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I used to be the queen of impulse shopping. In college, my dorm room was filled from floor to ceiling in useless knickknacks and trinkets I bought on a whim. I was particularly fond of buying cheapo jewelry that would turn my fingers green—but for one brief moment, I felt like a princess. I probably bought something from Amazon at least once a week, if not more (curse you, Click-to-Ship!).
I realized I had a shopping problem.
While people might say there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself, I was hurting myself financially. I spent at least $1,000 in six months on stuff that I absolutely didn’t need. And that’s money that should have gone towards more important things, like a savings account or student loans.
Luckily, I’ve reformed my impulse shopping ways and have the frugal chops to show for it.
Here’s how I conquered my impulse shopping habit.
How to Stop Impulse Shopping
Impulse buys are made in the heat of the moment. They make absolutely zero sense. All I knew was that a necklace was shiny and new and it needed to be mine right now.
I created various barriers to convenience to kick this crazy shopping habit.
I removed all of my online payment information
My particular frugal sin was shopping online—and Amazon was my Kryptonite. I was a student at the time and qualified for cheap Amazon Prime, which meant I could get items delivered within just a few days. While it wasn’t as instantaneous as shopping in the store, I enjoyed the excitement of waiting for a package to arrive.
I realized I had to completely cut ties with online shopping to begin my frugal detox.
I canceled my Prime membership (with a healthy amount of internal screaming) and removed my saved payment information on all online shopping media. This included my credit card numbers and my shipping information. I even disabled the “Remember Me” function on my browser, so I would have to log in to Amazon each time I wanted to “harmlessly window shop.”
This was a super successful step that nipped my online shopping habit in the bud.
I’m so thankful I’m so damn lazy, or else this wouldn’t have worked.
I literally locked up my credit and debit card
I realized that my little plastic cards made it waaaay too easy to buy stuff. New pair of jeans? Swipe. Fancy wine? Swipe. Triple chocolate fudge cake? Don’t mind if I do—swipe.
I needed to make it more difficult to buy stuff. If I encountered barriers to an unnecessary purchase, I knew I would likely be lazy and give up, which meant saving money.
So I bought a fireproof safe, tossed in my debit and credit cards, and locked them up tight. I only took out my debit card once a month to withdraw cash for my envelope system, which I’ll explain next.
Not having any cards on hand was super annoying for the impulse shopper in me. But the barrier to funds made me realize the difference between necessary and unnecessary purchases.
I used Dave Ramsey’s envelope system
I’m not always the biggest fan of Dave Ramsey, but I do love his envelope system.
I would use my debit card once a month to withdraw enough cash for all of my expenses. I got enough to cover gas, groceries, and a small “fun” budget of $50. Everything else, like my rent, utilities, and car payment, was set on auto-pay through my bank account.
Having a cash-only envelope system reaaally teaches you about priorities.
I had $200 a month for groceries, and that was it. That meant no extra little goodies at the grocery store. I had to choose between the chocolate bar or the bag of rice. While I do think treats are good in moderation, this approach opened my eyes to the importance of prioritization at a time when I couldn’t distinguish between needs and wants.
The envelope system worked really well for me when I completely lacked self control. Eventually I did graduate away from it, once I learned how to use my cards more responsibly.
I never shopped alone
I tend to shop faster if I’m with someone else. If I’m by myself, I like to take my time and really start to think about treating myself. Not good!
So I started going shopping with my frugal buddy, Mr. Picky Pincher, while we were still dating. He was able to ground me and make me realize that those decorative doorknobs at Anthropologie, while stylish, were not a necessity.
I only bought what was on my shopping list
I am a dutiful convert to buying only what is on my shopping list. It probably drives Mr. Picky Pincher nuts.
I would think of the list as my gateway into being able to buy something. If it wasn’t on the list, there was an invisible force field that would shock my hand if I tried to grab those Hershey’s bars! That sounds totally dorky, but it was an approach that worked.
It also made me think ahead of time and do more thorough menu planning. I had a restricted cash-only budget and could buy only what was on my list, so I had to make every item count.
I learned to be mindful
This is the most important step to conquer impulse shopping.
Sure, you can do gimmicky things like freezing your credit card in ice (yup, people actually do this) or going to an envelope system. But these are just Band-Aids. They’re not remedying the source of the problem.
By shopping mindfully, I’ve been able to determine the value an item would have in my life in the long term.
Being mindful is all about questioning your purchases. Will I be glad I bought this in five years? In ten years will this cute scarf even be a blip on my happiness radar? Is it more worth it to have money in my account instead of more shoes in my closet? Will I regret this decision later?
If I’m not sure or if I decide I don’t need the item, I don’t buy it. I know I can always come back and buy it later if I change my mind.
But I never have.
The Bottom Line
My impulse shopping habit boiled down to a lack of self control and the inability to prioritize. Once I created physical barriers to impulse buys, I graduated on to practicing mindful shopping. These steps helped me get to where I am today, but I know change would never have happened without my attitude shift. By practicing mental toughness, I was able to hack through the jungle of spendy-ness into the promised land of frugality.
We want to know: What was your worst impulse purchase?