How to avoid impulse purchases without FOMO

November 09, 2021

By Claire Hegstrom

How to avoid impulse purchases without FOMO

In a clothing store, a mature man holds up a crème blazer, laying it over his chest. A woman he is shopping with tugs at the size of the blazer to measure the fit.

It’s estimated that the average person sees or hears between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. Sometimes you may be served an ad for a product you’ve only ever thought about. With marketing technology getting more and more sophisticated, consumers are being targeted more closely for purchases they’d actually consider making.

Social media heavily contributes to these eerily accurate ads. Your profiles make it even easier for marketers to assess algorithms for what you specifically care about to ensure you’re seeing ads relevant to your lifestyle. All these factors combined make it harder to steer clear of impulse buys. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you make thoughtful purchases, without the fear of missing out on the next great thing.

1. Commit to forgetting your debit or credit card number

One of the easiest ways to stop impulse buying is to make it more difficult to physically make the purchase. If you’re one of those people who has their debit or credit card number memorized, commit to forgetting it. Another idea would be to open a cashback credit card with a whole new number—uncommitted to memory—so that you can get rewarded for your purchases.

Think twice before you create an account and store your debit or credit card information at your favorite online retailers. Not only does creating an account increase the risk of fraud if the retailer suffers a security breach, it also cuts down on the time for you to stop and mentally process the purchase before hitting “checkout.”

2. Always shop with a list in hand

No matter what you’re shopping for, always have a plan in place. Did you know that grocery store layouts are designed to make you spend more money? Staple items like produce and dairy are located around the perimeter of the store so that you have to walk by endless aisles and endcaps designed to draw your eye in, before getting to the products you came for.

Once you venture into the aisles, the more affordable, store-brand items are often placed on the lower shelves, while the higher-priced, brand-named items are placed at eye level.

Here’s a trick that I personally live by: Throughout the week, I keep a running list in my phone of things I need to purchase at the grocery store. Then, before I’m about to head out, I organize the list in order of how I walk through the store (for example: produce items, dry goods, household necessities, dairy products). I avoid impulse spending by not allowing myself to walk through the other aisles, because I know I’ll inevitably throw something into the cart that I don’t need.

Speaking of carts, try shopping with the smaller cart next time you go to the store. A recent consumer report found that when a larger cart was used over a smaller one, shoppers spent 40% more—and not always on things they had planned to buy.

3. Give yourself 24 hours before making the purchase

So many factors contribute to impulse purchasing. From the mood you’re in when you’re shopping, to your hunger level, to the company with you, all these things impact your spending habits.

One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself is examine your spending habits and adjust accordingly. For example, I know that I’m a sucker for clicking on social media ads late at night, especially for clothing. If I come across something I want, I make myself wait until the following morning to decide if I really want what I saw two nights before while scrolling. Do I really need new winter boots, or was I just bored?

Giving yourself a 24-hour waiting period means you’ve had time to truly assess the purchase pros and cons, and also allows time for you to find a better deal on the item you’re looking at, and maybe even a coupon code!

4. Build fun money into your budget

Every great budget should cover three categories: Money you save, money you spend, and money you give. Having a clear idea of how much “fun money” you can spend every month will make financial goals like building an emergency fund and long-term goals like saving for a house achievable. 

Start by picking out a budget you can stick to. The zero-balance budget is a method of managing money where every single penny of your paycheck is accounted for. This is an easy budget for incorporating a set amount of discretionary spending every month. Another budget that may work well is the 50/30/20 budget, where “fun spending” makes up 30% of your after-tax income.

Building discretionary spending into your budget will allow you to feel like you’re still able to have fun and afford the things that make life enjoyable, while you continue working toward your savings goals.

5. Compare the purchase cost to labor

Every purchase comes at a price. Real labor and hard work results in each paycheck you earn. Have you ever considered how many hours of work it takes to pay for one impulse purchase?

For example, a designer pair of yoga pants usually runs for about $100. If you make $25 an hour, you are spending half a day’s salary on that one pair of pants. This tradeoff could be totally reasonable to you, but if it seems steep, try finding a more affordable knock-off of the pants so you can feel better about the purchase!

Thinking about each item in terms of time spent working can allow your brain space to really decide if the item is worth it, and applies a tangible value to an intangible method of payment like a debit or credit card.


Looking for more budgeting tips? Check out these other blog posts:

Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.

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