What is Impulse Buying? Why it Matters and (How to Stop It!)
We've all been there.
You see something in a store that you want, and get a momentary thrill as you consider buying it.
You can't wait to get home with your new item and try it out. You may even consider all of the positive changes it could make in your life.
But this is definitely not something you needed, or even something you intended to buy.
The impulse buy is a weakness that many succumb to. No matter how frugal you tend to be, sometimes it is difficult to resist making an impulse purchase.
Giving in to impulse buying is not only hard on your wallet in the short term, but the habit prevents you from developing good financial practices in the long term.
Becoming aware of your impulse buying tendencies and taking steps to learn how to address the problem will help you make better financial decisions. While this is not to say that you cannot treat yourself every once in a while, it is important to be mindful of your budget and your "needs" versus your "wants."
What is Impulse Buying?
Impulse buying started to garner the attention of researchers in the 1950s, and continues to be studied today.
While there are several types of impulse purchases, they all center around a consumer's exposure to stimuli in the store, and their train of thought while shopping. Someone may be experiencing certain emotions, such as happiness or stress, and then be motivated by marketing materials in a store to buy a product or service that caters to their current emotion. People do not often consider the consequences of their near-future purchases before making an impulse buy, and are typically prompted by an impulse to act.
This unplanned decision to purchase something is what is referred to as an impulse buy, and those who tend to make these types of decisions are referred to as "impulse buyers."
Influencers of Impulse Buying
The love of buying new things, or a shopping addiction
Many people experience a temporary high when they acquire something new, and feel excited as they are able to use their new item. People are fascinated with novelty, and experiencing new things can release dopamine in the brain, causing people to feel good.
Even the anticipation of buying something can make a person feel good. As you walk around the store feeling excited that you are about to buy something, you don't want that excitement to go away, so you end up purchasing the item whether you need it or not.
Fear of missing out (FOMO)
If everyone else is buying something that has just hit the shelves, you are likely to want to follow suit. People want to have similar positive experiences that their friends are having, which often leads them to make purchases that they would not otherwise make.
Additionally, if you find something in a store that you really like, you may feel motivated to look through every aisle of the store in case there is something else that interests you. You have a fear of missing out on the perfect item, so you continue to look around to make sure there is nothing else that you may absolutely need. This form of FOMO exposes you to products that you would not have otherwise walked by or looked at, and increases your chances of making a purchase on impulse.
You have biases
People want to learn and experience things for themselves. Sure, it might be interesting to hear about a friend's experience with the latest and greatest technology, but often people want to have that hands-on experience to learn what it is like.
The idea of vicarious ownership is another reason why people tend to buy on impulse. When someone becomes emotionally connected to a product, it changes the way they perceive that product in their mind. Their mind is likely to start acting like they already own the product, making it even more difficult to refrain from buying it.
You want to save money
You have probably found yourself in a situation where you see something in a store that is a great deal, but you don't necessarily need it. You feel like you could save some money in the long run by buying it to have on hand just in case, but the reality is that it will probably just sit around your house and gather dust.
For example, say you see a designer outfit that was once over $1,000, but is 75% off now, and it seems like a great deal. You try the outfit on and it is too small and you don't love the color, but it is such a great deal! If you buy this now, you have saved so much money from the original price!
However, this outfit will probably just sit in your closet when you get home and realize you don't even like it.
While you may be saving money when you buy a product that you need that is deeply discounted, you are just wasting money if you won't actually use the product or don't need it.
You want to feel good
Impulse buyers are typically always looking for something that will make them happy, and may buy things as a way to improve their mood. It is common to believe marketing tactics saying that a product will help you feel good or improve your life in some way. Of course, we all want to feel good, but take a minute to consider if you think this product is really able to do that job.
Everyone wants to experience pleasure, and shopping can be fun as you imagine owning the products in a store. Once that pleasure is experienced, people are more likely to buy the products they see so the feelings of pleasure continue.
Why Is Impulse Buying a Problem?
If you follow a budget like most people do, impulse buying will disrupt your budget and ruin any plans you have for saving money. Without proper planning for purchases, you are using money that you initially intended to spend somewhere else—and using it to buy something you don't necessarily need. This may leave you with little to no money to buy the things that you do need.
Furthermore, impulse buying prevents you from creating good and lasting financial habits. If you teach yourself how to save and be conservative with your money at a young age, those habits will carry on with you throughout life and allow you to save money for larger planned purchases.
Impulse buyers are not likely to consider the possible consequences of their spending. It feels better to them to get what they want now and worry about the details later.
How Can You Avoid Impulse Buying?
1. Create a 30-day waiting list for big purchases.
If you see something that you want to buy, write down the product and the name of the store, and stick it away somewhere in a drawer or in your car.
After one month if you are still thinking about the product and still feel like it would benefit you, go ahead and buy it. If you are no longer interested in the product in a month, consider yourself smart for holding back on the purchase because you didn't actually need the item.
2. Avoid going to shopping areas (except for necessities).
Don't use shopping as a pastime if you are bored or looking for a hobby. If you surround yourself with temptations of things that you may want to buy, you're likely to give into that urge and buy something you don't need. Instead, spend your time in places that you can enjoy, but that do not involve retail.
3. Find free ways to reward yourself.
Often, you may feel like you want to treat yourself for achieving a goal or accomplishing something great by buying yourself a present of some sort. Find other ways to reward yourself that don't cost money but are equally effective.
4. Avoid visiting online shopping websites.
Online shopping is dangerous because you are able to see one item after the next very quickly. Also, online retailers target their marketing towards products you have purchased in the past, hoping you will want to buy a similar product or the same product again. If you have something in mind that you need, go to the store and actually pick it up or try it on to make sure it is exactly what you are looking for.
5. Be mindful of your reaction to impulse buying.
When you have purchased things on impulse before, how did it make you feel? Did the item keep you happy for a long time, or was it a short-lived rush of happiness that maybe even resulted in some feelings of regret? Think about your reaction to impulse buying, both short term and long term, and consider if those feelings are worth the purchase.
6. Always have a list and a plan for your purchases.
If something is not on your predetermined list, do not buy it. It really is that simple. Create a strict list before you go shopping to only include the things that you need, and plan your route throughout the stores to get these items so you are not walking past other things that may be tempting but that you do not need.
7. Avoid using credit cards.
Using credit cards can be dangerous because you may develop an "I'll worry about it later" mindset. The problem is, when "later" comes, you will probably regret spending the money because you will then have to come up with the cash to pay off your purchase. This is likely to disrupt your budget.
8. Do your research before a purchase.
If you buy something that you like in the store, there is a good chance that it may not end up being exactly what you were looking for. Especially if you are making a big purchase, do your research first and try out products before you commit to the one that you want to buy. This will help prevent buyer's remorse or having to fight a store's return policy.
9. Remember your goals.
Whether your goals are financial or otherwise, keep them in mind before wasting money. Perhaps you are trying to save a certain amount of money to have in a savings account, or you want to plan a trip across the country but can't afford it. Think about these goals and remember that your small impulse purchases add up to a lot of money, and can prevent you from meeting your goals.
Feel the urge to buy something?
In conclusion, be conscious of how your body reacts when you feel the urge to buy something. Is there something else going on that doesn't really have to do with the possibility of owning this product that you can fix in some other way?
Being able to identify your motivations for impulse buying and determining if these motivators are affecting you can help you save money. Of course, everyone acts on impulse every now and then, and a modest level of buying things that you don't actually need can be innocuous.
Taking impulse buying to an extreme level may lead to financial debt and overall unhappiness. Because of this, it is best if you know the warning signs that your impulse buying may be affecting your life.
If you spend money without really thinking about why you are spending it, or even what you are purchasing, it may indicate that you have an impulse buying problem.
Similarly, if you find comfort in shopping, or find it very enjoyable to come home with bags of new things, you may be buying things for the wrong reason, such as a way to experience pleasure.
Ultimately, the best way to determine if you are buying something on impulse is to ask yourself if you planned to buy the item, or if you are making a last-minute decision.
If you are able to put the product back on the shelf without buying it, you are helping yourself by saving money and reducing the amount of junk that ends up in your house.
If you are able to turn down the idea of purchasing a product, you will likely be happier in the long run. Doing this will allow you to keep more of your money and become a smarter, more conscious consumer.
What is impulse buying?
Did you find this post useful? Do you have any good impulse buying stories? I would love to hear them in the comments below. We all have bought stuff we didn't need from time to time. Some of it can be quite amusing. please share your stories on impulse buying in the comments below.
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