How We Avoid Impulse Buys

Impulse Buys

Hello, my name is Joanna, and I’m an impulsive buyer.

From high school to the day I married Johnny, I was a bit obsessed with clothes. I pored over my favorite brands’ magazines on a daily basis. I’d play this game where I’d pretend I could pick, say, 10 items from the magazine to buy, no matter the price. This game usually resulted in my finding at least one item that I was certain I couldn’t live without. There will never be a shirt this cute ever again. I have to have it now!! The items were rarely on sale and usually quite pricey, and — oh yeah — I was never financially fit to buy said items.

And so, like a responsible teen/young adult, I closed the magazine, threw it in the trash, and washed my hands of it. Not really. Instead, I’d scheme up some plan to get the money for my must-have fashion piece. My methods including emptying my bank account of every cent to my name or begging my parents. There was no waiting a week, or even a day, for thecutestshirteverknowntoman. I needed it and I needed it now. I was an impulsive buyer.

Well, am. Once impulsive, always impulsive. But you can get better at controlling yourself. And I have gotten better, with some help from Johnny who is much less impulsive than I am (though still impulsive with certain items, like concert tickets). I think we’ve all got a bit of the impulsive buyer in us. So here are a few tips that have helped Johnny and me to curb our tendencies to buy impulsively.


When Johnny and I have a purpose for our money, it’s much easier to avoid those impulsive temptations. Right now we have a goal of how much we want to save each month. And we have an end goal of how much we’d like to have saved two years from now. It’s easy to justify an impulsive purchase by thinking What’s $100 over the course of a whole year’s expenses? Practically nothing! But 100 unaccounted for dollars means we miss our monthly goal. And if we let that happen very often, our two-year goal will no longer be possible. It’s a wonderful, vicious mental cycle that helps keep us on track.

Hours Worked

I can’t believe I’m recommending this tip because I hate it, but it works for some people. When Johnny or I am contemplating an impulsive purchase, Johnny always calculates it in terms of hours worked. “Is that $50 pillow really worth a few hours of work?” he says to me. I really don’t like going down that road because the answer is almost always a dejected, “Probably not,” you fun ruiner. The second part I grumble under my breath. I don’t like this method, but Johnny loves it and swears by it. And so I tolerate it.

Sleep-On-It Rule

Now this is a tip I can get behind. It has solved all of my impulsive-clothing-buying woes. I still get those butterflies in my stomach and that excited I HAVE TO HAVE THIS screaming in my head when I see cute clothes online. I don’t have enough control to keep from putting items in an online cart. But I’ve gained just enough control not to push the “Buy” button. Without fail, if I sleep on a potential clothing purchase, that “must-have” feeling almost completely dissipates when I wake up the next morning.


Something else that has really helped my impulsiveness is having Johnny to go to for advice. And I think he feels the same way about me. We oftentimes ask each other, “Should I get it?” And the other person is able to be much more objective about the purchase. We usually let each other down easy with, “Well, we weren’t really planning on spending that kind of money right now.” But sometimes we do say, “YES. You have to get that. It looks soooo good on you.” Okay, that’s my response. Johnny’s more like, “Sure.” If you don’t have a budget-minded spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or friend you can trust, do not ask your shopping buddy. They will always say, “Yes!”


Maybe we harp on budgeting too often. Okay, we definitely do. Ack! But keeping an itemized budget has meant the world when it comes to us avoiding the pit of impulse buying. Knowing that I’m going to have to enter my impulsive buy into our budget puts the brakes on my purchase every time. The thought of blowing a budget we’re trying so hard to stick to is a pretty sickening one. And there aren’t many clothes out there cute enough to tempt me.

A final thought: Buying something impulsively is a-okay if you have a place in your budget for it. If the money’s in your budget, there’s nothing more fun than spontaneously buying some gotta-have item. This happens to me on a small scale every time I see a cupcake/pastry/doughnut shop. Did I mention I also have a sweet tooth?

So you now know two of my vices: impulsive buying and sugar. If you suffer from impulsive buying (and/or sugar consumption), how do you avoid it?

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  • Reply Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle June 10, 2013 at 7:16 am

    I have troubles resisting a bargain or big sale. I just bought 3 boxes of fancy granola bars that retail for $3.99 for 5 small bars. They were marked down to $0.99 and I just couldn’t resist.

    They are a rich nutty iced treat and we have eaten 2 boxes already. One box would have been a nice treat but we have been overdoing it in terms of calories.

    Just because it is on sale doesn’t mean it is a bargain.

  • Reply Jordann @ My Alternate Life June 10, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I’m definitely an impulsive online shopper. I swear by the “sleep on it” rule. Typically I’ll let stuff sit in my online cart for weeks before pulling the trigger. Sometimes I’ll even avoid buying other stuff so I can free up my discretionary income in order to buy whatever it is I’m coveting. I think that’s a good strategy!

  • Reply Brian June 10, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I’m like the opposite of an impulse buyer. I talk myself out of things at check out all the time. I’m sure I have annoyed many a cashier this way. Oh well, at least I am giving someone something to do right, plus it saves me some greenbacks!

  • Reply Sarah June 10, 2013 at 9:14 am

    I’m definitely an impulsive buyer. The thing that has worked best for me is to avoid the mall like the plague. Seriously, I don’t go in there…not even to “just look”. Not even if I leave my wallet in the car. Because if I find something I like enough I will walk out to my car and get my wallet and buy it. So perhaps it might sound a little extreme, but hey, it works! See no mall, hear no mall, buy no expensive clothes.

    • Reply Johnny June 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      “See no mall, hear no mall, buy no expensive clothes.” If that’s not already on a t-shirt, it ought to be. But I guess buying a shirt that admits a buying problem might not be very helpful.

  • Reply Halsy June 10, 2013 at 9:18 am

    When I was working I always did the how many hours of work will it take for me to have this item…as you said almost every scenario led to me deciding it was not worth it. Now that I stay home my main impulse buys are lemonade at chick fil a or an iced coffee at starbucks or a lunch out after a play date went too long etc. so I have started to make sure I have a water and a snack for myself in diaper bag to avoid those impulse purchases. For larger items we always have done the sleep on it rule….usually sleeping a few days on it. A lot of times we decide we don’t need the item. Sometimes this does make us end up paying a higher price as the online price may have went up or the sale is over etc. Many times with larger purchases we just try to wait it out until Christmas, birthdays, anniversary and now mothers/fathers day.

    • Reply Johnny June 17, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      The Chick Fil A lemonade and/or summertime peach smoothie is totally on our list of “Let’s just splurge tonight and get ourselves a treat” items. And it must stop.

  • Reply Mary June 10, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Lately, I’ve been having many impulses for shopping, especially when it comes to clothes!

    I had a baby 11 months ago and still haven’t lost the baby weight. I was a size 6 for a whle so I invested in two pairs of work pants and five tops for the work week. I’ve started working out and dieting and I am now down to a size four. My pants feel big and my tops are looser. My tops are also all long-sleeve tops, and with the warm weather, I feel like I NEED to buy new clothes. It also doesn’t help that when I ask the man for his opinion in hopes that h talks me out of it, he says “If you need it, go for it”.

    More than once I’ve stopped myself lately from making a purchase. I keep reminding myself that in the next few weeks, I can get down to my old size again and be able to wear all my old clothes. I’m holding off. Plus, a birthday for a certain little person is next month that we’ve got to start setting aside some dollars for 🙂

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:03 am

      Clothing during/after pregnancy is totally out of my wheelhouse of knowing the right answer with Joanna, so I know where your husband’s “if you need it, get it” answer is coming from.

      Can’t you just give the little one some paper to crinkle and a package of straws and call it good? 🙂

  • Reply Jodi T. June 10, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Online shopping is a slippery snake. There’s been a few times I have caved for a deal too good to pass up, only to be dissapointed. I see the word clearance and it’s like a bug lamp… The best thing I’ve learned to do is fill my cart and then CLOSE THE WINDOW. If I remember anything that was in that cart later in the day, then I might go back and take a second look. More times than not, I don’t even remember “shopping” in the first place.

    Now, actually going into a store is a different story. I have a hard time putting something down when I’ve already FALLEN IN LOVE with it. My husband keeps me reigned in for the most part, though. A lot of times we’ll only take one debit card into a store/ the mall with us, so we can’t just buy something when we’ve gone into seperate stores, and he usually won’t go in with me to “girl stores’. Works out great, and yeah, I might not have the latest trendiest clothes (insert sad face), but I haven’t spent my grocery money either!

  • Reply Jake @ Common Cents Wealth June 10, 2013 at 10:42 am

    These are great tips and very similar to the one’s my wife and I use. I think having a budget and goals are two of the main ways we control our impulsive buying. If it’s not in the budget then we normally avoid buying it. Also, we have certain goals, like you do, and we know that if we don’t stay within our budget that we’ll not reach those goals in the time period we had planned on. These two really help us say no to a lot of things we don’t need.

  • Reply Tina June 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I do sometimes buy on impulse figuring that I can always return the item later if I change my mind. I blame this on the cute Target polka dot dress that slipped through my hands. I really hate returning stuff though and don’t want to have junk sitting around the house so I’ll ask myself, “Do I really need that __________. Will it improve my life? Will I still use it a year from now?”

  • Reply Michelle June 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I’m not a huge impulse shopper, but W is. He says he hates to shop, but in reality, I know that he is LYING! haha

  • Reply My Financial Independence Journey June 10, 2013 at 11:42 am

    With the exception of the grocery store (never shop hungry) or liquor store (if you taste a great wine, buy it), I’m not much of an impulse buyer. I spend way to long thinking about buying things. I’ve been thinking about buying a new laptop now for about 3 years. I might actually buy one in the next month or two – we’ll see.

  • Reply JMK June 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Similar to your “how many hours of work does it take to buy that”? I always look at any nonessential purchase in terms of “how much will that delay my retirement. Our normal spending plan only includes the very basic required items. We live substantially below our income on purpose, and every week the excess after the pay is in and that week’s spending (Visa) has been paid off, gets moved to either our retirement accounts or we make an extra mortgage payment. If we decide to make an unscheduled purchase during the week, I have to add a row to the plan to include the amount and there is that much less excess cash left on Friday for the weekly transfer. It’s plainly obvious when unplanned spending has occurred and the impact it’s had to our retiremetn funds or reducing the mortgage. We intend to retire as early as possible and building our retirement funds and paying off the mortgage will determine how soon that can happen.

    For easy numbers we assume our early retirement years (pre-65 when assorted pensions and government benefits kick in) will cost us $3000/mth or $100/day. When I consider a fancy dinner out, I ask myself “is it worth delaying retirement by a day”? When you know presicely what a purchase is costing you in the long run, it’s much easier to say know to the things that ultimately aren’t that important to you.

    • Reply EcoCatLady June 11, 2013 at 4:20 am

      I took a very similar track. While I was still working, all of my friends would take these big expensive vacations, and they all marveled that I generally just enjoyed my vacation time at home in my garden. I just always responded that instead of blowing a few thousand dollars to “get away from it all” I’d rather spend my time, energy and money working toward a life that I didn’t feel the need to get away from.

      I got to retire 7 years ago at age 39. Well, I suppose I’m not technically retired, since I do still earn money from various hobbies turned self-employment opportunities. But for all practical purposes I am. I just recently ran into a friend from work – one who took TONS of expensive vacations each year. She’s now 66 and was telling me about her upcoming retirement, and how she’ll have her first summer off since she was in high school. I am so, SOOOO glad that I made the choices that I did!

  • Reply E.M. June 10, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Great tips, and ones I use often! I am not really an impulse buyer – I contemplate purchases for a long time before pulling the trigger. I don’t necessarily think this is the best option though, as I will delay purchases that are sometimes important. I always try to research things beforehand to make sure I’m getting the best deal.

    Clothes & beauty products used to be a killer. When I started working after college, I had to buy professional clothes, and it was hard to say no if it was on sale/clearance since I technically did need it, and I think I ended up with a little too much. I’ve since not made a clothing purchase in the past four months or so and resigned myself to wearing everything I have. I’ve also stopped buying “regular” clothes since I only wear them three times a week and have more than enough to cover that.

    For beauty items, I just stopped watching youtube videos on them, and my impulse to buy was gone! Same with online shopping – If I don’t look I stop caring.

  • Reply Beth @ B and B Build A Life June 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Totally with you on the impulse-buying trials. The online shopping cart method you use is great and I typically do something similar too.

    But my fav method is my amazon wishlist. I don’t exclusively buy on amazon, but if you install the wish list button in your web browser (firefox and chrome both have one) you can add any item on any website to your wish list with one click.

    Then, later when I have a few extra discover card points (good as cash on amazon!) or a little extra at the end of the month, I go back and will pick out a treat for myself. Even better, share your wishlist so that come the holidays or birthday times, when you inevitably have no idea what you want, you already have a list of things at the ready.

    And as weird as it may be, one of my fav parts is going back through the list and looking at things thinking ‘what the hell did I want this for?’ and deleting it from the list. I remember that moment, and when I want to impulse on other things that feeling also helps curb my buying too. (Especially in real life shopping. Because Target is my weakness.)

    • Reply Alex June 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      That’s spot on. I love looking at my wish-list and thinking, “What the hell??” Especially ones that I accidentally leave on there for years and then find again and can really enjoy deleting.

      I also love having a bit of “mad money” every week. I let it roll over, too, so if I have an uncontrollable urge and my mad money will cover it, I don’t beat myself up too badly. Budgets are rough, so having a tiny bit of freedom feels like the short-term, immediate gratification to having a job and working hard. Of course there are long term benefits, but they often feel too far away. Blowing $7.50 on a new book keeps the stamina up. 🙂 🙂

      • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:11 am

        Ahhh, the new book. Joanna’s blow money victim of choice. If she could she’d buy a city library.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:09 am

      This is an awesome idea. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to go install the plug-in now.

  • Reply Stefanie June 10, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I am the QUEEN of impulse purchases. Usually it’s things that are majorly on sale, darn you groupon, zulily, (insert deal of the day site). It’s so easy to just click buy.

    I had to practically ban myself from going to Target alone. It was a real eye opener to face dealing with my problems and not in a retail way, if you know what I mean. I think having a goal, no matter what it is really helps keep me in check. I can ask myself if it’s worth taking away from what I obviously want in the long run.

  • Reply Chris June 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    So I impulse buy occasionally. I impulse buy firearms which are always $400-$600. Since I know that about every year or so I get the itch to buy a new gun I have factored this into my savings plan. I created a “gun/vacation fund” it’s gun first because I rarely ever take vacations. But if I spontaneously decide to drive up to Colorado one weekend I have the cash money in reserve for such things! I also will buy smaller things impulsively. My “wait dude wait” sense doesn’t kick in until $40 though so I avoid big purchases but certain t-shirts and tie sales can fall through the cracks.

  • Reply Shellie June 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    The trick my husband and I use is asking each other to put a value on something. Say I see a cute new item for the house I really want- I will take it to him (or text a pic if he’s not with me) and say “How many dollars is this worth?” If he values it more than the actual price, I buy it. If he says less than the price it is, I put it back. It works almost every time and keeps us from impulse buying things we don’t really need!

    • Reply Tabitha June 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

      I like that trick! 🙂 Gonna have to tell my husband about that one.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:30 am

      This is such an awesome idea. Joanna and I are going to totally try this one out. Thanks for sharing.

      • Reply Shellie June 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

        Anytime, Thanks!

  • Reply Elvin @ Journey To Millions June 10, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    We usually apply the sleep-on-it rule. Every time we are tempted for an impulse buy, we make it to the point that we set aside a portion of our budget so that we can afford it. Usually, after having enough money to purchase it, we don’t want the item anymore. 🙂

    However, eating out is a different case.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies June 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Mr. PoP is pretty much the polar opposite of an impulse shopper. He researches and researches pretty much every purchase before pulling the trigger, so often times he’ll have known precisely what he wanted for years before finally getting it! But then once he has it he keeps it forever.
    Me, I’m not too impulsive. Usually all it takes is asking myself “do I already have something almost exactly like this?” The answer to that is almost always “yes” (what can I say, I know what I like!), so I can put the object back on the rack and walk away satisfied.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:33 am

      Mr. PoP and I would definitely get along. There are a few “wants” that find their way on my birthday list every year that I tell Joanna to wait on until next year. I’ll be 40 before I pull the trigger on a few of them.

  • Reply EcoCatLady June 11, 2013 at 3:38 am

    I’ve never really had the kind of money to be much of an impulsive buyer, but I did used to have a problem with, of all things, pens. Ever since I was a kid and my best friend and I would hang out at the stationery store at the mall, I’ve had this thing for cool pens with big comfy grippy pads. It wasn’t until I read “Your Money or Your Life” and had to track every cent in and out for a few months that I finally came to grips with my pen addiction. I was literally spending $50-$100 every month on PENS! But it just seemed harmless because they only cost a few bucks a piece!

    When I finally had my “come to Jesus” moment with the pens, I took an inventory. I owned 2-3 grocery sacks full of pens, pencils, markers and assorted other writing utensils – many of which had stopped functioning simply from age without ever even being used!

    Anyhow, these days I tend to err on the other side… I generally have to be talked into spending money! I use the sleep on it rule, except I take it to a bit of an extreme. Unless the item is really necessary for health or safety, I generally make myself wait at least a month to buy something. Usually by that point the thrill is gone and I only end up buying it if I really need it – and nine times out of ten I conclude that I don’t.

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:36 am

      Pens! I actually totally understand this impulse. And while I don’t go splurge on them very often, I love the pen section at stationery stores. And I will only write with Pilot G2’s .38, so I make sure I’m always stocked up on those.

  • Reply Tabitha June 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Great blog – I sometimes struggle with impulse buying as well. I like the sleep-on-it rule and the “hours worked” rule really helps give a concrete feel to the money being spent. Something that helps me not impulse buy or over spend is to use cash. When your wallets empty it’s empty. It really hit home one grocery shopping day when I had only a certain amount to spend and more in my grocery cart than money. I had been doing a mental running total as I put things in my cart and I was getting close to the amount of cash I had budgeted. Well I completely miscalculated and I had to have the cashier remove things from my total. It was humbling and now I’m extra careful about what goes in the cart – I can’t add on impulse, if the money isn’t there – and I use my phone calculator instead of trying to do it in my head…

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:39 am

      Cash can totally be your friend when it comes to impulse buys. Great point. We did the envelope system for a few months when we first started budgeting. It was a great way to force ourselves into accepting that when the money was gone, it was gone.

  • Reply joanna @ I won't be a hoarder, too! June 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou for this post. I’m sitting here laughing though as my computer is displaying a Talbot’s ad showing off nice blouses and shorts as I read the post. I need AdBlock. I really like the idea of converting the cost of an item to hours worked. Will try that next time!

    • Reply Johnny June 18, 2013 at 12:40 am

      Hahaha. Ads are way too smart these days. It’s creepy, really. I’ve got some shoes I looked at the other day following me around in ads on every website I go. Not cool.

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