‘Impulse buying’ might sound like a great day at the mall, but for many it’s a real problem. Whether it’s the latest fashion, the newest tech, or the tastiest treats — high street and online impulse buying can stop us reaching financial goals and even push us into debt. Loqbox digs into what causes us to purchase things impulsively and how we can learn to stop.
What is impulse buying?
An impulse buy is a purchase that you make without planning. Like going to the shop for one thing, but coming home with six others. Most of us have experienced impulsive buying of some form or another in our lives.
Shops are often physically designed to get you to buy more. And when online, you’re in a constant landscape of click-bait and temptation.
So how can we recognise an impulse buy? Industrial Economist Hawkins Stern’s Impulse Buying Theory outlines four main types of impulse buying:
A pure impulse purchase is one that comes totally out of nowhere. You see something that you had absolutely no intention of buying and you just decide, there and then, to make the purchase.
This could be a novelty or an escapist purchase, like a chocolate bar at the counter, or a striking and shiny thing that you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it.
A reminder impulse is where you get a nudge that you probably need something at just the right time. This could be seasonal displays, like BBQs in the summer, or flowers for Mother’s Day.
Online impulse buying can be triggered by ads that specifically target you because you previously visited a website or social post selling an item.
Suggestion impulses are purchases that you make because you have been sold on the idea that you need it. You didn’t know you needed it until you saw it, heck maybe you didn’t know it existed until now. But now you have to have it!
Suggestion impulse buying is often for things you’ve not seen before, but that promise to solve a problem or desire that you are familiar with.
A planned impulse may seem counterintuitive. You might intend to buy something but change your spending pattern based on deals or offers.
Maybe you want to buy one thing, but it’s three for the price of two so you spend more than you set out to. You might even intend to buy an item but switch brands because of a better price.
What motivates impulse buying?
So, why do we buy things on impulse? Well, the answer to this will be different for everybody. The truth is there are lots of reasons why we might come home with more shopping bags than we expected. But here are some motivations you might recognise:
You’ve heard of the term ‘retail therapy’, right? While it’s often said as a joke, there’s a lot of truth to the idea. Buying things can give us a little boost of joy. If we’re having a bad day, or we’re stressed at work, shopping can actually relieve some of that anxiety.
Our emotions have a big impact on our shopping habits, and can even cause us to make bad decisions.
Our impulse to buy things can come from a desire to be like somebody (such as celebrities), or to keep up with the latest trends and fashions. This sort of impulse can be driven by a need to fit in or belong.
Impulse buying like this is rife on social media, where the distance between the thing you want and the purchase is just the press of a button.
Opportunity and ticking clocks
Sales are great for getting things at better prices, but they work for retailers as well. When you see something at a good price, that can be as good a reason to buy it as wondering whether you actually want it or not. Not only that, but deals and offers are usually temporary so now there’s the pressure of a ticking clock impacting your decision.
Shopping addiction is real. Whether it’s on the high street or online, shopping gives us little hits of happiness which can become extremely addictive. For many of us we can control the urges, even if we still get into problems with our spending, but for others shopping addiction can become a debilitating issue.
How to stop impulse buying?
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you may be wondering how to stop impulsive spending and channel that money into the goals you really want to achieve instead. Here are some hints and tips to help you not only avoid impulse buying, but hopefully even stop impulse buying:
Create a budget
Budgets are great tools for working out how much you can spend guilt-free by putting your income and expenses side by side. They’re also easier than you think. There are lots of different budgeting rules that you can use to portion out your income into sensible chunks. You can read about budgeting rules here.
For example, the 50/20/30 rule breaks your income into 50% for what you need (rent and bills), 20% for your savings and goals, and 30% to spend on yourself.
If you’re spending more than 30% of your income on impulse purchases, it might be time to start bringing those costs down.
Find your triggers
It’s important to be honest with yourself and try to identify when, and why, you end up making impulse buys. Track your spending — maybe it’s when you’re feeling anxious or low, or perhaps you buy things that you see on your social feed? We all have triggers so there’s no need to feel ashamed. But if you can recognise yours, you can work to avoid them.
Create positive goals
Try to replace your short-term impulses with long-term positive financial goals. Maybe your goal is to save up for a holiday or a deposit on a house? Make your goal your focus instead. Set out your plan for saving towards it and give yourself a reason not to make unnecessary purchases.
Don’t try and do this alone. Whether it’s a close friend or a professional, seek advice and support wherever you can. It’s too easy to lie to ourselves when it comes to whether we really need to make a purchase or not. We can tell ourselves it’s important. But an outside opinion is much harder to convince.
Question your purchases
Before you buy something, go through a mental checklist: why are you buying it? Do you really need it? Could you get a better price if you bought something else? Maybe wait a day, or a month, before buying it. Do you still want it then? Finally, work out how long it takes you to earn the money to buy it. Is it worth those hours or days or work?
Advertising is everywhere you look, especially online where you can even be targeted for things you’re likely to be interested in. It’s hard to avoid it. But you can do things like unsubscribing to mailing lists that send you deals and offers, or turning off notifications for apps that want to keep nudging you to buy things.
Leave your cards at home
It can be a bit scary, but if you’re not planning on buying anything when you leave the house, don’t take any means of spending with you. Either that or use cash (remember that?). That way you can budget your spending before you can be tempted. If you don’t want to leave your cards at home, you can set restrictions on them via your bank.
Plan your shopping
Planning your shopping trips is a good way to avoid impulse spending. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of going out for a few bits and coming home with a car-load. Plan in advance and only take enough money to cover your list. Alternatively you can shop online so you’re not tempted by retail tactics (although they’re online too of course).
A lot of impulse purchases are so small that we don’t know they’re having a negative impact until we look at them over a long period of time. Lots of us will grab a daily coffee, or spend more than we need on our lunches. You can combat this sort of impulse spending by making these little treats at home and taking them with us for the day.
Stop emotional shopping
As mentioned above, emotions can play a big part in our decision-making when we are shopping. If you have identified that you are likely to make purchases when you are sad, anxious, or even bored, you should try to find other ways of relieving those emotions. If you’re feeling your trigger emotion, take away your ability to spend.
Find a new high
Ultimately, if you think you have a problem with impulse buying, it’s likely you’re craving some sort of happiness boost. Shopping might give you that for a moment, but it isn’t long-lasting satisfaction.
Maybe try exercising, or taking up a new hobby. Try to find joy in something more wholesome and remember to be kind to yourself.