Impulse buys – they are one of the amazingly tricky types of buying that exist for most people. It’s tricky because, as its name implies, these are emotional purchases. We see. We want. We buy. Even if it wasn’t on our shopping list. Even if we’re a money saving expert.
Okay, here’s a case in point: A few months ago my wife and I were at a furniture store looking for a picture frame. On our way up to the cash register, we spotted a little table that would fit perfectly underneath our wall-mounted television. Wow, how freaking cool – we didn’t even go to the store for this, but yet, here it is.
I guess it was “meant to be” and stuff…
Both my wife and I quickly discussed the purchase. We even picked the table up and looked at it from all angles to make sure it looked just right. Then, I put the table back down, glanced at my wife, and remarked: “This feels like an impulse buy“.
We checked out without the table.
Here’s another: A couple weeks ago we were at a grocery store and walked past a display of on-sale liquor – the one that caught our eye was a bottle of butterscotch flavored vodka priced at $7 bucks. Damn, good price. We quickly gave ourselves an excuse as to why we “needed” this item and proceeded to carry it around with us for about 20 seconds.
My wife then asks, “Wait, do we really need this?” The answer, of course, was no. We put it back. Honestly, I felt a little ashamed that we had even considered such a purchase. I mean, how could we? We are supposed to be better than this!
Impulse buys are tricky sons-of-bitches, aren’t they? They tug at our surface-level emotions with delicate cries of “you want me, so put me in your cart!”…”come on, you know you want to”.
Even my wife and I, who are Jedi masters of frugality (ha!) are susceptible to this phenomenon. Though we didn’t go through with making these purchases, we both mentally rationalized the purchase to ourselves. It’s only natural. After all, we are humans, not robots!
What is amazing to me is the fact that we successfully recognized these situations as impulse buys. Somehow, our conscious brains cut through the emotional drive provided by our subliminal wants and desires before making the purchase. Though I was ashamed we had even considered them, I was also a little impressed with our ability to recognize them for what they truly were. This isn’t always so easy, and in the past, I totally sucked at this process.
And let’s be honest, stores play into our very natural impulse buying tendencies. Product placement in most grocery and department stores is incredibly well-researched. Companies know where we are most likely to wander to first. Even our sense of smell comes into play. Ever wonder why bakeries are very often close to the front of grocery stores? Or why products that the company expects (and wants) you to buy tend to be around eye-level?
Related off-site post: 6 ways to save money on food without coupons.
How easy is it to recognize an impulse buy? Answer: It isn’t easy. It’s damn tough, but there are a few ways that can help us prevent impulse buys from happening.
How to prevent impulse buys
1. Understand that impulse buys happen to all of us – Rather than telling yourself that impulse buys never happen to you, understand that yes, they can and probably DO. If we try to convince ourselves that we never buy impulsively, then as if by magic, every purchase we make automatically becomes sound and reasonable…at least in our own heads. If we tell ourselves that we need an item, then mentally, we believe that we do. Resist the temptation to trick yourself into believing that you are somehow “above” impulse buys, because unfortunately, most of us are not.
2. Never shop without a shopping list – Lists help keep us focused on the items that we truly need. Make your list while outside of the store, preferably where you’ll use those items (like the kitchen for a grocery list). If an item is not on your list, then you shall not buy. The idea is simple: if an item fails to make it onto your list, then you probably don’t need it bad enough to make the purchase – at least yet.
3. Shop with a full stomach – Whenever possible, do not shop while you are hungry…especially for groceries. We are more likely to throw additional tasty food items into our carts when we feel hungry. Again, the emotional side of us takes over, hell-bent on satisfying our craving for food. Closely related, try not to shop when you are upset or angry, as our need to make ourselves feel better can prompt an additional purchase or two (or three).
4. You can look, but never touch! – The instant that we touch an item, we feel a connection with it. That connection instantly increases the likelihood that we will place that item in our cart rather than back on the shelf. Whenever possible, don’t touch items that are not on your shopping list. Resist!
Are there any techniques that you use to help prevent impulse buys in your life?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.