Curb impulse buying

When you enter a grocery store, the first department you smell is usually the bakery and its freshly baked bread or the deli with prepared meals. While waiting in line to buy groceries, you’re bombarded by items targeting impulse buyers — candy bars, magazines, toys and more. Retailers have put a great deal of thought into their marketing strategy that leads you to impulse buying.

How the store smells, the music that’s playing and the location of certain items all are no accident. They’re meant to tempt you.

“It takes some discipline to avoid impulse buying,” says David Aron, associate professor of marketing at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. “Remember, just because it’s there doesn’t mean you need to buy it.”

To avoid impulse buying and to make unplanned purchases a thing of the past, follow these tips from financial experts.

Shop with a list

Grocery list

To avoid impulse buying, make a list for all your shopping, whether it’s groceries, tools, clothes for adults or children, or gifts for the holidays, says Taffy Wagner, author of “Debt Dilemma” and “Discharged into Debt.”

“You should also write down which stores you plan to visit ahead of time so you don’t get distracted,” Wagner says.

Making a list gives you a game plan ahead of time so when you walk into a store, you won’t be swayed by the sales. You’ll stay focused and stick to your budget.

Practice saying ‘no’ to your children

Children in the supermarket

“It’s hard to say no to our children because we want to give them more than we had,” says Hillary Price, a Certified Financial Planner in Los Angeles.

But moms don’t always have the luxury of being able to leave their kids with dad or a sitter while they shop. If you take your children with you, you need to be able to say ‘no’ to their pleas of impulse buying.

Price says you can make taking the children shopping a fun experience: Let the kids help make the list at home, and let them find those items in the store.

Go with a full stomach


“If you shop on a full stomach, you’re more likely to look at food as a product to buy and less as something to eat right now,” says Aron. Your senses will be attacked by the sights and smells of what you want to eat. If your stomach is empty, you will be less rational in your decisions, Aron says.

When you’re hungry, you imagine yourself eating something, and you’re more likely to add unplanned buys to your cart, Aron says.

Impulse buying on an empty stomach often includes picking up whatever you can unwrap quickly and eat in the car — items that are often more expensive than something you can prepare at home.

Enter the store with a clear mind

Magnifying glass

“With a clear mind, you can shop intentionally,” says Cass Grange, a financial adviser at Lucien, Stirling & Gray Advisory Group in Austin, Texas.

Along with a clear mind, you should always be thinking about your long-term goals. When you’re saving for a vacation or something that really matters to you like retirement, keeping that in mind makes you less apt to take part in impulse buying, says Grange.

“Remember, a lot of what we buy doesn’t make us happy,” says Grange. “To avoid that, visualize what you’re going to do with what you buy — and if you don’t have a good plan for it, don’t buy it.”

Limit your shopping time


The less time you spend in a store, the less damage you’ll do with impulse buying, says Price. Get in and get out.

“You should enter the store with a purpose and leave after accomplishing that goal,” Price says.

With all the time in the world to just wander around, you’re always going to find something you want and buy it.

“We are pressured by society to have lots of things, and this has been going on for many years,” says Price. “People used to be buried with their best possessions and the more they had, the higher their status in society.”

Pay with cash

Cash in wallet

When you’re using cash, you have a running total of what you’re spending in real time. Credit cards give you permission to buy now and pay later. So impulse buying on a credit card actually costs you more in the long run, says Wagner.

“Cash makes shopping clean, and most of us make better choices when shopping with cash,” says Wagner.

Using debit cards is a good second choice, but be sure you are aware of what’s in the account and any fees or automatic deductions that may be coming out of your checking account so you don’t overspend, Wagner says.

Plan for small impulse buys

Little gift

Price says impulse buying easily compares to a fad diet. As soon as you start the diet, you desperately crave whatever you can’t have.

“You don’t want to starve and then binge, either with food or money, so set aside some money for small impulse buys,” says Price. “Then you don’t have to chastise yourself for it.”

Fit small impulse buys into your budget as a reward for something you’ve accomplished. But if you’re not wearing it or using it within a week, take it back, Price says.

Additional resources

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