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Stop Impulse Buying Ruining Your Financial Future

Mark Tyrrell
Article by Mark Tyrrell
Therapist trainer of 25 years
Co-founder of Hypnosis Downloads

5 ways to curb last-minute impulsive spending today

Lust! It was no less than that. That's how Liz described it: "Why did I do it?! How could I?" She'd impulsively spent the family 'food money' for the month on a non-refundable 'great value' dress. And this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Impulse buying, left unchecked, can ruin lives. Liz wept bitterly as she described the feelings of guilt - self-hate, even - after years of out-of-control spending ("Like a drug addict!"), the massive strain on her marriage, and final demands for payment of utility bills.

"It's as if I'm hypnotized, sucked into the moment. I just forget everything: the mortgage, my kids. All I see is what I want and it's as if getting it will make me happy! And it does...for a few moments."

Many people impulse buy sometimes, but if you often let fly with purse/wallet or card and later regret it, then these tips will help you.

1) Don't trust yourself to spend wisely

Impulse buying thrives on opportunity - don't give it a chance. At least not until you really start to control it. Only shop with a trusted friend you know will protect you from overspending. Tell them before you go out to take hold of your purse/wallet (if you have gone out with credit cards or too much cash) and not let you have more than a pre-designated amount. This may seem demeaning, but it is just practical. This needs to be done with someone you know well and can really trust. It gets you used to being around stores without spending much.

2) Even better: Leave the credit card at home - obviously

This sounds obvious but is so important. When you go to stores or put yourself in any position where you're likely to spend uncontrollably, only take enough cash with you for what you really need. And be honest with yourself about this. If you're meeting a friend in town, for example, just take enough for a coffee and bus ride. If you're going food shopping, just take enough cash to get the food you need. This will start to train your mind to shop in a more measured and planned way.

Better still, cut up all your credit cards, starting with the high interest ones.

3) See through the lies of the impulse to buy

Self-deception comes in many forms. This is a common one you may recognize:

"I'm so in debt anyway, I might as well buy this. What difference does it make now?"

These mental gymnastics help make it feel all right to blow more money you haven't got. It's akin to the dieter feeling: "I'm so fat, I might as well have this cake or bagel or biscuit." Beware of this trap. The rot has got to stop no matter how far it's spread.

Be honest with yourself about the reasons and excuses you make up to justify spending. Write them down. Then tear up the paper and disregard them.

'Reasons' like:

  • "What difference will it make now I've spent so much?"
  • "I deserve this because I've been good with my diet or kids." - Sinking deeper into debt is not a 'treat'.
  • "I deserve this because I've had an awful day. I need something to make me feel better."
  • "Everyone else is getting it and why shouldn't I?" - Because you have a problem with your overspending. If they do too, that's their problem.
  • "I'll buy this now but then save money by not getting something else later on!" - Really? Well, that's the way it seems right now.

Watch out for the lies you tell yourself and start challenging them.

4) Feel what you feel after spending... before you spend.

You'll have noticed that sense of delicious anticipation, the 'buzz', as you're about to spend. That feeling is a lie.

The reality, the really significant feeling, comes later. Regret, anxiety, "What have I done!" But when impulse buying has you in its grasp, only the present moment exists. Imagine if you really connected to the feelings of regret you feel later before you are tempted to buy.

Here's a neat psychological trick you can use to put yourself off purchasing:

  • Take a moment to close your eyes and really evoke that feeling when you're just about to buy something you really can't afford. Get the feeling of excitement just by remembering or imagining it. Do that for a few seconds, then open your eyes.
  • Now close them again and strongly remember or imagine the feelings of disappointment, upset, and anxiety that come some time after you've made a poor purchase, when realization dawns. Really build that feeling up for a minute or so.
  • Practice running the two feelings together - the initial (fake) excitement, followed by the regret and anxiety, and be sure to build that part up even more - because that's the reality.

If you do this regularly, you'll start to find that your mind will automatically begin to feel the reality of overspending before you're tempted to do it.

5) Remember: The best things in life are, in fact, free

No really, they are (1).

We all need satisfactions in life. Think about the feeling you've been chasing when you made impulse purchases. Because it's that fleeting feeling you've been paying for, more than the actual product itself. And that feeling doesn't last long, right?

Now let your mind find a time or situation where you'd get a similar feeling, but without spending money; perhaps having learned something new or mastered something or cultivated a new relationship. Fake gold exists, but so does real gold; for great life satisfactions you need to find the 'real gold'. Make a list of 'natural' (non-spending) ways to meet the need for good feelings.

Because as someone once said, "It's not your salary that will make you rich, but your spending habits."

If you want to stop impulse buying, you'll need to do things differently - and now.

Liz rediscovered new meaning in her life - lust above and beyond her previous one-track material focus. As she told me recently: "I still have moments of weakness, but now I'm the master of the option." And that's real power.


  1. Research carried out by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that experiences - not material possessions - make for more lasting happiness.
Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Personal Finance