How to Stop Impulse Spending

Smiling man lying on the couch and shopping online with credit card and laptop

An impulse purchase is spending you do suddenly and immediately when you weren't planning to. If you're struggling with impulse spending, you're not alone. Impulse buying isn't always a terrible thing—if you can afford it, and you really want it, it may cause you no harm at all.

But overspending on impulse can also wreak havoc on your finances. That's especially true if you're charging impulse buys to a credit card or eating into your savings. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to curb your urge to splurge. Here are seven ways to quit impulse spending.

1. Stick to a Budget

One of the best ways to stop making purchases you don't intend to is to commit to a budget. The key is to create a budget you can stick with and one that's realistic. Make sure you leave room for some indulgences to avoid the urge to splurge too often.

Build discretionary spending directly into your budget. That way, you'll know exactly how much you can spend on retail or food delivery each week or month. Then, when you're tempted to order in or buy something online, check your spending to see whether there's room left in the budget. If not, earmark the purchase you want to make for a later pay period.

To make it easy, consider using a budgeting app to create your spending plan and track your actual spending against your planned spending.

2. Commit to a Waiting Period

Impulse buys are a spur of the moment thing. You didn't plan to spend cash on tickets to a concert, new jeans or the like. But when you see something that triggers an emotional response in you, it can be very difficult to control your desire to just go ahead and buy it. Rather than trying to overcome your desire to spend through sheer willpower, you can implement a system for how you'll react when that desire hits.

Consider committing to a waiting period: a certain amount of time you'll wait between when you want to buy something and when you pull the plug. When the desire to buy hits, try jotting down the desired purchase. Then, commit to waiting three days or a week before you buy it. You'll often find that when the initial allure wears off, you're able to pass on that purchase after all.

3. Find No-Splurge Ways to Treat Yourself

The desire to treat yourself is natural and largely positive, especially when the demands of everyday life are stretching you thin. But if the things you buy to soothe, reward yourself or uplift your mood are burning a hole in your wallet, consider shifting your mindset toward free or cheap indulgences.

After all, it isn't the dollar value of the treat that counts, but the joy or comfort it brings. When you're young, the joy of going to the park or staying up late watching movies isn't diluted by the fact that the experience is free, for example.

In the same vein, you can treat yourself without breaking the bank. Here are some ideas:

  • Spend a morning binge-watching your favorite show in your pajamas.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and take it with you for a walk through nature.
  • Rent a movie and pop some popcorn—it's cheaper than hitting the theater.
  • Give yourself a spa pedicure using whatever you have around the house.
  • Take a trip to the library and check out a book that excites you.

4. Join an Accountability Group

A financial accountability group is a small in-person or online community of people working toward improving their finances together. Joining an accountability group gives you a place to share your goals and discuss your progress with others. That can provide a lot of encouragement, plus a sense of responsibility to follow through on your commitment.

You might find that social support motivates you to stick with your budget, and that having someone to talk to about both your budgeting successes and your impulse spending challenges can make beating the habit attainable.

5. Beware Emotional Spending

It's common to buy something you don't need when you're feeling overwhelmed by an emotion, good or bad. It's especially tricky to overcome the desire to spend when emotions are running high. But practicing mindfulness can help you avoid buying something you'll regret in the heat of the moment.

It may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid emotional spending is to simply ask yourself this question before you swipe: Do I really need this? That can help you wade through whatever you're feeling to view the purchase from an objective standpoint.

6. Set a Motivating Goal

One way to stop buying things you don't plan on buying is to set your sights on something you really want. For example, maybe you really want to go on a vacation overseas next year. Setting up a sinking fund with a monthly goal could help you work toward that goal, and cause you to think twice before buying something else. Every time you're about to impulse spend, you can picture yourself on that dream vacation and ask yourself, Will buying this help me get there?

Come up with a financial goal that you find personally motivating. Maybe you want to save for a down payment on a house, finally pay off all your debt, save for a wedding one day or buy a new car in a year. Whatever it is, write down the goal on paper and come up with a plan to get there. Then, visualize that goal when considering unplanned discretionary purchases. You can even give your sinking fund a related nickname in your banking app, such as "Europe Trip" or "Dream Wedding" to really drive home your desire to save.

7. Find Replacements for Your Urges

If you're prone to making impulse purchases in the same general category often, look for alternatives that fulfill the same desire. The key is to work with your urges, not against them.

For example, if fast food is your budget's nemesis, try keeping snacks in your car for the commute home and meal prepping to make feeding yourself on weeknights a breeze. If you struggle to say no to going out with friends, find cheaper ways to socialize—such as having people over for a potluck or heading to a park for a hangout session instead.

Don't Beat Yourself Up

Impulse spending plagues everyone, so don't be too hard on yourself. Dwelling on past mistakes will only increase your financial stress, which makes it more difficult to get back on track and make better financial choices. Of course, impulse spending can be really destructive to your budget and even lead to debt. Finding ways to curb your spending can help you build financial stability and feel in control of your money. That starts with unpacking the reasons you splurge, tracking your spending and sticking to a spending plan.