Impulse spending used to be reserved for the supermarket check-out line, but with the dawn of the internet, it’s never been easier to buy whatever pops into your head at any time of the day or night.
Today, we have access to unlimited shopping options through our phones or tablets or desktop computers, not just during business hours, but all the time. A survey from the deal-sharing platform Slickdeals estimates that Americans spend $450 in impulse purchases a month—that’s $5,400 a year or $324,000 over a lifetime.
Even a few impulse purchases can upend your budget and get in the way of long-term goals like buying a house or car or paying down student loan debt.
Are you compulsive or impulsive?
Almost everybody makes an impulse buy from time to time, but it’s far more serious if you’re what’s considered a compulsive shopper. In that case, you would have a nearly irresistible urge to spend—even when you know that it will hurt you in the long-term.
To make things worse, compulsive shoppers often get little to no joy out of the items they buy, psychiatrists say—instead, the high comes from the purchase itself. It’s not uncommon for a compulsive shopper to continue to buy right into bankruptcy, often suffering severe depression as a result.
If you identify as a compulsive shopper, you may want to look into getting professional help. And for the more garden variety impulse shoppers, there are some proven strategies for getting back on track.
Here are seven ways to resist impulse purchases and kick your shopping addiction to the curb.
1. Create a workable budget and stick to it
Give yourself structure by taking a hard look at what you make and what you spend. Start by subtracting your big monthly non-discretionary items—rent or mortgage, insurance, car payments, food and utilities—from your earnings, then allocate the remainder to savings and discretionary spending.
Our easy-to-use budget tool can help you get started. Just knowing what you have to spend will help you control impulse purchases.
2. Make room for fun
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll never buy anything fun again. Make sure that there’s at least some room in your financial picture for discretionary purchases like clothes, eating out, movies, home furnishings or travel.
The important thing is to set a limit and stick to it.
3. Use cash when temptation lurks
You know what your weaknesses are – whether they’re vintage vinyl shops or designer sample sales. Next time you visit one of your impulse purchase meccas, bring cash instead of credit cards and spend only what you bring.
4. Try the buddy system
Find a friend who wants to cut down on impulse spending, too. Seek out affordable ways to enjoy your time together—like going to the park, hosting a cheap barbecue, or even checking out free museums. It’s harder to cheat when someone’s watching, and more fun to celebrate together when you succeed in keeping your spending under the limit.
5. Stay off the internet
The web has become ground zero for impulse shopping, with its one-click purchasing, its stores that never close and its limitless supplies of goods and services.
A poll from CreditCards.com found that almost half (44 percent) of Americans have made an unplanned buy on the internet in the past three months, and one in seven had done so in the past week.
If you can’t be offline altogether, consider installing web blocking software to restrict access to sites where you overspend. You can even set timers to keep you off shopping sites in the hours you’re most likely to make impulse purchases—like late at night.
6. Sleep on it
Impulse shopping is just what it sounds like – a fleeting urge to buy something you may not need or want later. You can often control your spending by finding exactly what you want, then delaying your purchase until the next day. If you really want it, it will still be there. If you were just buying it because you were bored or stressed or depressed, you may find you don’t need it anymore.
7. Find other ways to be happy
Impulse buying is an emotional act, and researchers say that frequent impulse shoppers purchasers are often seeking joy or trying to escape sadness or anxiety when they do it. As a result, you may be able to control your shopping by finding alternative ways to improve your mood like exercise, seeing friends, reading a good book or helping at a local charity.
Overcome the urge to splurge
These seven strategies will help you take control of your impulse spending but remember: you don’t have to cut out spending altogether. Most people can afford the occasional frivolous purchase.
Still, if unplanned spending is preventing you from reaching your long-term goals, it may be time to slow down, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you really need the items that you’re clicking into your cart, one after another, every time you need a boost.