Danger! Impulse Buys Ahead! 6 Ways To Avoid Impulse Purchases

Know what? I love to shop. I know, I run a personal finance and frugal living blog, but I seriously love to shop. I don’t allow myself to do so very often though. Why? Because if you are have a strict budget, you know that every single dime in it matters. Our budget has a little bit of wiggle room in it these days, but I recognize that that could easily change at anytime. Living this way isn’t always fun, but it does keep me from buying things that I don’t really and truly need. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that even people living on the tightest budget can make their dollar stretch a little further if they’re even the tiniest bit careful what they’re spending their money on.  You might not think so, but a single impulse purchase can destroy a family’s budget if it’s big enough. I’ve seen it happen, maybe it even has to you, but trust me when I say that it isn’t pretty to watch.


Are you spending too much each time  you go to the store? I know the culprit! Danger! There are impulse buys ahead!

Impulse buys are truly one of the biggest money sinkholes that you can find. Ever wonder why milk is at the back of the store? Always? Because they want you walking through the aisles to get it.  If you walk through the aisles, you’re more likely to spend more on things that you may not need.. Same thing with candy and toys at the register. That’s why you often hear people talk about how they go in for milk but come out with a cart full. These 6 steps to avoiding impulse purchases will not only help you keep them away, but they’ll help you keep more money in your wallet.

Always shop with your list in hand- When doing any kind of shopping, be sure you make a list before you head to the store. Walking into a store without a list is the same as just walking in and handing your paycheck over to the store and I don’t think any of us are game for that. Once you have you list made? Stick to it. If you see something that isn’t on your list, it’s okay to consider it. Just be sure that you really consider it and ask yourself if  you really need it, if you can really avoid buying it and is it a purchase that you’ll still be okay with the next morning. If you answer no to ANY of those questions, do not buy it.

Carry cash – Whether you are going grocery shopping, Christmas shopping or back to school shopping, you’ll avoid impulse buys better by only carrying cash. Plastic, whether debit or credit, is a very easy way to overspend since it requires very little thought before you swipe. When you carry cash, you’re forced to confront the fact that your money is limited and that if you over spend, you’ll pay for it later. You may pay by not having the money for a bill, by not having enough to buy groceries,  by having to cancel date night with the hubby or by even having to pay non-sufficient fund fees. The saying “cash is king” is true and only carrying it will enable you to save in ways you never dreamed.

Put your brain to work- We live in a world where everyone wants immediate gratification. They want what they want and they want it now and honestly that’s pretty easy to do. Even Amazon is beginning to offer deliveries in just an hour. While it’s awesome that we don’t have to wait long for the items we need, this can be the single biggest cause for someone busting their budget.  If you find something you want to buy and it’s not already budgeted for, spend a couple of days thinking about that purchase. Make sure to ask yourself a few of these questions:

  • Can I afford it? This does not mean “Do I have the money for it?” This means, can you AFFORD to lose the money? Is this purchase going to cause you budget issues later in the month?
  • Is this purchase useful to me or my family? If it’s not useful to anyone, why are you buying it?
  • Does this purchase require a monthly payment? If so, can I afford to make that payment? If the purchase requires a monthly payment, you need to ask yourself if there is room in your budget for it each month. Taking on a monthly payment that you can’t make each month will not only cost you in late fees, but it will also reek havoc on your credit.
  • Is it a want or a need? There is a distinct difference between a want and a need. Wants are what typically wreck a family’s financial state. Needs do not.

If you answer no to any of the questions above? Do not make this purchase. Fwiw, this is an area that I have a huge issue with, impulse buys.  The steps in this post, combined with keeping my savings in my Digit account have helped me to stop. My money is kept 2-3 days transfer away from my main checking account meaning that when I want to spend money from my savings, I have 2-3 days to really consider. That one fact is why I am not 100% broke, 100% all of the time. LOL.

Avoid Impulse Buys by Saving Money – I know…you’re sitting there, looking at your monitor going “really Stacy? REALLY?” Yes. Think about it. When our kids want something expensive what do we usually tell them? To save their allowance for it.  Well shouldn’t adults do that as well? More times than not the adult will swipe the credit card for an impulse buy. Next time you really want to make a large purchase? Keep the plastic put away.  Instead set up a savings for that item. By the time you save up you might realize you don’t want the item anymore and if you still do? Well you now have the money for it without taking from anywhere else in your budget.

Tip: No one says you have to use an actual savings account for this. Just a separate account. When I wanted to buy a new treadmill, I created a goal in my Simple checking account. Doing a goal, let me assign deposits to it and kept that money out of my “safe to spend” funds. 

Look at what you already own- Everyone goes through those times in life when you are feeling down and you just want to go buy something new. Maybe it’s your living room furniture, maybe it’s your car, maybe it’s as simple as a new pair of jeans.  Before you run out and spend money take a second look at what you already own.  Is there anyway you can re-do that item? Furniture can be re-upholstered as a weekend DIY project to look new! Your car can be tuned up, washed and cleaned well to make it run and look better! Those jeans? Cut them off, add some lace and make yourself a new skirt! Taking a second look can keep you from spending money that you don’t need to on an impulse purchase you’ll later regret.

Make It Yourself – Today, we have the capabilities to make a lot of things ourselves. DIY projects and homemade recipes and more all make it possible for us to make the things we love and want ourselves! Want a new outfit? Make it! Want a new purse? Make it! Craving pizza? Homemade pizza always tastes better! I guarantee that you’ll spend less money by making it yourself than if you went and bought new!


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Stacy Barr
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Stacy Barr

Stacy Barr is the face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family . By the age of 30, she had overcome an alcohol addiction, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Her book, also called Six Dollar Family, has sold more than 7,000 copies since its release.

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