Practical Ways to Curb Impulse Buying

Tired of overspending at the store? Check these tips.


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We’ve all done it: We go to the store for one or two inexpensive items and end up throwing a few extra things into the cart because they look appealing or seem to be offered at a great deal. These impulse buys can really drive up the amount you pay at checkout, and we often kick ourselves after spending money on them.

But before you start feeling guilty about making impulse purchases, know that you are not alone. There are scores of articles online offering advice to retailers on how to prompt consumers to make more impulse purchases. Everything from the color of the store’s walls to the music playing to the placement of the “quick pickup” items is carefully orchestrated by the retailer to entice you. In fact, the average American spends approximately $5,400 a year on impulse buys, according to CNBC.

You can, however, resist the urge to add unnecessary items to you cart. The first step is knowing what the stores are trying to tempt you with so you know what the impulse triggers are.

These Are the Most-Purchased Impulse Items

The most common impulse items vary from store to store – for instance, at a hardware store, it might be batteries hanging at the register that capture the attention of shoppers, whereas at a drug store it could be a discounted phone charger near the checkout that you can't resist. But overall, the most-purchased impulse items are as follows, according to radio station KWIQ:

  • Candy
  • Clothing
  • Food takeout
  • Coffee
  • Meals
  • Books
  • Beauty products
  • Shoes
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Socks and underwear

Now that you know which products the stores are angling for you to buy on a whim, you can prepare yourself to guard against temptation. Sometimes knowing what you’re up against is the best defense to making the mistake during your shopping trip.

How to Prevent Making Impulse Purchases

There are very few of us who are completely impervious to making impulse purchases – most of us will throw a pack of gum into the cart now and then. But to at least reduce the number of impulse buys, consider the following strategies.

Shop solo. Sometimes we can’t avoid taking our kids to the store with us, but when possible, it’s much easier to get in and out of the store quickly without grabbing impulse buys when shopping alone. If you do bring the kids along for your shopping excursion, make sure they’re aware of the fact that you’re only going to buy what’s on your list. To distract them from requesting impulse items, ask them to help you spot what’s on the list by telling them the exact things you’re there to buy. Tell the kids that you need assistance finding those things so the store trip is almost like a game of hide and seek from their perspective. This will help curb those impulse buys.

Swap out items in your cart. Every time you have an urge to pick up an item that isn’t on your list, make a deal with yourself that you can only buy it if you remove an on-list product from the cart. Once you realize you might have to sacrifice a necessary item for the impulse buy, it may not feel so appealing to buy it anymore. After all, most of us can’t forfeit something like toilet paper just so we can pick up a candy bar.

Know your triggers. No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “never shop on an empty stomach.” That’s true for many people, who will buy more when they’re hungry – but other people may have different triggers that drive them to make purchases. For instance, if you’re an emotional shopper, avoid the store completely if you’re feeling upset or angry. If you like to shop when you’ve got a lot of free time, then only visit the store when you’re on a time limit. By practicing these restraints, it's easy to curb impulse spending.

Shop with cash. In the decades before we could all pay with credit cards, debit cards and even via our phones, everyone shopped with cash only – and picking up an impulse purchase often meant that there wasn’t enough money to buy everything at checkout time. If you decide to go "old school" and you bring just enough cash to the store to cover the items on your list, you won’t spend more than you intended.