Shopping can feel really good; sometimes so good that you can’t stop. Dealing with big changes to our finances, like pay cuts or job loss, can also mean that we have to cut back on impulse buys to compensate.
There can be a lot of emotions wrapped up in how we spend money. “Sometimes why we feel anxious is how we’re going to solve (a problem), we think, ‘If I just had x, y, or z, I would feel much calmer,’” says Amanda Clayman, financial therapist and Prudential’s Financial Wellness Advocate.
She says that impulse buying is completely normal, but doesn’t always scratch the emotional itch for us. “We sometimes have a guilt hangover where buying the thing didn’t solve the problem,” she says, even if the amount of money spent isn’t a huge issue.
If you’re feeling swipe happy, here are a few easy ways to reel it in.
1. Try a cash diet.
If you’re having a hard time putting down the credit card, take it out of your wallet entirely and opt for a cash diet. You can only use cash during your diet and, psychologically, we have a different relationship with physical money than with a credit card.
“When you’re spending tangible cash, we can see it get depleted, Clayman says. "That gives us a feedback loop and makes us ask, 'Do I want this more than I don’t want my money to go away?'”
For your diet, make sure you track your spending carefully as you won’t have a statement to go over like you do with a card. If you hang onto your receipts, you can track everything at once too.
2. Take a spending pause before you purchase.
Before you make a purchase, give yourself 24 hours to think about it. We spend money for a lot of reasons and to make us feel certain ways. Taking a step back from the heat of the moment can help curb that impulse, and let you spend your money with greater intention.
Clayman says this helps us stay in the moment. “The more attention we pay to it the more we can actively problem solve,” she says. One example, she says, is “you have a legitimate need for school supplies, but now (you’re) looking at cute gold-toned desk organizers. That might be a good time to put the 24 hour pause on it, or just put down the phone.”
3. Consider your financial goals.
The thing about impulse buys is that they are, by nature, impulsive. When you keep your financial goals in mind, you are more likely to spend in alignment with those goals. Say you are saving money for your emergency fund, or to buy your dream house. If you’re about to hit “buy” on a $100 online shopping cart, think about what it would mean to channel some of that money to your other goals. By keeping your eye on the prize, you may be less tempted to spend on things outside of that target.
4. Think about the cost/benefit analysis.
When you’re trying to cut back on spending, think about what your purchase will mean in the long run before you make it. How often will you use the item? Is it high-quality and will it last a long time? Do you already own something similar? If you took out a calculator and divided the cost by the number of times you’ll use it, are you okay with that number? Considering your needs and really thinking about what is missing from your life can be a useful tool to avoid your spending.
These tactics are not meant to shame, they are meant to empower you to spend your money the way you want to. “Sometimes (impulse buying) is destructive, sometimes it's kind of a problem, sometimes it's not a problem at all,” Clayman says. “As we learn to be more aware, we learn to be more flexible, and get the results that we want for our money.”