How to Stop Impulse Buying

Before you make your next impulse buy, you might ask yourself, “Will this make me feel better or will it make me feel worse?” Anytime we overspend, we succumb to a desire in the same way addicts do to their fix of choice. Bold statement, but not if you think deeply about the way your purchases make you feel. What was the last purchase you made that wasn’t a necessity? How did it make you feel to buy it?

Photo by paalia via Flickr

Sexy and confident in that new pair of shoes?

Sated for a moment by the Starbuck’s latte?

No one makes a purchase that isn’t a necessity unless it’s something that makes him or her feel a certain way. Problem is, the feeling never lasts. When you give into emotions around an object, you find yourself right back at the Nordstrom’s counter.

HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired

We can move past the feeling state to a state of action by stopping, taking a deep breath and taking a page from a twelve step program. In this 12 step programs, participants adhere to the acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired, whenever they feel an urge to use. Have you ever bought a new outfit after a bad day at the office with the hope that it might put you in a better mood? Try HALT before you even walk in the store.

If I feel the urge to buy something outside of my budget, the first thing I think is, “When was the last time I ate?” If you’re hungry, eat something. If you’re angry, let it out to a friend. If you’re lonely, reconnect with your people. Make a call. Or walk to your neighbor’s. Take a nap if you’re tired. If you address basic needs first, you will be less apt to “use” your wallet.

Whenever I’m invited to a party and I think I want a new outfit for it, I go through HALT. Sometimes it requires reaching out to a girlfriend for a chat, or laying down on the couch and reading my People magazine. Whatever it takes, I stop and take a breather until the desire passes. Slowing down and replenishing my actual desires usually satisfies the urge I had to feel great by buying a new outfit.

When you perceive life isn’t going your way, saving and sticking to a budget can seem like an oppression you just want to escape. But by noticing the desire behind your impulse, and putting it into action to meet actual your needs, you’ll feel less apt to buy things you don’t need or can’t afford. Coffee with a girlfriend or taking a luxurious midday power nap can make you feel more restored than a new dress ever could.

About the Author

By , on Jun 18, 2010
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (14 Comments)

  1. sandra says:

    Nice job, this is by far the best approach to deal with this problem. Some FBs say to stop impulse buying because it hurts the pocket period. But you definitely probed the reasons that lead to impulsive buys. I too am guilty of this but I generally just ignore it. Buying something to instantly rekindle my soul makes me too happy even if I regret it afterwards. Maybe all of us have this great feeling after buying. I too feel like I own the whole mall after leaving the store. From now on I’ll eat before work so that I won’t hit the diners and the vending machines and waste money when I’m hungry.

  2. Fredrick says:

    Entertainment purchases are the most expensive impulse buys, we actually convince ourselves we need something that we actually don’t.

  3. Sdgrrl says:

    I have spent the last 2 years critically ill, without expectation of survival. Luckily, I have bested my disease and come away with no endurance, lots of debt, and a feeling of wanting to celebrate being alive, then celebrate that my car got 20 mpg, then celebrate that the sun came out again today! Luckily I am frugal and nearly all of my shopping is done in Salvation Armies and Goodwill–so I don’t know what more I can do there. I am used to living on nearly nothing, but to tell the truth I kind of figured I wouldn’t need to deal with it, and that I had way more important things to do list copays and medications take the meager money I have left after mortgage, even though I just yesterday I got confirmation that my mortgage qualified for loan modification, which will help with debt repayment. I will need to research this debt consolodation business, as one called me yesterday and I need to be scammed financially about as well as I need Weight Watchers. Ideas, stories, alerts, warnings–give it all to me, I’m in action mode.

  4. Jerry says:

    Stress usually leads me to make stupid impulse purchases. My only insurance for not making these poor choices is staying healthy, happy and having a financial goal in place that I’m working towards.

  5. Neil says:

    Hi. This is great advice. Another thing to try is to sort through your possesions and find an impulse buy (or a few) that didn’t work out. When you next are struck by the feeling that you want to buy on impulse remember these past failures and how much they cost you!

  6. I am a big fan of HALT. Very well worded post!

  7. Kasey says:

    Thanks for sharing the HALT acronym! What a useful tool to help you think before you act.

    Another way to avoid swiping that credit card whenever you get the urge to spend is by using personal checks more often.

    I know! It probably sounds a little crazy because we’re all using personal checks less and less. But I think it’s one of those basics we need to get back to.

  8. Lauren says:

    My rule is to wait a week. I’ll forget about most of the items as soon as I leave the store (much like a goldfish).

  9. Many companies en cash a lot on Impulse spending. The only way to stop impulse buying is having a control over your emotions. Don’t get carried away seeing the lucrative packaging, sales promotion strategies or discounts. Wait and think whether you really need the product or not? If not then save your money for something better.

  10. Lisa says:

    Hi Joe…I remember those days. I too had 3 kids in diapers at one time. I remember when my mood was measured by the amount of uninterrupted sleep I was able to get. Finding other moms (through church, playgroups, etc)helped. We often swapped babysitting time so at least one of us could nap. And more kids around meant they entertained each other a bit. You’ll be happier if you build a social network for yourself and your family. One more thing…they actually will grow up. I know it seems right now like they will be little forever – but they won’t. All 3 are grown and on their own now – my first grandchild is due in September. This, too, shall pass. Have fun!

  11. Joe says:

    What if you’re tired all the time? I have 3 kids under age 4 with no family or friends close by to watch them. Maybe I could pay for a babysitter so I could take a nap or have time to think clearly about purchases.

  12. Mike Clover says:

    I tell you, if everyone could actually HALT, there would be less debt out there. When we fell bad we all need some type of therapy. I am guilty of this. It makes me feel good to buy clothes, shoes, or something new…… Naturally that feel good sensation fades away and the true reality sets in…… Did I really need those $100 dollar shoes, or that $100.00 LaCoste shirt? The little things we do for therapy… Great post… Mike Clover

  13. James says:

    the old frozen credit card trick. i agree it can be hard at times to HALT your spending but you have some great tips.

  14. KP says:

    When it comes to impulse purchases, I adopt the phrase “just pass it on by!” If I did not need it coming in, then I don’t need it leaving. Many people shop to fulfill a void, your HALT approach is a perfect solution to combating the urge to spend on impulse purchases. Thanks for sharing!

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