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How I Stopped Impulse Buying

The Redemption Story of a Recreational Shopper

Want to stop impulse buying but don't know if it's even possible? Here's my story (and how I came out on the other side).

You know those people who live in tiny houses, eschew television, own five items of clothing and want for nothing but organic vegetables? I admire those people. Really. But I am not one of them.

In contrast, I’ve heard there are actually people who think buying something will make them happy? Ridiculous. How immature, right? Except, these are my people. And for a long time, this is exactly how I lived.

My Days of Impulse Buying

I knew buying a shirt would not improve my life. It wouldn’t take away the stress of childcare musical chairs or missed deadlines or what we would eat for dinner. I knew it, except—especially if it was a really pretty shirt—sometimes it did sort of help.

It was fleeting. It was expensive. And in the long run, it took me further away from my goals. But in that moment, in that glorious card-swiping, tissue-paper-rustling moment, I felt in control of my chaos.

I wish I could tell you a super dramatic tale of love and loss and victory over hard-fought double-digit credit card debt, but my story isn’t nearly that sexy.

It involves a lot of TJ Maxx and let’s face it, there is nothing sexy about TJ Maxx.

I rarely bought the thing I really wanted, because it was too expensive. But I made up for it. It turns out if you buy ten just-okay things at TJ Maxx or three things on the sale rack at J. Crew, you have still spent a lot of money on just-okay things and you're still left unsatisfied.

Even if it is a really good deal, if you don’t love it or it doesn’t fit quite right, it doesn’t matter how much money you “saved.”

(These truths all seem quite obvious, I’m sure, but apparently I’m a slow learner.)

In some ways, my habit was worse than the sky-high credit card bills, because I could justify it away. Most of my friends at the time carried some kind of credit card debt, making it easy for me to feel better about my own less-than-responsible habits, because I didn’t have debt! Look at me! I was practically waiting for a gold star.

But mine was a slow (financial) death.

Faced with a free Saturday, I was hard-pressed to come up with something to do beyond: go shopping. (Well, that’s not entirely true. I could have gone shopping with Rachael, gone shopping downtown, or gone shopping with my mom.)

I often wouldn’t even try anything on—I couldn’t be bothered. Choosing was very hard—so I wouldn’t—and instead, just buy both. You know, to keep it simple.

And I felt good. I was a strong, independent woman! I was making (and rapidly spending!) my own money! This was going to make me so cute! I was so happy!

But by the time I got to my car, the tiniest bit of guilt was already creeping in. Depending on traffic, by the time I got home I’d already be telling myself, I could always take it back, so it wasn’t a big deal.

But it was a big deal. I was trading long-term satisfaction and contentedness for what? A sale-rack steal? Another striped t-shirt? The perfect going-out shirt? (Ew. Why did we call it that? So embarrassing in retrospect.)

I will always love shopping and pretty clothes. But these days I have an entirely different approach.

Interested in learning more about how to save money? Check out our comprehensive guide.

Life After I Stopped Impulse Buying

I’ve learned that long-term goals are infinitely more satisfying than any knee-jerk spending reaction. Call me old-fashioned—or maybe just old—but nothing brings me greater joy than knowing I have money in the bank.

A lot of it has to do with priorities. What is actually important to you in a year, five years, or TWENTY years down the road. Being debt free? Financial security? A paid-off house? Paying for your kids' college? Living comfortably in retirement?

Don’t get me wrong, I still like to shop. But it is no longer a pastime. And when I do, I know exactly how that shopping fits with the rest of my priorities.

Watch as another self-proclaimed spender shows how to stop impulse shopping and cut down on spending.

I don’t remember exactly what changed or when. Somewhere along the line, I became aware of my habits. And I suppose I just grew up a little bit. Oh, yeah, and I started budgeting. I’ve tried to figure out the order, but maybe it isn’t important. What might be important for you are a few more tangible tidbits I picked up along the way. Here are six things that helped curb my impulse shopping.

Six Things I Did to Stop Impulse Buying

1. Have A Kid

I’m kind of joking, but not. Once I had kids, I no longer had free Saturdays or really much free time at all. Turns out if you don’t spend hours and hours in stores you will buy less and it's much easier to stop impulse shopping. (I know, I know, this is a really deep post.) And it works the same way with groceries. Shop less, stop impulse shopping, spend less. Magic.) It would probably be easier to take up running or photography, but having a kid will also help.

2. Block and Cancel Things That Sow Discontent

I used to get InStyle magazine. It’s beautiful but brainless, I’m not even sure there are articles, but I loved flipping through the pictures while I watched TV. But all it did was make me aware of more things I might want to have. I (mostly) don’t miss it. Even if you don’t get InStyle, I bet there are people/places/things that stoke your discontent (hello beautiful random Instagram influencer). Consider how much time and energy you spend in that place.

3. Make a Spending Plan

I know myself well enough to know that if I feel like I can’t buy anything, I will start to get twitchy and want to go crazy. So, I have a budget and I always set aside at least a little money for clothes every month. Having a plan for my money doesn’t mean I can’t buy clothes at all, it just gives me boundaries and helps me prioritize. I don’t buy as many things, but what I do buy, I love much more.

4. Buy the Thing You Really Want

Nowadays, I don’t just buy something because it is a “good deal,” I hold out for the thing I really want. It is usually more expensive, and maybe I have to wait a little bit longer, but it is so much more satisfying to have one thing you love than a whole bunch of meh.

5. Start a Side Hustle

I picked up freelance work to bring in extra income, and it all has a purpose. Usually it's something very critical like a yellow couch or Doc Martens for my three-year-old. This “extra” money goes toward things that are 100 percent extra, things that we might not prioritize if there were less dollars on the table. But I work hard for that extra money and the luxuries it allows for, and I enjoy them that much more because of it.

6. Shop With Purpose

Now, I rarely shop without intention. I don’t just shop for entertainment. I go because I need new running shoes or a dress for an event. This is an extra layer of boundary that, together with my budget, helps to keep me honest. I do not feel guilty when I shop, because it’s part of the master plan.

So, confession, I may or may not have plans to go shopping tomorrow with my mom. But I know I will come home guilt-free. Maybe with something for an upcoming trip, maybe not, but I know what I can spend, what I’ve been wanting, and how it all fits into my master plan.

I get to shop while getting ahead. I’m telling you people, this feeling might be even better than eating organic vegetables…

Want to stop impulse shopping and start spending more intentionally? Check out YNAB to gain total control of your money.

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How I Stopped Impulse Buying