick of ice thaw to actually get at the card, which gives you time to think about how badly you want something. If you think the ice may be too see-through to where you could still get the numbers off the card (for online shopping), wrap the card in a piece of paper before bagging it.

    And, of course, trying to speed the process with hot water or a microwave could ruin the card — you *have* to let the ice thaw.

  20. JuliusJefferson says:


    That’s my theory too… unfortunately, my shopping mall is the internet.

    Also, my girlfriend works in the mall. Not only that, but she works at her favorite store to shop. She gets a 40% discount, but still, she might as well be working for free..

  21. rogue says:

    I have to agree with you (but I’m still wearing my docs from the 1st Bush administration ;-)

  22. urban_ninjya says:

    IMO, alot of people I know who are suffering financially live like that most of their lives then have a break down every once in a while. I can garentee you that most people who have become highly sucessful in the long run didn’t do so by penny pinching. If you read alot of NLP books, you’ll find that negative reenforcement will in the long run have detrimental effects while positive encouragement will do wonders.

    Personally, what I found works for me is digging through my income statements and figuring out what sort of lifestyle I can maintain. I’m not making 6 figures, so I know I can’t afford to eat at a 5 star restaraunt everyday. I just accept it and have no desire to eat 5 stars except that once in a while when I need to impress that really hot date. And anything beyond that will have to be driven by top line income growth. Whether that be via investments, or promotions, the idea is stop penny pinching and think of long term solutions to improve your life.

  23. VeryFancyBunny says:

    I have to nitpick that the 30-day rule won’t work very well if the coveted item in question is anything from a women’s clothing store, shoe department, or handbag department. Go back in 30 days and the rack that held your much-loved small or medium skirt has been ransacked for all but the XXLs.

    For clothes and accessories, I keep a wish list for each season and stick to it. The list includes mostly practical things, but I always add a couple splurge items. The fun of the budgeted-for splurge replaces the fun of the useless impulse buy. Just this past weekend, my list saved me from buying cute-but-unnecessary t-shirts and sweaters at the Banana Republic Outlet, where my husband was making some (necessary) clothing purchases.

  24. Triteon says:

    Tons of great suggestions guys! I completely agree with the paying-with-cash ideas, and have done just that for over a decade.

    I simply don’t make many impulse buys, especially if it’s something I can do without. That way when I want to spend money the purchase means more to me…for example, the long-awaited release of WKRP on DVD next week!

  25. Dustbunny says:

    You people are no fun : P I loove shopping. And impulse buying. What’s the point of working 40+ hours a week if you don’t spend any of the $$$ you make? Besides, I’m doing my bit to keep the US economy afloat. I’m surprised Alan Greenspan never sent me a thank-you letter.

  26. Buran says:

    @contradictions: Do it online through your credit card issuer’s website.

  27. Little Mintz Sunshine says:

    @Triteon: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I understand the WKRP DVD release is getting bad reviews as the original music used was too expensive to license…

  28. Godders says:

    The method that works for me is to be extremely cynical.

    Assume that *everything* sold in a shop is overpriced (hey, that store has to be paid for), *everything* that is heavily advertised is overpriced (that advertising ain’t cheap), and *everything* on sale by mainstream stores is a crappy product, and you can do better elsewhere.

    If I want to purchase pretty much anything I first do a bit of research to find the right product, then I dig around to find the best price. This pretty much guarantees that I won’t expend all that effort on things I don’t really really want, makes sure I’m properly informed when I make the purchase, and that I get it for a reasonable price.

    These days I feel dirty buying anything without going through this process, and so I just don’t do it. It’s also helped me pick up some great bargains on the way

    An Xbox 360 is the latest slightly-frivolous luxury I’ve had my eye on for several months, and I managed to get one about 30% cheaper than anywhere in this country by buying it from the German Amazon site (that sneaky deal doesn’t work anymore, sorry!) – and had I not felt too dirty to buy one for the same price as a high-street shop I wouldn’t have waited around for that opportunity..

  29. jamesdenver says:

    Hey Dust I do spend money :) On travel, good dinners out with friends, ski trips, educating myself.

    I agree some retail therapy never hurt anyone in moderation, (just like Vegas), but I go by the philosophy that you should accumulate experiences in life rather than stuff. A plasma TV would be nice, but I’m going to Europe for three weeks next month for a fraction of the price. I’ll definitely choose the latter.

    To each their own. On thing you mentioned – and I know you’re joking but the concept annoys me, is that after 9/11 we were told to “go out and spend money”. Why should the DEBT and INDIVIDUAL financial sacrifices be required to benefit the whole? It’s nice when my Best Buy stock goes up, but a tiny fraction of profit is based on thousands of people buying stuff they can’t afford.

    A raise in the Consumer Spending Index isn’t necessarily a good thing for the individual.

  30. MentalDisconnect says:

    I don’t really have much of a problem- I’m good at waiting. I limit myself to a certain amount each week for small purchases, and then for larger amounts, wait a while, about a week to a month. If I see a good deal on something I’ve wanted for a long time (say for example a DVD set), I’ll buy it without the wait, since I’ve already been waiting for so long and the deal could be gone. I’ve been hurt by both waiting and not waiting. I’ve not waited and bought stuff I didn’t really need (fortunately cheap stuff, anything above $20 I wait for). But, I wanted to buy some fine chocolate online, and when I came back after my waiting period, it was gone. I don’t generally need a lot.. and if I overspend I cut back on my spending next week. I keep myself on a tight budget and I’m fine, even with the occasional splurges, and if I feel myself getting out of hand I check my bank account. That sobers me up.

    SadSam, I use the same tactic.

  31. Sugarcoated says:

    My tactic is to put the item on my wishlist at Kaboodle or Amazon for at least a month and forget about it. Eventually the impulse passes and I’ll go back a few months later, prune the list down, and pat myself on the back for not wasting money.

    If I truly *need* something, I go to the store with a list and get the hell out as quickly as possible.

  32. Sudonum says:

    @Buran: I think he was referring to paying cash, and not having any recourse.

  33. BobTheBoozer says:

    I just started using the 30 day rule, but to keep track easily, I just email to my gmail, label them, and then go look at what I wanted when I have some money to spare. Most of the time I end up realizing the product was lame or not very useful to me after all.

  34. zolielo says:

    Have most anything you want, over time, with a budget.

  35. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @contradictions: Don’t buy cheap, dumb $20 items anymore?

    Just a crazy thought I had.

  36. EtherealStrife says:


    Doesn’t help if you buy everything online. I had my cc info memorized the same day I got it. :-

    For me the wait period depends on the price of the item, and how much I really need it. Anywhere from 10 minutes (if it’s a one day sale) all the way up to a year.

  37. fleef says:

    Clever? how NOT to buy that thing you must have?Imagine the same item at a garage sale or posted on Craigslist or eBay. This I learned from the expert: “Living Well On Practically Nothing”. a book by Edward H. Romney. for instance: Lowering the thermostat on your AC?? Big whoop.

  38. fleef says:


    On my God, YES thank you James Denver. After 9/11, we were encouraged to SPEND SPEND SPEND and we DID DID spemd. What ever happened to the “Victory Garden”? What happened to young ladies sacrificing our silk stockings for parachutes? What happened to the War Effort? Has the entire world turned upside-down? Fuel is going up, yet we buy SUVs and brand new “hybrids” which are made out of …you guessed it.. brand new materials. I cry for a revolt! Don’t buy anything! Wnat a diff car? Buy a 25 yr old Chevy. Fix it up and get it running. True recycler! Learn how to fix your fridge. Throw out your busted microwave and use the stove. Don’t buy gadgets.

  39. contradictions says:

    Haha! Nope, I never buy cheap, dumb $20 items. Spent nearly $700 at two stores last night, luckily the credit card I use for every damn purchase (yes even my $5 starbucks lattes and all my Nazi shirts from Wal-Mart) can handle it. The trick? Be a freakin adult; use a credit card to track your purchases because it provides more protection, know what you’re buying and make intelligent decisions. Silly tricks like “the closest entrance at the mall!”, “cash only!” etc. can’t help you if you can’t jsut be an adult and tell yourself “NO, I CAN’T AFFORD THAT” sometimes. I realize this post is for people who find it physically impossible to do so, so I don’t know what to say to those silly losers who have the self-control of a goat.

  40. contradictions says:

    Oh wait, yes I do: GO SEE A THERAPIST.

  41. acambras says:

    Silly tricks like “the closest entrance at the mall!”, “cash only!” etc. can’t help you if you can’t jsut be an adult and tell yourself “NO, I CAN’T AFFORD THAT” sometimes. I realize this post is for people who find it physically impossible to do so, so I don’t know what to say to those silly losers who have the self-control of a goat.

    FYI, I am an adult and I say, “you can’t afford that” to myself all the time (sigh). But if a “silly trick” can help supplement my willpower, then why not use it? If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t bother with it.

    But saying we have the self-control of goats? Wow, you are one mean baaaah-stard.

  42. contradictions says:

    I see what you’re saying, but I read tone of the article and comments as promoting “silly tricks” as a better idea than self-control, which sounds delusional. I guess your approach is more like taking basic, habitual steps likely to keep you out of temptation – a la the “shopping is not entertainment” comments. Bahh!

    But I strongly stand by the comment that it’s bad advice to suggest people use cash for all purchases.

  43. acambras says:

    But I strongly stand by the comment that it’s bad advice to suggest people use cash for all purchases.

    I’m with ya there. I put most stuff on plastic (paid off every month) for several reasons: I don’t feel safe carrying a lot of cash, plastic helps me track my spending, it’s convenient (e.g., pay at pump), and it gives me purchase protection and rewards (points or cash) that I wouldn’t get with cash. But it takes a lot of self-discipline not to overspend — I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.

    My weakness is going to restaurants, but my budget is tight right now. Plastic makes it too easy (mmm…sushi…just this once!), so paying cash for dining helps me limit my spending in that category.

    But again, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. My strategies are based upon years of trial-and-error and hard-won self knowledge. They won’t work for everyone. But if people can share little tricks and tips, why not? Like they say, “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

  44. acambras says:


    Oh, and I think the whole “shopping as entertainment” trap is the big problem for a lot of people. People joke about “retail therapy,” but for some people, it really is their “therapy.”

    I’m fortunate in that I tend to hate shopping (especially for clothes) — for me it’s a chore. I only buy shoes when the ones I have are ratty and holey to the point of making me look like a Dickensian orphan. If I could afford it (and really needed a lot of new clothes), I’d hire a personal shopper to do the legwork for me.

  45. contradictions says:

    So funny – I’m with ya – dinners out are my BIG weakness and the one area where I prefer to have cash on hand to pay so that I don’t order ONE MORE mai tai or ONE MORE order of dumplings – I don’t need the extra food or drink normally, and being only willing to spend certain cash is one area where I can tell myself “Don’t need the extra and don’t want to break the $20”.

    I also despise clothes shopping – I do it as rarely as possible, and generally all in one big bite so I can avoid it for another 3 months. They are so good at throwing in you need the outfit, plust the shoes, and accessories, and matching this or that.