How To Stop Impulse Buying (12 Tips)

Are You Wondering How To Stop Impulse Buying? Here Are Our Tips And Experience!

If you are here, there’s a good chance that you would like to change your shopping behavior! We’ve been there. Impulse buying is (often) not the worst habit to have – but left unchecked it can have serious consequences on your finances, your emotional health, and your relationship with others.

For this article, we aren’t going to dive deep into what impulse buying is and the various causes of impulse buying. We are not consumer goods educated professionals nor are we clinicians in mental health – although Eric does teach a university course on mental health. Put simply, impulse buying is defined as “the act of buying something that you had not planned to buy, because you suddenly want it when you see it” in the Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.).

Having said that, we are critical of the world around us (and our own buying habits – past and present) and have come up with a number of ways to avoid impulse buying. So if you are looking for a number of strategies to stop impulse buying, too, this post might help!

Set Rules for Yourself

Setting certain rules for yourself (and following them!) can be a great way to stop yourself from impulse buying. If you have no rules in place, you have no boundaries other than your own mind… which can easily bend to accommodate a new idea or item. Rules – if you care about them enough – can be enough to curb impulse buying when you first start out trying to manage it!

  • Shop with a list: This can be an easy rule to follow when you are out shopping. You make a list and stick to it. You can not buy anything that is not on the list, plain and simple.
  • Do not buy non-essential items the first time you see them: If you come across a non-essential item for the first time (so anything except food, cleaning products, hygiene products, etc) then you can not buy it. Take a photo of it or even write it down if you like it. If you still think about it after a week and can’t get it out of your head, revisit the idea of buying that item. This can be called “making a waiting list”- where you essentially have to wait to buy items that are non-essential.

    The same rule can be applied for online shopping. Write it down, screenshot it, save it to a cart, but do not buy it the first time you see it. Also remember to do your research into the item and similar ones. You might find out things that make you want to not buy it. Then revisit the item a week or two – or even 30 days later – and ask yourself if you still want it. Do you still REALLY want that item as much as the first time you saw it? And do you actually need it? If so, then consider going for it – but at least you thought about it!
  • One-in, One-Out: With this rule, you can only buy something if you are willing to give something up. Down the line, you should only have the things that you absolutely love/cherish/use/need and do not want to part with. This makes it harder to bring new things into your life when you already have items that serve a purpose in your life!

Related: Things We Stopped Buying On Our Journey Towards A Simpler Life

Only Take The Money You Need

Another great way to stop yourself from impulse buying is to only take with you the amount of money you need to pay for things you need (it’s great if they are on a list in the first place). This means that you’ll leave your plastic – debit and credit card – at home and only take the necessary cash.

This way, you physically won’t have any money to spare for spending on an item you didn’t account for when you left the house. We’ve all said “oh, I’ll just grab a coffee while I’m out” – and those extra purchases add up over time!

If this is too drastic, then bring a card for emergency purchases ONLY like gas if you are running low.

Over time, you might get used to not making extra purchases when you are out and about running errands. This is a great habit to build over time and will help you build up self-efficacy (big term) so that the next time you are tempted you will have the confidence in your own ability to not break and buy!

Think About How Long You’d Have To Work For An Item

A powerful motivator to avoid impulse buying it to consider how much time you’d need to work to purchase the item. So, do the math as to how many hours you would need to work to make the purchase. This is a good tactic with larger purchases like electronics.

However, for this to be effective you need to do the math right. It is important to think about how many hours you’d have to work with your after-tax salary in mind. Additionally, you need to think of the whole price of the product with sales taxes included (if they have no already been added on the price tag).

For example: You earn $15 per hour and want to purchase a product that costs $30 (sales tax not added). It would be easy to assume that you’d have to work for two hours to afford it. However, this is overly simplified.

Part of the $15 that you make per hour will go to the government as income taxes (let’s assume $5) and the product that you buy might cost you more than $30 at checkout (let’s assume $2 extra) in states/countries with sales taxes added at the till. So your net salary would be $10 (after deducting income tax) and the amount of money you’d pay for the item would be $32 (including sales tax). So in order to pay for that item, you’d have to work for over 3 hours – which is noticeably different than the two hours you might have assumed at first glance.

These “real world” calculations can have a strong impact on understanding the physical hours you need to put in to attain the thing in question. It can really make you think about whether the item is “worth it”.

Create A Budget

Related to the financial implications of impulse buying, creating a budget and sticking to it is a great way to curb buying. If you have a budget in place, you will have money allocated to certain things for the week or month. If you item is not in the budget, you don’t buy. Period.

Sticking to a budget does take a fair amount of willpower. However, we think this one is a powerful tool to really understanding that an impulse buy can affect the money you have for other things in your life – like paying rent or buying food you need to eat.

Make A Shopping Schedule

Another way to help stop impulse buying it to create a shopping schedule and then stick to it. A shopping schedule can be as simple as only buying groceries/items on certain days of the week or can be as detailed as making you only buy specific items at specific times. If you feel the desire to buy an item that doesn’t fit the schedule – it simply doesn’t get bought.

If you really want it (after thinking it over) then you might consider adding it to the list for a later date – and you’ll have time to mull it over. This will also help to stop you feeling instant satisfaction of getting the item the moment you wanted it/saw it.

Avoid The Temptation

It can be much easier to resist the urge of impulse buying if you do not feel the urge in the first place. For this, it’s a really good idea to eliminate the temptations around you that spark your mind into a buying frenzy. Basically, it is important to reduce the “buying stimuli” around you on a daily basis.

Avoiding places where shopping happens is a big first step in this one. Shopping malls or strip malls are meant to market to your senses to check out new things and to buy them. If you can avoid the places where buying generally happens, you might have a much easier time reducing your spending and controlling the urges to impulse buy. Not spending time in malls helped us a lot when we didn’t buy new clothes for a year.

The point about avoiding temptation also definitely goes for the online world. It is very important to unsubscribe from sales newsletters so that you reduce the urge to shop and buy. Removing the ability to even see the new items right in your inbox can help curb temptations to have the latest items.

Don’t Compare/Stay Off Social Media

black iphone and grey speaker on table with city behind impulse buying
New iPhone and speaker released? Make it your job to not care.

Another big reason why people feel the urge to buy is because we have a tendency to copare ourselves to others and/or have FOMO – a “Fear of Missing Out”. We see someone with the best and latest thing and feel as though if we do not have it too we are somehow inferor. This is absolutely not true – but it can be a hard emotion to turn off.

So, we’d say that if you find it hard to not compare yourself to others (and thus want to emulate what they have), try staying off various social channels where this comparison happens quite a lot.

Find Satisfaction In Other Ways

We didn’t get too far into the causes of impulse buying because it can happen for a variety of reasons for different people. That said, filling a void in their life and a lack of willpower are two major reasons people buy things impulsively.

This point of “filling a void” can be tied to having a sense of life satisfaction and how much a person is getting from their life. Often, “stuff” can be used to fill the void that might exist.

So, it’s super important to find other, non-commercial ways to find satisfaction. There are lots of healthy and free ways to derive joy and value from the little things in life. For example, it’s been said that spending time in nature can make us happier. Of course, finding satisfaction in other ways is not something that happens overnight. But starting to focus on simple pleasures is a good way to re-wire your mind to get away from impulse buying.

Consider The Disposal Of The Item

One tactic to avoid impulse buying that we really like is to consider the implications for when you might have to get rid of the item. If it’s large, would you need help? If it’s electronic, could you properly recycle it? How easy would it be to find a new owner?

Honestly think about how much physical time, effort, and potential money it would take to get rid of the thing in question. Think of this as a hypothetical scenario – we’re not actually telling you to get rid of anything. However, this is a good way to weigh the use/worth you get out of the item with purchase against the eventual (maybe tough) removal of the item. Does it still seem like it is worth buying the item? The future ramification of your actions (for you) is definitely something to consider!

Keep Emotions Out Of Shopping

Admittedly, there are a lot of emotions that come along with impulse buying. The instant satisfaction of finding and buying an item and the eventual possible shame or disgust for the lack of usage of such an item. In short, do your best to keep emotion out of shopping.

If getting new items for you is something that helps you – as in you use shopping for “therapy” – that can be a warning sign that there are other things in your life that need addressing. (And that’s okay, as there is always appropriate help available).

In short, using the gratification of the purchase to make you feel good can be a dangerous cycle that is had to break later on. Tying sadness and anger to shopping as a release is also not a great habit to form. It is very important to think critically about how you feel when you purchase things impulsively. How does it make you feel – before, after, and in a few days from then? This is an important thought to have if you are trying to make any progress towards not impulse buying.

Also, don’t shop under the influence early in the morning on your phone, tablet, or computer because very little good ever comes from those purchases.

Bring A Good Influence

One way to avoid impulse spending that might work for you (or might not, depending on the company you keep and the influence they have on you) is to shop with a “good influence”. Some impulse buying happens when we have no one to confer with and talk it through – and “our own heads” can sometimes be terrible shopping partners!

Furthermore, spending time around good shopping influences in your life means not going on trips with friends JUST to shop. Going to the mall with the intent to buy (even if you don’t need anything) is a surefire way to rack up spending and lose space in your home.

If you find you spend more when you are with these people because you are “supposed to”, consider who you hang with and if they are the best influence for you. If they are true friends, they won’t mind your honesty if you think twice!

Keep Your Long Term Goals In Mind

Lastly, a great way to help stop impulse buying it to put the spending in the context of your goals – both short and long-term. We like to focus on long term thought because spending a little extra now might not make a difference in next week. However, keep up that impulse spending habits over a year, five years, or even 10 years – and you very well may find a chunk of money missing that could have gone towards a house, education, or even retirement.

Think about the purchases critically over the long-term – do you see them helping or hindering you? There’s more to it than just financial implications. Does having these items add or take away from meaningful work in your life? Do they help or hinder you from growing personally and/or developing skills? These are important things to think about because some purchases can and do have long-term impacts on your life.

And there you have it – a few key points on how to stop impulse buying. In the end, there isn’t a strategy that works for everyone – but there are certainly different things you could try to change your behavior! Changes happen gradually – but you have to start. And if you feel like you can’t do it on your own, you can always reach out to a professional!

As always, Keep It Simple,


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