5 Tips to Avoid Impulse Purchases

posted by Andrea | 09/29/2014

tips to avoid impulse purchases

I get lots of questions asking how to avoid impulse purchases — at the grocery store, at the mall, online, at thrift stores, at garage sales, on Craigslist, etc.

It’s hard — I know! Especially when you see such a fabulous deal or find something for free that you “might need some day.” Plus, if you’re shopping with kids, it’s often easier to give into a $0.50 purchase than have them whining and complaining the entire shopping trip (not that I’ve ever done that before!)

Impulse purchases can do a number on your budget — not to mention adding excess clutter to your home if you don’t have the space to store your new items. So as the holiday shopping season approaches, I thought I’d share a few guidelines I follow to avoid impulse purchases.

1. Remember your list.

You know I can’t write a money-saving post without talking about my lists!

To say I love lists is a huge understatement — but only because I know from years and years of personal experience how much time, energy, and money I’ve saved simply by making and using lists.

I’m guessing that grocery lists and holiday gift lists are two of the first shopping lists that come to your mind… but what about:

  • An Amazon wish list to keep track of things you’d like for yourself or simply to wait until a great deal comes along.
  • An on-going list of household items you need (batteries, light bulbs, paper products, a picture frame, a rug, a lamp for the bedroom, a new knob for the kitchen drawer, etc.)
  • A “Craigslist list” — yes, you read that right! I keep a sticky note by my computer with items we’re looking to buy used. Then, every couple of days, I hop on Craigslist to do a quick search.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.

Shopping with a list not only helps you remember what you actually need and want to buy, it also helps you stay focused and not get distracted by the numerous other items you see that aren’t on your list.

2. Shop alone.

I know, some of you might think I’m totally insane — but besides taking Nora and Simon to the grocery store, I shop alone almost 100% of the time. I have always preferred shopping alone (even way back in high school) because I can quickly get in and out of the store without worrying about rushing anyone else, being stuck in a store while everyone else shops, or having my kids nag me into finally letting them have that $0.50 item.

I know that the longer I spend in a store, the more likely I am to buy more — so I love going alone and shopping as fast as I can.

I realize shopping alone might take the fun out of it for you (remember, I’m more of an introvert when it comes to things like this) and I’m not saying you need to shop alone every time. However, I am saying that often times, shopping alone will help you avoid those pesky impulse purchases.

3. Don’t shop if you’re hungry, tired, upset or desperate.

You WILL buy more  groceries if you shop when you’re hungry (even if you have a detailed list). There’s also a pretty good chance that you’ll throw in a few extra convenience items if you’re tired, maybe an “I deserve that” purchase if you’re upset about something, and you’ll most likely over-spend if you are desperate for a last-minute gift or special item of clothing.

Yes, I know from experience!

Now, I try to plan ahead as much as possible so I’m not shopping (online or in store) if I’m feeling hungry, tired, upset, or desperate. It’s just too easy to overspend and indulge in impulse purchases that I most likely wouldn’t purchase otherwise.

4. Wait 24 hours to make your final purchase.

Whenever I’m debating a purchase, I try to give myself 24 hours to make a final decision. Sometimes this means leaving the store with nothing and coming back the next day. Other times, I hold items in an online shopping cart overnight and come back to actually “check out” the next day.

My thought process on this is that if I wake up the next day and don’t feel like it’s worth my time, energy, or gas to go back to the store or log back into my online account, then I obviously didn’t want or need the item that badly. It’s also a great way to get away from impulse purchase related to being hungry, tired, upset, or desperate (see #3 above).

Another reason I like to wait 24 hours is because it gives me the opportunity to do a little research to see if it’s actually as fabulous of a deal as I thought, as well as read the Amazon.com reviews for that particular item.

The only 2 times I don’t use this money-saving philosophy are when I’m grocery shopping (for obvious reasons) and when an amazing deal pops up on Craigslist AND it’s something I’ve been looking and waiting for. Usually, in the Craigslist situations, I know I could easily re-sell the item for a higher price if I changed my mind.

5. Just don’t shop!

I know, I know — this is overly obvious, but I can personally attest to the fact that it works!

Not only do you not have the chance to buy something if you don’t shop, you also don’t have the chance of seeing something else you want and deciding to get that item in addition to the item you came to buy.

And yes, the “don’t shop” philosophy goes for ALL forms of shopping — online, in store, garage sales, etc. If you’re trying to save money or to keep clutter out of your home, staying away from the stores and your computer is a great way to do that. Don’t even window shop (or browse online) if you know you don’t have the money or space to bring more items into your home.

Obviously these money-saving tips work all year long — but with the holiday shopping season right around the corner, this is an excellent time to think about different ways you can try to avoid impulse purchases this year.

What tips and advice would you add to my list?

photo source


Filed under: LifeFrugal Living

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  1. Kristin @ The Gold Project


    All excellent tips and ones that I actually use when shopping. I like the 24 hour rule. If I like something and I am on the fence about it, I will go home and think about it.

    And, I always try to make a shopping list no matter where I go. I have a tendency to get overwhelmed if I don’t. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup


    These are great tips, Andrea. I use all of them myself. One tip I would add is this: before purchasing something, I ask myself, “If we didn’t have any income tomorrow, would I regret buying this?” That really helps me differentiate between needs and wants. If I can honestly say no, then I buy the item. If my answer is yes, then I (try to) walk away. Thanks for the post!


  3. Summer


    TRUE! You always hit the nail on the head! I don’t have some great lists like you, although I do have plenty of lists, just not that detailed… yet! My husband was huge at impulse buys and it took me years to figure out to NOT bring him with me. It saves us so much money.

    I have read your blog for years and as of 18 months ago, we were offered a position that required us to move out of state. I have been utilizing several of your clutter tips, from household to clothes to ‘stuff we may need one day.’ We are huge pack rats! Granted this is a long time to be planning a move, not intentional, but I have taken advantage of going through things slowly. I take bags and boxes to Goodwill regularly, I have used our Spring and Fall free drop off of non hazardous wastes and continue to use your tips on going through our stuff, consistently.

    We are still slated to move late spring, but I had to share that I LOVE how my house is now!!! It’s fantastic finding what I am looking for, it’s fantastic using only the clothes that fit and I like, it’s wonderful having so much ‘we might need this’ someday stuff GONE! I love the empty spaces, I love how many people always comment on how clean it always is (it totally isn’t, it’s just not cluttered!) and I love the simplicity that’s everywhere around here now! We even cleaned out a storage area and added a gym! Truthfully, I am not sure I want to move now, because I totally LOVE my house again! We have four girls, so this hasn’t been a walk in the park, but it’s so so so worth attacking the ‘stuff’ that we accumulate!

    It really helped my mindset getting stuff out of the house that we just don’t use, need or had ‘sentimental value.’ In truth, it totally freed me from so many emotions. My attachment to material things is gone!

    Even if we don’t end up moving, I will continue to spend less, use less and go through the ‘stuff’ we still have. Simple organized living Andrea! Thank you tons!!!


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks SOOOO much Summer!

    And wow — that IS a long time to prepare for a move. I’m sure in some senses you just want to move and be done. but at the same time, I know how nice it is to be able to take your time packing, purging, etc.

    Sounds like you’re making amazing progress (with 4 girls no less!) and I’m excited that you are not loving and enjoying your current house more — even in the midst of a big move!


  4. Caroline


    I think #1 is the best tip for avoiding impulse purchases. A few years ago we started saying “hands on the cart” because of wandering down aisles and reaching for things we knew weren’t on the list. The phrase stuck and we actually say “we went off the cart” if we happen to buy something not on the list, although this usually happens when someone shops alone! I guess we keep each other accountable to the list!


  5. Leslie


    1. When I see something I think I want in a store, I ask myself “Did I come in here to buy this?” If the answer is No, then I really don’t need it and most of the time I leave without it. 2. Shop your own stuff first! I was lusting after a tan leather tote for a long time. When I looked through my purses and totes in my closet, Lo and Behold I found a tan leather tote I had totally forgotten about. $200 saved right there. Phew! Same with storage containers, baskets, etc.


    Andrea Reply:

    Good tips — thanks Leslie!

    And also, I “shopped my closet” just this past weekend and put together a cute outfit I never would have come up with if I had just raced out to the store to buy something new!


  6. Amy


    I am all about #5. I used to go to Target once a week on my lunch break and found myself either buying things I can’t afford right now or just lusting after all the pretty things, which led to discontentment with my own home/clothes/makeup. If I just stay away, I don’t know what I’m missing!! I have also found that if I shop at a small grocery store like Piggly Wiggly, I am in and out quicker, and rarely deviate from my list. The less choices I have, the better off I am!


    Andrea Reply:

    Yup, it’s amazing how much less I buy when I just stay away from the stores and don’t do any online shopping. After all, any time I log onto Craigslist or Amazon.com, I’m sure to find something I ‘need’ ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. Julia K


    My top tip to avoid Impulse Shopping is to UNSUBSCRIBE. Unsubscribe to all those little temptations that fall into your inbox every day. Yeah you might miss out on some great deals – but sometimes you really need to focus on the BIG PICTURE and if avoiding Impulse Shopping is the Big Picture – then unsubscribing is a really good way to help get things under control.


    Andrea Reply:

    Good tip Julia! I actually do this too — but didn’t equate it with saving money on impulse purchases. You are right though, if you don’t get the great coupons and deals emailed to you, you are less likely to shop!


  8. Deni


    This is another perfectly timed post for me. 5 equally important tips, although shopping alone is a really important one for me as well. I’m more focused to buy only what we need when I’m shopping solo. Thanks for all of your motivational tips and stories, I especially love the one of how you acquired your new/used car!


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Deni — and yes, our “new to us car story” is a pretty good one!


  9. Kimberley


    Great tips!!! And I, like you, have always liked shopping alone…I have realized over the years that I am also an introvert and the thought of shopping with others actually causes me high stress and anxiety, so it’s never been my thing to ask a family member or a friend to “go shopping” for a fun experience, I usually ask them to meet for coffee or lunch afterwards.


    Andrea Reply:

    you and me both! I don’t shop for fun — just to get exactly what I need and then get out of the store ASAP!