12 February 2013
Impulse Buying: Ten Ways to Maintain Your Budget

You’re standing in the checkout line waiting to unload the groceries. You grab a tabloid (always by the checkout), start reading and, without a thought, you put the tabloid, a candy bar, and a package of gum in the cart – increasing your weekly grocery bill.

Retailers study the buying behaviors of their customers and place items around the store that are bought on impulse. You don’t intend to buy these items. You don’t even think twice when you toss them into the shopping cart, but impulse buying can cost you a pretty penny over the course of a year, unless you put on the brakes.

“Shop ‘til you drop” is not a good buying strategy. Stores tempt buyers to buy impulsively because it boosts the store’s bottom line, but it doesn’t do a thing for your own bottom line.  Here are some ways to save money by reducing impulse buying:

1. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Before you set foot in the supermarket or big box store, know what you’re going to buy and resolve to stick to your list. Plan your shopping excursions with precision to avoid buying items you don’t really need that week.

2. Apply the test of time. If you see something you just have to buy, apply the time test. Don’t buy the item right then and there. Give yourself an hour to think about it before making the purchase. You’ll be amazed at how the urge to buy fades with time. Bigger items – a new car or new furniture – might require more than an hour to soothe your urge to buy. A general rule of thumb: the more expensive the item, the more time you should consider whether this is something you need, or something you’re buying on impulse just because you want it now.

3. Never shop when you’re upset. Some of us jokingly refer to “retail therapy,” buying something to make ourselves feel better when we’re upset. We all do it sometimes, but it’s not good for the pocketbook, so shop only to buy what you need, not to make yourself feel better.

4. Set aside money to splurge. Stuff a few bucks in the cookie jar each week and use it to buy whatever you want, whenever you want. This can help keep your budget under control.

5. Understand the return policy. “Buyer’s remorse” is a common reaction to impulse buying. You buy a new outfit because you had a bad day, and for a few hours you feel better. Then, buyer’s remorse sets in, and you wish you had the cash you spent on that outfit. Buy items that you can return easily so you aren’t stuck with a huge credit card bill. Shop at stores with a no-questions-asked refund policy so you don’t kick yourself later for making an impulsive and unwise purchase.

6. Don’t be fooled by big sales, coupons, discounts and other buying incentives. Just because an item is marked down 30% doesn’t mean you need it, or even want it, but the prospect of saving all that money can be tempting.  Don’t be pulled into buying more than you need just because an item is on sale. These tactics are used by retailers to get foot traffic into the store. Once inside, you find yourself buying more and more items that aren’t on sale and aren’t on your shopping list.

7. Buy online. Buying online can allow you to focus on the item or items you really need, without being tempted by store displays or pushy salespeople. Online retailers like Amazon.com® and Overstock.com® enable you to search just for the specific items you need. Buying online also allows you to view one item at a time so you aren’t overwhelmed, and it may help you avoid a hasty decision.

8. Don’t shop with shop-aholics. We all have friends and neighbors who shop as a hobby. These shop-aholics are a bad influence on their friends, who get in the buying spirit and end up with a cart full of items that were bought without a thought. You’re better off shopping alone, or with a thrifty friend who recognizes the strategies stores use to encourage impulse buying. A good shopping partner may actually help keep you out of trouble.

9. Leave your credit card at home. Take a debit card and a small amount of cash to prevent making large purchases for which you don’t have the money right now. With a debit card or cash, you won’t be tempted to buy on impulse because you won’t have the means to make that extravagant purchase.

10. Plan for large-scale purchases. At some point, you will replace the couch, or you will have to buy a new car. Develop a list of big-ticket items that you actually need, and work your way through the list over a longer period of time, paying cash when you can. You may not get everything you want exactly when you want it, but you won’t get in over your head, either.

Buy smart and fight the urge to purchase small or large items on impulse. It’s smart money management, and you can still enjoy a buying splurge now and then.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.


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