Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in and earn the respect and approval of our peers. I am constantly battling my impulse to buy. When I became debt-free, my bad habits definitely didn't evaporate with the debt, unfortunately. We are constantly bombarded with ads and influenced to buy, buy, buy! We want that lifestyle that someone on Instagram is showing us and somehow feel that if we have that [insert object] we will feel and look like that person and belong.
Then layer on top of that your habit of impulse buying. Habits are essentially dopamine-driven feedback loops, as James Clear writes in Atomic Habits (I will be doing a review on this book in the near future because it is literally one of the best books I've read in years). That's why the pull to buy sometimes feels like it's out of control - the dopamine hit is no joke.
So how do you stop impulse buying?
It's all about the systems you have in place. I've consciously set up a system in place to check and balance my impulses. The system helps me steer clear of impulse buying altogether, but when I'm on the roller coaster, it pulls up the emergency break and flips on the emergency headlights and gets me off the road. Below are seven things I do to help me stop impulse buying:
1. Make a list of things you don't actually like. I've started a list of things I don't actually like. These are items that I actually don't really like having and have noticed myself donating time after time. In the moment of feeling impulsive I can check my list and remind myself that when I'm back home I probably won't use it. A good example of this is face masks that cover your whole face. When I'm at Sephora or on Instagram, they look so relaxing and easy. So many different scents, types, and delightful packaging. However, I've come to realize that I personally hate how sticky they are and having something covering my whole face and rarely use them when I get home. Another example would be is I am not a smoothie person. I finally had to write down on my list "protein powders" to remind myself to not buy them because I just won't make smoothies.
2. Make a list of things that make you happy. Take a moment to write down things that make you happy; they don't have to necessarily be material. It could be completing a task and the feeling of achievement from that, or reading a book in front of a fireplace. When you are feeling impulsive, take a moment to glance over your list of non-material items and remind yourself what truly makes you happy. Also, see if you can get away from shopping and do one of those things on your list. Can you bake something yummy for yourself and fill the house with delicious smells? Can you take your dog out for a long walk? Can you text your best friend and let her know how grateful you are for her?
3. Buy quality over quantity and support small businesses doing good. I've been practicing this for a few months now and I can see a big shift in my impulse buys. I've stopped buying fast fashion/cheap clothes and instead allowing myself to buy more expensive items that I enjoy wearing. Being in debt since I was about 17 years old, I never had the mindset to buy quality over quantity. I always wanted that cheap item to make me feel like I had a mini reward. I rarely experienced the actual pleasure of something craftsmen, or really enjoying just wearing one thing. Now that I've taken myself out of the cycle and can observe from a distant perspective, it's crazy how many items we are barraged with everyday to buy! And after a while, all of the fast fashion looks the same - like, how many similar sweaters can you have?
4. Put your impulse items into the shopping cart and wait a day. A lot of times we don't even know we are on a bonanza impulse spree, so just having this system in place saves you money. Anything I haven't though about for more than a day, I put in my shopping cart. For example, one day I decided that I no longer wanted to go to nail salons and would do my nails at home. I put all of the things I wanted to buy for my new experience into my Amazon shopping cart. Now that impulse has passed, I don't feel the urgency to buy it right now. I also don't feel like going to a nail salon either because I'm figuring out how to save money.
5. Try to be conscious of waste. If you are buying something just about everyday online, the cardboard boxes add up! At one point we had so many cardboard boxes I felt like we were drowning in them. Then I had the task of breaking them all down. After cutting my fingers on the edges and dropping things on my foot, I decided I'd buy less online, or go to the actual store to buy things.
6. Notice when your lizard brain tries to talk you into buying something and context switch. Ugh this is the worst. My lizard brain likes to remind me how something will be out of stock soon if I don't buy it right now, or the comparable item I do have isn't as comfortable/nice/etc as the one I want to buy. The list goes on and on. At that point it's just best to context switch. Open up your favorite budget app or your stock trading account like Robinhood and look at your finance goals and where you want to be headed financially. Is that pair of shoes going to get you there quicker? Ask yourself, what would a financially fit person do? Hopefully at this point you are knee deep in looking at your stocks and/or thinking about how you can do better with your spending and the impulse has passed. If not, put it in your shopping cart and walk away for a day!
7. Finally, make a short list of items that you have negotiated with yourself are okay to splurge on. In my list of things that are okay to buy are candles because I know that they actually do make me happy. There's something to me about having a flame burning. I think it has to do with fire being one of the elements of the earth and connects us to something deeper. I've stopped buying cheap candles not only because most of them are made with low quality ingredients, but if I am going to buy one expensive candle I'd like to support a small business owner. I love Sydney Hale candles because they donate to animal rescue.
These tips help me get my impulse spending in check. What do you do to manage your impulse spending?