How to Stop Impulse Buying
As fun and relaxing as Hollywood makes retail therapy look, the reality is not all that glamorous. A 2018 survey commissioned by discount shopping site Slickdeals found that Americans spend an average of $450 on impulse purchases per month—that adds up to $5,400 per year. The pandemic isn't helping either—Slickdeals' 2020 survey found that impulse spending increased 18 percent last year.
Impulse buying is mostly emotional, and usually the result of some form of emotional distress. This could be issues around self-esteem, anxiety, sadness, or even boredom. "Impulse buying gives us a little spike of dopamine, which is rewarding and motivating," says Alexandra Emery, licensed psychologist at Grit City Psychology in Seattle. Emery recommends checking in with yourself before making a spontaneous purchase to see if you're suppressing any negative emotions. Retail therapy might make you feel better in the moment, but the feeling can quickly wear off once you realize that you have gone over your budget. We tell ourselves that we deserve to buy something or that we've earned it, but make sure it's not self-care disguised as self-harm, says Marter. "It's not really self-care if they are accruing credit card debt, or putting themselves in financial stress by overspending."
And of course, unexpected cash (hi, stimulus checks) can increase those impulse purchases. People are "splurging a little bit more almost to overcompensate for the financial anxiety and conservatism of the past year," says Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix.
In a Finder.com survey on impulse buying, 44 percent of people reported feeling regretful after an impulse purchase. Here are ways to set up your lifestyle and budget to prevent impulse spending so you can build healthier money habits.
Above all, show yourself compassion—and know your worth. "We are not our bank account; we are not our debt," says Marter. "That's how we are, not who we are."
Although there is a lot of shame around overcoming impulse buying and building a healthier relationship with money, it's something many people deal with. With the right support system, information, and resources, you can create a lifestyle that helps you save for the important things—and still gives you room to have fun, too.