How quickly can you spot an impulse buy?

31 thoughts on “How quickly can you spot an impulse buy?”

  1. Impulse purchases are tricky! I try to shop as little possible. This actually arose out of having children, which makes shopping more of a hassle at times, and I’d rather take them to playground, anyway. But when I started optimizing my shopping–taking a really thorough list to the grocery store once a week, stocking up on household items at discount stores or Amazon Subscribe & Save–I decreased my impulse purchases significantly.

    For non-food items, I also try to imagine what it would look like in my home or my closet. I suppose that would’ve been dangerous for your table example, but mostly it just illustrates to me that I don’t need the item, I already have enough, and it might crowd my space or not complement what I already have.

    1. Shopping as little as possible is an excellent tactic to prevent impulse buys because it keeps you out of the buying environment to begin with. I like your tactic of envisioning where that item would sit before making a purchase. It truly does help make us realize that, probably more times than not, you’re spending good money for something to just sit there the majority of the time.

    2. I lived in a 20 x 20 foot studio apartment for ten years. After I had it fully furnished (it didn’t hold a lot), I would still see things that I liked. But buying something new required me to get rid of something I already had and that put a big brake on new purchases. Small living spaces make frugal-ites of us all πŸ˜€

  2. My wife and I use the magic phrase “If you don’t know, don’t buy” when we go shopping. As you say, oftentimes impulse buys are emotional wants that don’t get full consideration. Our magic phrase puts the purchase to the test – do we really KNOW we want this? If not – it goes back on the shelf. It has saved us thousands of dollars over the years (including buying a speedboat once!)

    1. Excellent, MrFireStation! It takes us a few seconds sometimes to realize what we’re doing, but I think we do implicitly ask ourselves this question as well. That’s probably what prompted us to put those items back on the shelf rather than in our carts.

      And wow…a speedboat. You dodged a huge, expensive bullet with that one. If you had bought that thing, you might not actually be retired today. Imagine that! πŸ™‚

  3. Immediately recording my spending helps so much. Even the thought of having to type it in really gives me pause. We’ve lived in our house for over two years, and we still only have a coffee table in our living room. My mom and one of my friends are always asking when we are going to get end tables, and I think the answer is never. They’re just clutter keepers. Between tracking my spending and thinking “how often will I use this in a month?”, my spending on things is virtually zero each month. Number 4 made me smile: my babysitter used to tell me “look with your eyes, not with your hands”. It was a way to prevent us from breaking things at the store, but it serves me well in life now, too!

    1. Hah, I like it! The responsibility of recording those purchases can definitely provide the negative reinforcement necessary to prevent the purchase. Good technique!

  4. We found that we tended to spend more when we shop at Target, so now we limit our trips there to no more than once a month. Also, we use lists when we go anywhere, and now even if we go to Target, which has fallen by the wayside since it got out of our routine, we stick to the list period.

    Talk about a way to kill a grocery budget, shop hungry. Maybe that’s why our November budget was so high, too many hungry grocery shopping trips. πŸ™‚ That stuff adds up quickly though. We also found sending only one person to grocery shop helps cut down non-list items being added to the cart.

  5. I agree that lists are the key to cutting back on impulse buys. The hardest items to resist are the cheapest — way too easy to buy something (and justify it) when it’s a dollar or less!

    1. The hardest items to resist are the cheapest – yup! It’s the “deal” mentality that catches our eyes. I can’t afford NOT to buy that item, it’s so cheap! πŸ™‚

      1. As I get older, I feel better about quoting my mother :). She said “a bargain isn’t a bargain if you don’t need it”.

  6. Impulse buys are incredibly tough!! I can even recount times we’ve gone to the grocery store, I snatched up an item and put it in our cart, and then it took me over an hour to realize “Wait…we don’t need this!” At that point you’re already on the other side of the store, which is tricky – I don’t like being one of those people that restocks an item in the totally incorrect place lol. One major prevention method is that I don’t shop on pay days. In the past, pay day was a major day to go shopping with friends, or by myself. Even though my willpower has changed, I still somewhat make that connection “Huge deposit, let’s go shopping” which typically was just impulse buys! Getting rid of that mentality and recognizing that a large deposit is just the normal ebb & flow helps me avoid impulse buys.

    1. It’s funny that you mention not liking to re-stock an item in the incorrect place, because back when I worked at Safeway as a high school kid, we always had the job of putting those items back in the correct place every night. By the end of each day, there were CARTS full of items that people lazily put back anywhere to avoid walking. πŸ™‚

      Good idea about not shopping on payday. I like it!

  7. Definitely great points Steve, and a message that all of us need to hear. I recognized some of these points, but the two that stood out to me most that I really liked: “Try not to shop when you’re upset” and “Look, but don’t touch.” I had never really thought of those before, but they are very true!

  8. Something I consider to be in the impulse category is paying for a “better” version of a product on the spot. I remember a few years ago when I was at the Apple store buying an iPad, I let the sales rep convince me to buy the 64gb version instead of the 16gb that I went there intending to buy. The extra storage is nice but certainly not a must have.

    Now I make sure that I do my own research sufficiently before I go purchase a product. I find when people go into a store with open questions on what to buy, they can sometimes be convinced to spend more for features that are nice to have but they don’t really need.

    1. Good point, very true! Upgrading items to something more expensive on the spur of the moment can very much be impulsive, no doubt! It’s the “upset factor” that salespeople count on.

  9. Steve! So sorry it’s been such a long time. I have to say I’ve been off the grid lately – not because I’ve wanted to though. I love your stories on impulse buys. Thing is, it happens to all of us, all the time. The worst impulse buys are the smallest ones – the pack of gum here, the candy bar there, the $4 coffee on our way to the store… etc. And how about Target putting Starbucks in their stores now? If that doesn’t drum up a sweet impulse buy I don’t know what does! The one rule I know you and I have talked about before is “does it add to your quality of life”. My wife and I tend to use this approach as often as we can before buying something. So will that bottle of butterscotch vodka (which sounds disgusting by the way) add to my quality of life? If I can justify it doing that, then I’ll buy it. But most likely I’d wait and come back. I figure if I REALLY want something bad enough and it makes sense to buy it, I’m willing to drive back up to the store another day to get it. Hope all is well brother! I’m hoping to get back to reading some blogs again soon! Things have been crazy around the house just getting ready for the baby!

    1. Hey Chris! I bet things are pretty hectic for you guys out in your neck of the woods. Baby proofing a house is probably a full time job – sounds like an excellent first blog post for the new blog that I think you’re starting up. πŸ™‚

      It’s true…the smaller the impulse buy, the more insidious it is because we don’t notice those purchases nearly as much as the bigger ticket items. But it all adds up in the end, and that is something that I keep in mind as much as I can. It all adds up…

  10. That IS some serious Jedi action — nice job turning down the table and vodka. My big weakness is the grocery store, and not the chips or other junk, but veggies that look extra good, or some yummy new salsa, that kind of thing. Some of that I’m okay with, within reason, but I think being aware that Whole Foods is my *danger zone* helps me mentally steel myself before I go in. And for online purchases, we have a policy that things have to sit in our cart for a whole month. If we still need them after that, great, but usually we pitch that stuff out of the cart and wonder why we ever put it in to begin with.

    1. I have a little of that affliction as well. Truthfully, my vice is grilled cauliflower. I love the stuff. Add some lime juice and Adobo seasoning and I could eat that every day until the day that I die. Unfortunately, cauliflower is expensive…at least where we live.

      The month-long waiting period sounds pretty darn reasonable to me. Amazon might be the most dangerous thing of all. One-click buying…it’s the devil! πŸ™‚

  11. Shopping with food in my system is a huge boost. I try to make sure my husband’s not hungry either, because his ADD makes impulse buys a struggle as it is.

    We still tend to walk out with at least one item I didn’t go in for, but trust me, that’s a huge feat of self-control for him. And he’s not always the one adding something off-list to the cart. Sometimes progress isn’t perfect.

    1. There is no sense in shooting for perfection – it doesn’t exist. Slow steady progress is where real, long-lasting improvements are made as far as I’m concerned. πŸ™‚

  12. If I see something that is likely an impulse buy (something I wasn’t planning on buying), I take a picture of it with my cellphone. I tell myself that I can buy it if I want but I will have to wait 24 hours and then return to the store. I tell myself I can have whatever I want but I have to wait a day and return to the store if I feel so compelled. Funny thing is that I never feel compelled to come back. I still have the picture to remind me of it and I may go back a week or a month later after deciding to buy it. But the see-want-need cycle is broken and I don’t feel like I am depriving myself.

  13. I always add a sweet treat to my shopping cart at the grocery store. But since I’ve sworn off sugar for lent shopping has become so much easier. Having that hard rule in place – no processed sugar at all – means I don’t even look at the chocolate bars conveniently placed right beside the register. Totally agree on shopping with a list and I’d also add don’t take children or spouses with you. They always want something extra and I usually give in to avoid tantrums.

    1. Hi Emma! Yeah, I bet bringing your kids or spouse shopping with you can make things worse, especially if they tend to give in to their impulsive buying habits. Kids I understand that happening to, though. πŸ™‚

  14. I think it’s amazing that you picked up the bottle, CARRIED IT AROUND, and still realized it was an impulse… that’s amazing. I think sometimes we (personally) trick ourselves into thinking we’re “stocking up” when in fact it’s really an impulse buy.

    1. Yeah, we were a little bit surprised about that too. It’s tough enough not to pick things up, but it’s even tougher to put things back after you did! πŸ™‚

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