5 questions to stop impulse spending and save money
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- Most shopping experiences are designed to make it easy to buy and keep you coming back.
- A financial planner suggests being more intentional about purchases and resisting impulse buying.
- Ask yourself questions like if you really need it or want it, if you already have it, and if you can afford it.
- Find a financial advisor near you with SmartAdvisor.
The average American spends an average of $155 a month on impulse purchases, which anyone who’s ever seen an Instagram ad clicked “buy” without hesitation will believe.
As a financial planner, I believe impulse buying leads directly to overspending. Unfortunately, most shopping experiences are designed to trick you into overspending or coming back for more.
If you’re struggling to overspend, I recommend asking yourself five questions before you click “buy” or swipe your card at checkout. These questions have helped me nearly eliminate impulse buying and keep my budget on track.
1. Do I really need it or want it?
Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious – if you’re on a tight budget and deciding if you should buy a $350 vintage Monopoly set, the answer is probably, “I don’t need it.”
However, deciding whether something is a need or a want is not always black or white. Some things that may seem non-essential to some people, like a gym membership, others just can’t live without. It’s about weighing your current priorities against your long-term goals.
If I feel like I need an article, I usually write it. I’ll take a photo with my phone so I can check if it’s on my list when I go shopping. If I haven’t felt like I needed the item before, it’s probably not on my list and it’s a want, not a need.
2. Do I already own it?
There is a tendency to want to keep up with the Joneses or own the latest and greatest items. This is especially aggravated by social media – seeing your friend’s new car or a splashy vacation can make you feel like you’re missing out, prompting you to buy things you may not need or need. already own.
Whenever I consider buying something, I always wonder if I already own the item. If I own it and it is in working order, I will skip the new item. If something I own breaks, I’ll usually throw it out there and put it on my list, so I’ll remember to buy it the next time I go out.
3. Do the benefits outweigh the cost?
Just because something is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better quality. In fact, many expensive brands simply charge more for a product of similar quality through branding or packaging. Studies show that we tend to value big-ticket items over their cheaper counterparts, which is known as the “marketing placebo effect”.
That’s not to say that some things aren’t worth the money. For example, I will always splurge on a high quality mattress. But if you are planning to buy something, think about some of the benefits this item will bring you. If you don’t think these benefits will outweigh the cost, it’s not worth it.
4. Can I buy it used (or cheaper)?
I furnished my entire apartment with used furniture and saved thousands of dollars.
Although it takes a little extra effort, shopping around can save you a lot of money instead of buying the first thing you see. Check marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for used items and major retailers like Amazon to get an idea of the cost of the item. If you want to make small purchases while saving money, consider websites like Etsy that allow you to compare items from independent sellers.
Also, the time you spend searching for a better deal can help you figure out whether you actually need the item or not. I’m a big fan of sleeping on a buying decision (if you can) before buying. Most of the time, you will forget what you even consider buying in the morning.
5. Can I really afford it?
There is a difference between being able to pay for something and actually being able to afford it. Credit cards and financing options such as Buy Now, Pay Later make it possible to buy something and pay for it later. However, if you don’t have the money to cover your debts, you could find yourself paying late fees and interest, which can quickly get you into debt.
The last question I always ask myself is if I can actually afford the item, which means I can comfortably pay for it without having problems with my budget or my bills later. Even if you have enough money in your account to buy something directly, that doesn’t mean you have to make the purchase.
The point of asking yourself these questions before making a purchase is to be more intentional with your spending. Taking the time to see if this purchase is the right one for you can often eliminate impulsiveness – I can’t tell you how many unnecessary purchases I’ve avoided this way.