Tips to cut back on impulse buying as inflation soars

For this story about saving money, we’re not talking with a financial expert but a psychologist. Here’s why:
How to avoid impulse buying
Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 12:31 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – It’s something we’re all guilty of. Going to the store and filling our carts with more than we planned, or impulse buying.

A study found the average American spends $276 per month on impulse buys, but that research is from spring 2021, before inflation forced prices up on just about everything.

“Impulse buying is all about your psychology. It’s about your thoughts and your feelings,” said Dr. Josh Klapow, Psychologist, UAB.

He added, “This is all about you taking control of your emotions and your thoughts, which are natural, which are understandable, but can also get us into trouble, particularly right now when everything is more expensive.”

To limit impulse buying, Klapow said there are few things you need to do before you get to the store.

“The first is to have realistic expectations. What I mean by that is, a lot of times we go in, even though we understand intellectually that costs and prices are higher, it’s almost as if we believe that they won’t be. So, realistic expectations means before you walk in, telling yourself, things are going to be more expensive, I am going to have to spend more money for the same things, that’s really important because it level sets your brain so you’re not surprising yourself. That’s the first thing,” said Klapow. “The second thing is really making a distinction between what I need and what I want.”

Klapow suggests making a list with one column for needs and one column for wants.

“By having that [list] in front of you, it makes it much more difficult for your mind to play tricks on you and say, well I really need this, when in reality, you just want it.”

This list doesn’t have to be overly complicated, Klapow said, and can be started by taking an inventory of your fridge.

“[For example] Here are the things we know we need. We are all out of milk, we’ve got not more carrots and we have to get some cereal.”

Just as important as having a list is having a budget and sticking to it.

“So really being conscious of, I only have x amount of dollars to spend. The reason that’s important is even if you get into a situation where you get into, oh, I didn’t realize I needed this, you put yourself psychologically in a place where you may do more trade out. I need this, I don’t really need this, because it exceeds my budget.”

Other ways to prevent impulse buying include staying away from the store when you’re hungry, tired or pressed for time.

“Because those three things decrease your willpower. They make you in a state of hurriedness which increases the chance of impulse buying,” explains Klapow.

He added, “It’s OK to reward yourself so that shopping is not a terrible experience. If you’re sticking within your budget and if you’ve generally prioritized and generally purchased the things you need, splurge, its OK to splurge on a little something! Because what that does, it tells your brain that when I’m going to go and engage in this shopping experience, it’s not going to be torture. I’m going to get to get the fun stuff, but I’m going to be a little more careful, thoughtful and intentional versus going in there and haphazard getting things based on impulses.”

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