5 Fundamentals to Fight Impulse Spending


Managing impulse spending is 10% of what you do in the moment and 90% of what you do leading up to the moment. Impulse spending happens when you are ungrounded. To reduce vulnerability, you must be rooted to a strong foundation. A shopping spree can be triggered by feeling low, having a bad day, and looking for a pick-me-up. Or you became ungrounded after you began shopping; going to the store for one thing, getting swept away, leaving with six. For the first part of this series on reducing impulse spending, I will be go over five things to do to help prevent regretful purchases.

Make a Budget

A vital layer to your foundation is developing a clear budget and keeping it up to date. It becomes more difficult to justify a $50 splurge when you have intentionally budgeted $25 for that category. NerdWallet has put together a list of free budget spreadsheets and templates. Ashley Patrick over at Budgets Made Easy has done a stellar job putting together a budget planner to purchase and download. You can also checkout her podcast episode #45 “Tips to help with Impulsive Spending especially if you have ADD/ADHD” featuring yours truly.  For a more high tech solution, YNAB is a budgeting system designed to help you save money. [1]I don’t have any affiliation with YNAB. I have personally used it for years and value it as one of my key financial wellness tools.

Make a List 

There is nothing more intentional than keeping a detailed list of what you plan to purchase. Your list will include not only the items you need or want, but exact specifications. For example, when looking for a jacket for your niece’s birthday gift, you know that it needs to be teal or purple, with a hood, and fall within the $35 budget. Only get what is on the list. If you find something that was not planned for, go home and put it on the list for the next time. You might find you don’t even want the additional item(s) later on.

Preserve Your Willpower

How you approach your shopping excursion can set you up for success. Whether you plan to shop in the store or online, prepare for your day the night before. Pick out your clothes, plan your breakfast, and address anything else that requires decision making. You want to conserve as much of your decision making power on your shopping day as possible. Willpower becomes depleted each time you make a choice, so the less choices you have to make the better. [2]This concept comes from the research summarized in the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.

Timing is Everything

I also recommend shopping earlier in the day. You will have more willpower to resist that on sale, really cute (albeit too small), sweater when you haven’t already made a billion other choices. You will also want a cut-off time. The longer you spend shopping the more opportunity to impulsively spend. Plus, decision fatigue will start to set in the longer you shop. Once you start paying attention, you will become a better judge of how much time you need to achieve your shopping goals. Plan for not so much time that you face too many temptations and not so little time that you feel rushed.

There are a couple of secondary benefits that come from planning the day before and going early. Doesn’t it just feel nicer to start off the day with everything all set? Also, it makes everything less frenzied, unlike how my morning went the day I wrote this article, stomping around the house looking for my Houdini sunglasses. I swear they disappear and reappear of their own volition. Plus shopping earlier in the day typically means you can beat the crowds. This reduces distractions.

Mind Your Mood

Finally, if your mood is wonky, put off shopping for another day if you can. If feeling low, you might feel tempted to buy more than intended as a way to artificially uplift your spirits. If you have bipolar disorder and are experiencing an elevated mood, then are at risk of shopping with an unrestrained attitude, likely resulting in regretful purchases once you are back at baseline. In most cases you can wait until your mood is more conducive to an effective shopping experience.

Put it all to Work

There is a lot of work that goes into making mindful, effective purchases. Even doing one or a few of these things can have a positive impact. Think about why you would put in all the effort to change your spending habits. Especially think about how things will turn out in the future if you do not put in the work now.

The next post in this series will address the BIGGEST thing you can do to reduce impulse spending. Hold onto your (very thoughtfully planned for with great specificity, intentionally purchased) hats!


1 I don’t have any affiliation with YNAB. I have personally used it for years and value it as one of my key financial wellness tools.
2 This concept comes from the research summarized in the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.

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