Impulse buys are one of the top budget busters.
We have such a hard time saying no to ourselves in the moment, because — as we like to tell ourselves– we work hard and damnit we deserve it.
And I get it! You DO work hard! That’s why I want to to start reframing your mindset to this:
I work hard for my money. That’s why I don’t blow it on crap I don’t need.
When you truly honor your money and recognize how hard you work to earn it, you start to make decisions differently. I don’t expect you to be perfect, no one is. But can you do just a little bit better?
If so, this post is for you. After working with hundreds of people, I’ve learned a lot about weird little hacks or things we can do to keep us focused and on track with our finances by minimizing impulse buys.
Know the Opportunity Cost
If more people really understood opportunity costs, we’d all be more likely to be wealthy and living our dream lives. Opportunity costs aren’t something we think about every day, let alone before we make purchases. But if we did, we’d be in great shape! The concept is simple- for everything you say yes to you are saying no to something else.
Let’s break this down in a really easy to understand example. If you choose to take on a larger mortgage than you are likely not able to put as much money into savings, take a sweet vacay twice a year, or being able to channel your inner Joana Gaines and decorate your house. Pretty simple to understand, where it gets difficult is the small daily expenses that compound over time. For example, every time you go out to eat you might be saying no to investing more into your future. Sure it’s only $8 here and there, but $8, spent 5 days a week, over the course of 40 years , invested in index funds with a rate of return at 10% turns into $$612,524.27. We’re talking about a $160 per month contribution over the course of an average career span.
When you train your brain to see that it’s not just about the money spent today, it’s about the money you lose out on because you can’t invest it– you might change your mind about those last minute impulse buys.
24 hour think about it rule
Confession hour: During my early college days, I used to be a shopper. I loved going to the mall, browsing around, and spending money. I saw something, thought it looked cute, and walked to the register to purchase and go on my way. Guys, I didn’t even feel guilty about it either… until I looked at my bank account and saw that I had barely any money. I specifically remember blaming my utility bills for being too high, or complaining that my income wasn’t high enough. I did everything in my power to deflect responsibility and admit that the reason I had no money was because I spent money on stuff I didn’t need.
That’s where the “24 Hour Think About It Rule” came from. After seeing that I was spending money on things that I really didn’t need and wouldn’t impact my long term happiness, I promised myself that anything I didn’t truly need could not get purchased for at least 24 hours. So if I saw that cute sweater at Costco and it was only $35, I would have to go home, sleep on that decision, and if I still wanted it AND could afford it, I would buy it.
I still do this today.
We pay in time- not money.
This concept really hit home when I started thinking through my purchases. One of my job, I was making about $15 per hour. For simplicity, let’s assume that $15 was the net pay (take home). If I wanted to go out to eat and grab drinks with a girlfriend, that ultimately cost $30, I had to work 2 hours to pay for that one meal.
What if this was a $100 pair of jeans? Almost 7 HOURS of work to pay for that one pair. Had I actually ran the math, and realized how long I would have to work to pay for a pair of jeans- I might had done things different.
The key piece to remember here is we don’t pay for things in money, we pay in hours of our life.
Online grocery shopping
The best thing you can do to avoid impulse buys is stay away from the grocery store! I know I’m not alone when I go grocery shopping, get home and realize I bought 20 things. Only 3 of the 20 were actually on my grocery list.
What Tony and I have found works well for us, is online grocery shopping. We purchased an Instacart membership and we order grocery AND have them delivered to our door every Sunday from Costco. We both live incredibly busy lives so when we get a day off together, we really don’t want to spend 2-3 hours running around from grocery store to grocery store and fighting the crowds. So we do online shopping.
We also pick up a lot of smaller weekly staples (bread, creamer, produce) from Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer and both of which allow online ordering and then going to the store to pick up the items.
It has totally changed the way we view grocery shopping and has significantly reduced impulse buys because we aren’t tempted to browse the aisles and add more to our cart.
Unsubscribe from emails
I am a sucker for a great deal. Who isn’t? But instead of falling into the trap of simply spending money because you got an email and told you there is a “50% OFF TODAY ONLY!” sale taking place, don’t let yourself be tempted and just unsubscribe from all store/promotional emails.
You can manually unsubscribe from every email, or you can use my preferred method and use Unroll.me. Unroll Me allows you unsubscribe to hundreds of emails is just a couple minutes. It’s easy. It’s free and will save you big time if you spend money triggered by promotional emails.
Give yourself some fun money
No one is perfect and sometimes, you just want to spend a little extra without feeling guilty or overly restricted. That’s where a fun money fund comes into play. Give yourself a little wiggle room in your budget and allow yourself to have $50-$100 for Fun Money. This is for truly whatever the heck you choose to purchase that seems petty or just for fun. It works like a champ!
My suggestion: keep your Fun Money in cash and train yourself to ONLY spend that cash. When you’re out of Fun Money, you’re out.
Leave your cards at home
Plain and simple, you can’t spend if you don’t have your card on you. A lot of people get concerned about this and say things like, “but Whitney, I might need to fill up on gas or stop by the store for a couple things on my way home.” Valid. But with a bit of planning this absolutely works!
I personally, leave my card at home when I can feel myself being extra tempted to buy things I don’t need. I have found that when I bring my coffee with me, fill up my gas tank on weekends, and actively do my grocery shopping online, there really isn’t anything that I need on a normal basis.
Be disciplined and try this tip out. It is guaranteed to work!
Remove your card info from your computer
Online shopping is so easy! You go the website, browse around for a bit, click a couple buttons, and bam! You just made some impulse purchases. The whole goal of preventing or minimizing impulse buys is to put barriers in place between you and habits you don’t want. If you are an online shopper, the best thing you can do for yourself is removing your card from your computer.
A quick Google search will help you with this. Here’s the theory behind this: if you are browsing Amazon and see all the things you think you need you might add it to your cart, but if you have to manually pull your card out of your wallet and type in the numbers, you *might* not be as likely to purchase the items.
Make it a bit harder for yourself by removing the card info from your computer AND your phone.
Keep a running “Wants” list
I LOVE dreaming and writing down all the stuff I want. One of the sheets in my budget is a Wants tab. Anytime I find something from a podcast I listen to, or a YouTube video that mentioned some really sweet products, or even while browsing Insta and finding a new brand- I will hop over to my budget and jot down the item, the cost and the store name.
Then, I will occasionally review my list and purchase one of those items if I still want it and can afford it. I try to time my purchases and a reward for accomplishing a goal. For example, I’m working on a new course “Become A Financial Coach” and one of my rewards for finishing the course will be a extended weekend on the beach.
Recognize sales are not saving you money
It’s easy to feel like you just saved a bunch of money on a item that was on sale. I used to do this all the time! One of my friends loves thrift shopping. She came up to me one time and showed me all the amazing name-brand items she got at a consignment store and kept telling me how proud she was. ‘
“Whitney, these leggings typically cost $120 and I only paid $45.” You might have saved money on the purchase, but if you weren’t planning on buying the item, all you did was spend more money that you didn’t want to spend.
Just remember- spending money is NOT saving you money.
Watch your mood
Do you ever find yourself spending money when you are bored, sad, mad, happy, unconfident, etc? You’re not alone! We are all emotional spenders. The key is to become self-aware enough that you understand what emotions are your triggers.
I found that I was spending a ton of money on coffee every month. I would get to my college campus, have about 30 minutes in between classes and buy coffee. My trigger was boredom. I had some down time and instead of doing something productive like studying in those 30 minutes, I would fill time and buy coffee. I didn’t need coffee. But it was something to do.
Whenever I begin to feel insecure or unconfident, I find that I am much more likely to go shopping. That’s my time where I want to buy makeup or clothing that makes me look and feel like a million bucks. Once I learned that my insecurity was causing me to spend money, I was able to channel that into better habits- like hitting the gym or listening to inspirational podcasts of self-worth.
My two primary emotional spending triggers are: boredom and lack of confidence.
And once you know your emotional triggers, you can avoid impulse spending when you’re feeling those emotions.
Tape your budget to your debit card
I know I’ve spoken about this to the end of the world- but when I was paying off debt and I had to get my finances in order, I found that having my monthly budget taped to my debit card was just the reminder that I needed to stay on track. One time during tax season (I was a Staff Accountant) I was exhausted and burned out from working 7 days a week 80-100 hours without a day off in 3 months. You better believe that I felt entitled to buying my SF-Vanilla Soy Americano from Starbucks.
Some context here- I cut out ALL eating out and coffee and channeled that money towards my debt, so there wasn’t room for my $3 fancy drink.
When I got to my car, I opened my wallet and saw my budget taped to my debit card. It was a smack in the face reminder that I was working towards a bigger goal and I wasn’t the kind of person who didn’t commit to a goal fully. So I did the walk of shame back to my cube and drank the mediocre office coffee.
I didn’t care that taping my budget was lame or cheesy to others. I personally felt that having my debt around for 10+ years was even more lame.
If you would rather not tape your budget to your card, write your account balance on a sticky note and tape that to your card. Sometimes seeing that you don’t have money for impulse buys is all you need to get back in check.
Be careful about impulse yeses
Yes, I’ll meet you for happy hour. Or yes I’ll go shopping with you. Yes, I’ll host dinner at my house.
These are all common scenarios that tend to bite us in the behind. When we impulsively say yes without planning for the items in advance, you find yourself spending waaaaay more than you initially planned. It’s important to say yes to experiences, but not if they are sabotaging your financial life. Be selective about what you say yes to. Remember, like we discussed earlier, everything you say yes to means saying no to something else. If you planned correctly, you likely already have a small Fun Money account that allows you to say yes to the occasional last minute happy hour.
These tips have helped me and some of my 1:1 coaching clients get results with their financial life. Try one (or all) of these and let me know how it went.
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