Impulse spending is a significant drain on many people’s finances. The average American spends over $5,000 per year on impulse purchases, up to $450 billion in total impulse spending annually. This reckless spending can seriously hinder your ability to achieve financial goals like getting out of debt, saving for retirement, or buying a house.
The good news is that with some discipline and intention, you can identify your impulse spending triggers and establish barriers to needless purchases. This article provides 19 practical strategies to curb impulse shopping so you can save more money through mindful frugality. Implementing even a few of these tips can lead you toward improved financial health.
1. Identify Your Specific Impulse Spending Triggers
The first step is increasing your self-awareness around what causes you to spend impulsively. For some people, certain emotions spark the urge to shop. Boredom, stress, anxiety, or even happiness can lead to buying things on a whim. Other triggers include seeing ads or promotions for sales and deals or having too much-unused money in your discretionary spending account. Take some time to reflect on when and why you’re most vulnerable to impulse spending so you can start recognizing those moments.
For example, Julia realized she often shopped online when she was bored on weeknights after work. Identifying this habit helped her be more conscious about finding other activities to fill that time.
2. Avoid Stores and Websites that Tempt You
Once you know your triggers, take active steps to avoid tempting situations. Unsubscribe from promotional emails from your favorite clothing and decor retailers. Stay off Amazon and other online shopping sites that suck up time browsing. Avoid wandering the mall if that’s where you tend to make unnecessary purchases.
Create physical and digital barriers between you and the urge to spend. This might mean deleting shopping apps off your phone or avoiding certain stores altogether. Out of sight can mean out of mind.
3. Impose a 24 Hour Buffer Before Purchases
When you feel the impulse to buy something, impose a 24-hour waiting period before allowing yourself to purchase. This creates a cooling-off period for that initial excitement to fade.
More often than not, you’ll find that the burning desire you felt to buy that shiny new gadget dims after a day. This waiting period helps disrupt that spur-of-the-moment urge to spend and lets your logical thinking take over.
4. Use Cash-Only Budget for Discretionary Spending
To gain more control over discretionary purchases, switch to using cash instead of credit cards for your monthly spending money. Withdraw a set amount from your checking account after paying your fixed expenses, and don’t allow yourself to take out more until next month.
It’s emotionally more difficult to part with physical cash than swiping a debit or credit card. The tactile feeling of handing over dollar bills tends to make you more mindful of your spending. Setting a defined limit each month also forces you to think carefully about what you can afford.
5. Downgrade Your Lifestyle Temporarily
Try living a more stripped-down, minimalist lifestyle for a month or two. Limit eating out at excellent restaurants, attending concerts and movies, getting drinks at bars, booking vacations, and other non-essential expenses. Pack lunches instead of eating out, host friends for cheap gatherings at home, and look for free local events for entertainment.
Not only will this slash your discretionary spending, but it will also reset your lifestyle expectations.
6. Find Free Local Activities to Replace Shopping
Exploring free activities and events within your community is a fun way to spend time without spending money. Look up free days at museums, festivals in the park, public lectures at the library, gallery openings, and other wallet-friendly entertainment.
7. Clean and Organize Your Home
Use a free weekend to fully clean and organize your house or apartment. Go through all your closets, shelves, drawers, basements, and storage to take stock of what you own.
This process will uncover long-forgotten items and show you don’t need to buy duplicates. Seeing all your current possessions in one space will make you think twice before purchasing more clutter.
8. Sell Unused Items for Extra Cash
As part of your organization blitz, set aside any household items, clothes, electronics, books, toys, and other goods you no longer use. Sell these items on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, consignment shops, or apps like OfferUp and Poshmark. Put that extra money you earn towards paying down debt or boosting savings.
9. Unsubscribe from All Promotional Emails
Retailers bombard us with promotional emails highlighting sales, coupons, and special offers to entice spending. Unsubscribe from all brand emails and retail newsletters you get. You can also install the free Unroll Me app to handle unsubscribing efficiently.
10. Use Browser Ad Blockers
Install browser extensions like Adblock Plus that eliminate those pesky sidebar and banner ads when online shopping. Remove clickbait-style ads stretching across web pages. Ad blockers significantly reduce distractions begging for your attention (and money).
11. Save Items in the Cart or Wish List Before Buying
When you find yourself about to buy something online, save it in your cart or create an online wish list instead. Leave those desired items there for a few days before making the final purchase. This creates some distance from the initial excitement of discovering something you want.
12. Avoid Stores Around Vulnerable Times
Note the times of day or week when you often cave into impulsive spending – maybe weekday evenings or aimless weekend afternoons. Build your schedule around avoiding stores and malls during those high-danger hours.
13. Remind Yourself of Financial Goals
Keep a blatant reminder of your critical financial goals, whether paying off student loans, getting out of credit card debt, saving for a down payment, or building that retirement nest egg.
14. Automate Savings Transfers
One of the most effective ways to curb impulse spending is to make sure excess money never hits your checking account in the first place. Set up automatic transfers from each paycheck into savings and investment accounts.
15. Carry a Stop Spending Reminder
Place visual reminders in places you’ll encounter when tempted to spend – your wallet, car, purse, fridge. This might be an encouraging note, a picture of savings goals, a shopping ban motto, etc.
16. Call a Friend to Talk You Down
Keep trusted friend’s phone numbers handy. Reach out to talk through the urge before you spend money. They can offer an outside perspective to fight that internal battle between desire and logic.
17. Keep an Impulse Spending Journal
One way to increase awareness of problematic patterns is to keep an impulse spending journal. Document every time you almost give in to an irresistible purchase. Tracking when, where, and why you’re tempted provides valuable self-insight.
18. Use Budget Tracking Tools
Apps and websites like Mint, You Need A Budget, Personal Capital, and PocketGuard are invaluable for tracking all your spending in one place. You’ll be more thoughtful about new purchases when you can visually spot where every dollar goes each month.
19. Pay with Debit Instead of Credit
Studies show people are willing to spend up to 100% more using credit instead of cash or debit. If you struggle with impulse spending, try sticking to debit cards only so purchases immediately come from your checking account.
How Impulse Spending Sabotaged Maria’s Finances
Maria is a 29-year-old social media manager who loves buying trendy clothes, getting weekly manicures, eating out, and attending concerts. While making a decent salary, Maria struggles to save anything monthly. Her credit card debt is piling from all those impromptu Uber Eats orders and impulse buys.
Maria decided she needed to get her spending under control. She implemented the following strategies:
- Made a list of all her triggers: stress, loneliness, boredom on weekends
- Deleted online shopping apps and unsubscribed from promotional emails
- Limited eating out to once a week
- Found free concerts and events to fill her calendar
- Instituted a $300 monthly cash budget
- Cleaned out her overstuffed closet and listed unused clothes online
- Put an inspirational savings quote in her wallet
- Setup automatic retirement account transfers the day after payday
The first month of using these tactics was tough. But soon Maria broke the impulse spending cycle. After six months, Maria paid off one credit card entirely and upped her retirement contributions. She finally has hope of reaching her financial goals.
With discipline and commitment, anyone can retrain to avoid impulse spending and live a more frugal lifestyle. Saving money is often more of a mindset shift than anything else. Follow even a handful of the above strategies to become a more intentional, deliberate spender.