Impulse buying: Are you guilty?

You know impulse buying can bust your budget, so why do you do it? Explore some of the common motivations behind splurging.

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We’ve all done it at least once: purchased something on the fly because it just looked so good in the store and we had to have it. Impulse buying doesn’t mean the end of your financial stability if you’ve only done it a few times, but making a habit of it is a problem.

In fact, buying without thinking can quickly lead to overspending and the subsequent feelings of guilt. But when you’re in the throes of an impulse-buying habit, realizing you have a problem can be difficult. So, as a public service, here’s a look at impulse buying and how to tell whether you’re guilty of doing it a bit too often:

What is Impulse Buying?

By definition, impulse buying is the act of purchasing something you weren’t planning to after feeling the sudden urge to get that item. You’ll feel the impulse side of things before you participate in the buying.

It’s the gut reaction you have when you walk past a cute pair of shoes on sale or see that T-shirt with your team logo in a store window. You didn’t know you needed it until you saw it.

Basically, in one instant, you’re ready to shove your money at the store just to gratify that impulse.

Whew! Sounds pretty impactful, no? It’s hard to ignore the feeling, but it’s doable.

Why We Impulse Buy

You may give into your desire for stuff for any number of reasons, and stores have gotten adept at weakening your resolve by targeting those reasons. Here’s why you may reach for your wallet when you didn’t mean to:

You Want to Save

Logically speaking, buying something on sale is a savvy move. Instead of paying full price, you’re only paying a fraction. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. For instance, you see your favorite store having a clothing sale. You think, “Well, I will need more work pants come fall, and my shirts are looking a little worn, so I should buy things now, while they’re on sale.”

This justification still, ultimately, leads you to spend money you didn’t budget for. Because you didn’t set aside an amount for new clothes, you don’t actually have the cash to spend. But your desire to save money made you overlook that detail.

You Want to Feel Good

Advertising is all about making you think your life would be better if only you had that product: You’d be happier if you ate at this restaurant, healthier if you went to this gym, better looking if you wore this brand. And the ads are good at what they do.

Often, the impulse to buy a product comes from wanting to make good on that ad’s promise. You want the life the product says you’ll have, and you want it now.

This is especially effective when you’re feeling a little down– retail therapy is a real thing, people.

You Like Shopping

Shopping is the accumulation of material goods that you gave money for, so it says you have disposable income. Many people derive pleasure from shopping, whether it makes them feel like they “made it” or they just like owning things.

If you love to shop, plan for your sprees so impulsive feelings don’t cause you to overspend.

Signs You’re a Chronic Impulse Buyer

You Feel the Urge
Whenever you’re at the store (whether it’s the grocery store, a clothing store, or otherwise), you see something you like and immediately feel the need to have it. Even if you don’t act on it, being prone to that impulse feeling can make you more likely to indulge.

You Overspend
If you look at your budget every month and gawk at the size of your credit card bill, you might be an impulse shopper– especially if your statement includes lots of fun, but largely unnecessary, purchases. Additionally, if you have credit card debt, this could indicate that you impulse shop too often.

You Feel Regret
Buyer’s remorse often follows impulse shopping, and it’s the feeling of regretting a purchase you made. That new pair of sunglasses looked so good at the store, but now that you’re wearing them at home, you wonder what you saw in the first place.

Stopping the Habit

If you recognized any of those signs in yourself, all hope is not lost! You can restructure your spending habits to prevent going over budget or carrying credit card debt – that’s the good news! The bad news is that it takes work. Here are some tips for managing your impulses:

Plan Fun Spending in Your Budget
If you have the money, put some of your income toward fun spending. That way, you can give in to some impulses without overspending. The amount you set aside should be determined after you’ve accounted for your fixed expenses, such as rent and other bills.

Compare Price With Value
When the impulse to buy hits you, take a second to consider the item after which you’re lusting. Check the price tag and ask whether the item and the happiness it will bring is worth the amount written. For instance, you look good in that dress, but is looking that good worth $150?

Additionally, compare the cost of the item with the time it would take to earn that money. Using the same dress, how many hours would you have to work to pay for it? Knowing that value comparison may make the dress less appealing. Is it really worth a full day of work?

Leave Your Credit Card at Home
Know you’ll be headed to the mall this weekend? Don’t bring your credit card with you. If you’re prone to impulse buying, get rid of the thing that enables you– in this case, the card. Then, you’ll just be left with cash and your debit card, which have limited funds. You can even just bring cash if you’re that concerned.

Don’t Shop When You’re Emotional
If you’ve had a bad day at work or heard some depressing news, stay away from the store, particularly if you use shopping to make you happy. You’ll be more likely to overspend in an emotional state. Not only will you want to feel happy, but you’ll be more likely to justify your purchase.

Ex., “I had a bad day, so I deserve this.” Find other outlets for when you’re feeling blue, like hanging out with friends or watching your favorite movie.

Impulse buying has the potential to land you a heap of credit card debt and remorse, but you can avoid getting into the habit. By understanding what you’re up against and using strategies to avoid impulses, you’ll get your budget in check.

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This article was written by from Forbes and was licensed as an article reprint. Article copyright July 7, 2015 by Forbes.
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