Written by 8:51 am Money & Lifestyle

6 easy ways to stop impulse buying and start saving

About 7 minutes to read

I suspect everyone understands that ‘payday feeling’. The rush of feeling rich. The buzz of having cash to spend. The relief of being out of your overdraft. 

It’s the most exciting day of the month for many, but impulsive payday spending is one of the biggest causes of financial regret. 

In fact, a whole 43% of disposable income is spent within 24 hours of payday. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Britons spend half of their income on payday, whilst 32% of shoppers double their spending. Payday splurges apparently leave 92% of Britons later regretting their impulse purchases, whilst 60% end up with less than £100 in the bank before their next payday. More than half also resort to dipping into savings to tide them through. 

Of course, money shouldn’t stop you from living your best life. I’m not here to tell you not to buy the latte or the posh yogurt or that fabulous jacket. If you feel in control and your finances aren’t keeping you up at night, then you do you. There’s nothing wrong with spending your money how you will and when you want. 

But with a recession on the horizon and the future still uncertain, many of us may be reconsidering our spending habits – especially in the run up to Christmas and the New Year. After all, even the most ardent shoptimists are changing their tune in the wake of lockdown. According to Raisin, 77% of people in the UK say their attitude towards saving has shifted, with a fifth contributing to a new emergency fund and a quarter finding their new savings habit to be rewarding.

If that sounds like you, then read on. 

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It’s not easy, but we can change our shopping habits, press pause on impulse purchases and take control of our spending. 

But doing so means breaking the cycle – and the only way to do that is first to recognise what counts as an impulse buy and what your triggers are. 

Because here’s the thing – just because you buy something seemingly on the ‘spur of the moment’, it doesn’t always mean it’s an impulse purchase. For example, say you buy a jumper on a shopping trip. You fell in love with it and just had to have it. It feels impulsive. But if you’ve known for a while that you wanted something cosy and new for the winter, perhaps even thought about your budget and looked at other options previously, then it may not actually meet the criteria of an impulse spend. You knew you were going to buy something, even if it wasn’t on that exact jumper. It’s just excitement and the shock of finding what you actually want that makes it feel impulsive.

On the other hand, if you’re out shopping for clothes but come home with a pile of books or a new set of mugs or some new gadgets then it may be a different story. Similarly, so many of our impulse buys are on small things: Percy Pigs at check out, a bottle of wine just as we’re passing through, a new set of earrings or a mini-makeup kit because they’re next to the till. Many of these strategically placed items are deliberately designed to encourage split-second shopping decisions and increase the value of our shopping baskets.

And the same goes for social media ads – how many times have you found a must-have-immediately item whilst flicking through your Instagram stories or discovered an unmissable deal between your aunt’s FB post on her new dog and your old schoolmate’s event invite? Or what about on Amazon with its suggestions based on what others have bought as well as your chosen items? 

The attention economy is built to trick us into split-second purchases. It wants us to spend more and often. And it works by tapping into the unconscious mind where, according to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our behaviours are decided, including our purchase decisions

We live in a world where it’s easier than ever to spend money and harder than ever to avoid temptation. And we may think that we’re logical creatures that explore our options and analyse our decisions before buying, but it’s not true. We’re emotional beings and so is our relationship with our money and spending. 

As Logan Chierotti, a startup and marketing expert, wrote in Inc, “Luxury goods target our feelings of self-worth, acceptance, and status in the world. Communication devices excite us by offering a connection to friends, family, and a broader network of people. Athletic brands inspire by offering adventure and glory through the act of competition. And many other products, such as perfume, cologne and lingerie, target emotions related to love, relationships, and sexual desires.” 

Selling is all about tapping into buyer emotions to drive subconscious behaviour. Stepping away therefore means that we need to be more conscious consumers and find ways to stop ourselves from just following our instincts. 

This year, we’ve written pretty extensively about mindful spending. We’ve looked at how certain practices like intention-setting and creating goals that match up to our core values can help create new narratives in our brains, giving us more control over our spending habits. But before getting to that point, we need to recognise the triggers – like those above – and ask ourselves questions like Why am I buying this? Will it make me happy? What else could I buy if not this? Do I need it?  

These aim to help us press pause and start changing our approach to spending, making sure that we always step back, reflect, and make a more conscious choice rather than an impulse buy.  

It’s all about breaking the cycle. Here are six exercises that may be able to help you get started: 

  1. Make payday your financial admin day. 

If you have a payday habit, then maybe it’s time to shake it up and turn payday into a financial admin day. Sounds fun right? Yeah, I know, it’s not thrilling. But personally, this is something I’ve found super useful for organising myself each month and making sure that I’m able to save as well as budget for things I enjoy.  

The first step is simple: make sure that everything essential is paid first or set aside for the month. This could include money for rent or a mortgage, bills, utilities and perhaps even a budget for groceries. I also put a certain percentage of my salary straight into my savings, pension and investments each month on payday. This means I’ve already taken out everything that’s not discretionary right from day one and leaves me the rest to play with. And that bit, I promise, actually is fun. 

  1. Schedule your splurges 

It might sound odd but given the payday vibes can make us feel a little more flush than perhaps we are, something that The Frugal Feminista recommends is to choose days to treat yourself that aren’t the day your bank account gets its biggest boost. Why? Because it separates the dopamine hit of payday from your urge to splurge, and therefore stops associating one with the other.

Instead, if you want to reward yourself for a job well done or buy yourself something nice after a tough week, then scheduling another day for your shopping (maybe the second Thursday or third Sunday) will mean you’ll have a more realistic picture of what you have to spend – and a less emotional one. 

  1. Take time to reflect 

Many of us are stuck in a consumerist cycle of earn more, buy more, want more, repeatBut we can break free by taking time to pause and reflect. 

An exercise that I find useful is to go through my bank statements looking at what I’ve bought that month – but instead of looking at the cost, I try to reflect on my purchases and how they’ve made me feel. I ask myself how it felt at the time and how it compares to now

I know – another thrilling thing to do with your time – but it works. Because yes, sometimes I’ll end up a little regretful – maybe I didn’t need to order three Deliveroos in one week. But more often, I feel pleased by my choices – because I do still love that jumper, or I enjoyed that book, or will definitely wear those new boots until they’re falling apart. It’s useful to take time to take stock and remind yourself of the things you’ve bought that have brought you some joy. 

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  1. Play the waiting game 

Another good exercise is to create a rule for yourself about pausing before you buy things over a certain amount, say £50 or £100. Promise yourself instead that you’ll give yourself time to think about it. This could range from an hour to a month. Like when you say “I’ll come back for this if I really want it” on a shopping trip or saving it for later on Amazon. 

Another way to do this is to work with lists. Lists are powerful things, making us more conscious consumers and pressing pause on a purchase. By making yourself write something down, you not only stop the impulse buy but also force yourself to take the time to think about whether you really need it and how it may compare to other things that you want. You can turn this into a priority list or categorise things by needs, wants, cost and so on. 

  1. The no-spend challenge 

If you’re really struggling to control your impulse spending, it might be time to go cold turkey and reset with a spend-nothing day, a spend-nothing week, or even longer. Some people have done spend-nothing years, like Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less. 

The aim of this is to force yourself to make budget and only spend exactly what you have to – ie. your groceries, rent, bills and so on. This could mean cutting back on everything: no shopping, no eating out, no online browsing and so on. It could mean choosing an area that you find particularly challenging and going from there: no shopping for two months or waiting at least a day before any purchases. 

No spend-days can be fun as well as challenging, encouraging you to think outside the box when it comes to certain experiences like socialising or going out. They also are very good at helping you to identify your spending triggers and start to change them. 

  1. Make a new habit 

Finally, according to habit and productivity experts, one of the best ways to break a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Every time you get the urge to buy something, take a moment instead to do something else: go make a coffee or spend five minutes doing some breathing exercise or walk around the block (some suggest star jumps, but I can’t think of anything worse). The point is a new habit doesn’t have to be anything big like running a marathon nor should it be punishing. Take up something fun and small and hopefully it’ll be something as easy to stick to as pressing click on Buy Now

Remember: no exercise should be about judgement or self-recrimination. 

What you want to do is a close and positive examination of behaviour that hopefully helps to frame a more mindful approach to spending in the future. 

Impulse buys are hard to stop in the moment. Sometimes you’ll just see that Crème Egg or that shiny new hardback and you’ll buy it. These things will happen. It’s human. The aim is not to judge yourself for failing. You simply want to recognise your behaviour so that it doesn’t become an issue that puts your financial health at risk. 

So be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit where credit is due: you’re aware of your habits and you’re taking action. That’s something to celebrate. 

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Last modified: 4 December 2020