10 Simple Ways to Beat Impulse Buying

About once a month as a Friday “bonus” post, I’m featuring an original article written by one of my favorite bloggers. This guest article was written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

The enemy of frugality and simplicity and your monthly budget is the impulse buy.

We’ve all done it, of course, and it can be incredibly difficult to stop the urge to buy once it’s in us. There’s an incredibly cool gadget that we have to have, a great pair of shoes or jeans, a book or magazine or dessert that won’t cost much.

If you’re in the store, or at an online site, the forces of advertising and marketing are sometimes too powerful to overcome. And yet, they can be beat, with some simple strategies.

The trick, of course, is to think about it. It’s when the impulse urge is subconscious that it’s most dangerous. If you give it some thought, and realize that you have the urge, you can apply these strategies to beat it.

If impulse buying has been secretly undermining your monthly budget, here are 10 simple strategies for beating the urge. Choose the method that works best for you, or use them in combination.

Beating the Urge to Spend

1. Create a 30-day list

Make a new rule: you can’t buy anything (except necessities) until a 30-day waiting period has passed. Put a 30-day list on your refrigerator, and when you have the urge to buy something, put it on the list with today’s date. After a month has passed, you can buy the item. Many times the urge will have passed and you can just cross the item off the list. This works if you stick to your rule. The only exceptions would be groceries and other similar necessities.

2. Don’t go to the mall

You only get the urge to buy on impulse if you’re in a shopping area (or if you’re watching TV). So, prevent the urge from happening in the first place by not going shopping. Don’t go to the mall or Walmart or other shopping areas. Only go to a store if you have a specific necessity to purchase, and go with a list. Don’t buy anything not on that list. Now get out as soon as possible. Don’t just walk around window shopping for entertainment, or you will be sorely tempted. Find other ways to have fun.

3. Don’t go to online retail sites

Just as the mall will create the urge to buy, so will online sites such as Amazon. They make it too easy to buy something. Instead, stay away from these sites.

4. Monitor your urges

Make it a point to monitor your urges, if it’s a big problem. Keep a little piece of paper, and put a tally mark on it every time you get the urge. This helps you to become more conscious of the urge, which is usually something we don’t even notice. Different symptoms can appear, such as faster breathing or a faster heart rate, when we have the urge. By becoming more aware of the changes in our body, we can begin to get the urges under control.

5. Take a deep breath

When you do get the urge, there are ways to calm it down. Deep breathing, self massage, walking around, and drinking water can all help control the urge. Take 10 deep breaths, and the urge will often be diminished enough to resist.

6. Calculate the value in life energy

If you’ve been a reader of The Simple Dollar for long, you know about how to calculate your true hourly wage. Keep that number handy, and the next time you want to buy something, divide the price of the item by your true hourly wage … this will tell you how many hours of your life you had to give up to buy that item. Sometimes the number of hours can be eye-opening, especially for more expensive items. Consider whether you really want to give up that much of your life for that item.

7. Plan your purchases

Making a list before you go shopping is important. If you can make it a habit to stick to that list, you’ll eliminate a lot of little impulse buys. For other purchases, make it a habit to plan them, save for them, shop around, and even see if you can get it for free. Going through this process ensures that your purchases are more deliberate, and less on impulse. Plan ahead for birthday and Christmas gifts, and other large purchases that you know are coming up in the month ahead.

8. Freeze your credit card

If using your credit card is a problem, consider giving it up completely (I did). If that’s not a good option for you, try literally freezing your card. Put it in a Ziploc baggie with water, seal it good, and put it in the freezer. Don’t write the credit card number anywhere. Now, if you want to make a purchase with the card, you’ll have to unfreeze it. That little wait of a couple of hours can be enough to stop you from making many purchases.

9. Ask questions

Before you buy anything, ask yourself a series of questions. Is the purchase going to improve your life in some important way? Is the purchase supposed to make you feel better? Does it help you meet one of your life goals? Will it simplify your life? These are useful questions to help you evaluate the value of a purchase, and why you’re making it. Be honest with yourself — don’t try to sell yourself!

10. Keep the end in mind

It’s useful to have clear goals in mind at all times. What do you want to do with your life? Do you have financial goals that you’re trying to accomplish, in the long-term and medium-term? Keep your savings goals in mind, and know when you’re about to make a purchase how the purchase will affect your goals.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.