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Is Impulse Buying Setting Back Your Goals?

When it comes to finding extra money for saving in your budget, we’re often told to look at your regular spending patterns. You know the drill – cut out your Starbucks habit, bring your own lunch to work, take the bus.

But often it’s the irregular impulse buying that can wreak havoc on your budget. You may not be like the guy who impulsively blew $1,700 on a big screen TV when he was electronics shopping with his pal, but even all those insignificant purchases – that you probably don’t need, or even want – can add up, and blow your budget more than buying the occasional latte.

The Web of Temptation

I’m a craftsy type person and I regularly buy my supplies online. You’ve seen this before – if you purchase a certain dollar amount, the shipping is free. Shipping minimums get shoppers to add another item to their cart. So, I put another gadget in my cart thinking I’m saving money, and it ends up costing me more than what the shipping amount would be.

Online retailers know how to activate your impulses while online browsing.

Maybe you’ve seen:

  • Suggestions that will “complete the look.”
  • What shoppers who liked this item also purchased.
  • Limited quantities (or time). Act now to get $xxx off your purchase!

The Accidental Tourist

Who hasn’t come home with silly or useless novelty items to “remind” us of our great vacation? I remember my mother toting four sombreros onto the plane coming home from Mexico. She didn’t want them crushed in the overhead compartment, so she held them on her lap for the whole flight.

I used to live in Calgary, and one of the biggest wallet emptiers is the midway at the Calgary Stampede. You want to show off your prowess at throwing darts or tossing a ball – over and over again – and keep playing until you finally win that stuffed Olaf. Simply buying the toy for your child or sweetie would be a lot less costly (and less frustrating).

Related: 30 signs you grew up in a frugal family

The Stampede also has an exhibition hall that features all kinds of useless items and demonstrations such as the ones you see on TV. One time my mother-in-law and I stopped to watch a product demonstration for a “Sweepa”, a revolutionary new way to clean your floors.

The demonstration was amazing, and with two for the price of one we couldn’t resist so we lined up with our money in hand. Not only did we have to cart these brooms around the grounds for the rest of the day, at home we found they weren’t really that easy to manage. I gave mine to my husband for the garage and he threw it away when he thought I wasn’t looking.

“Where’s my Sweepa?” “What?”

Waiting for my plane, I encounter a saleswoman giving out soap samples. I have some time to kill so I wander through the store and buy a bath gift basket – at overinflated airport prices – and give it to my mother. A year or so later, she regifted it back to me.

What was I thinking?

We’ve all had these moments when we get our impulse purchase home and haven’t a clue as to why we wanted it so much – the higher end appliance or gadget that has sooo many more cool features (that we know we’ll never use), or the new sofa that’s too large for your room in a colour that doesn’t match your décor.

What about the beverage-dispensing hat, the $100 posture corrector, or the surfboard when you live on the prairies?

Take a look in your closets to see how many cute/funny/ugly/unique items you had to have and are now hidden away.

Final thoughts

Impulse buying can really undermine your monthly budget. Often these purchases are not in line with your goals and can set them way back.

Related: 35 ways to save money

Aimlessly browsing, whether online or in stores, with no specific purchase in mind can lead to costly impulse purchases that you don’t need – especially dangerous if you carry a balance on your credit card.

What’s your craziest impulse buy?

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5 Comments

  1. Gary @ Super Saving Tips on March 1, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    I am usually pretty careful when I make a large purchase, but the devil is in the details and as you said, the small impulse buys add up. I especially agree about tourist souvenirs (which also goes for event souvenirs as well). I have a number of nice mementos from trips I’ve taken that not only weren’t needed, but I didn’t have any space to display when I got them back home. A better plan would be to take a photo of the items (free to do!) and let that serve as the souvenir!

  2. Northmoon on March 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Agh, I just did this yesterday. Went to Sephora at lunch feeling stressed by work, decided I “needed” a new lipstick, no sales help, the one I usually wear was sold out, so I grabbed another type from the same brand in a colour that I thought looked good under the florescent lights. Got it home and it’s terrible! Dry matt texture, horrid orange colour, total waste of $30.

    Note to self – do not go in the mall when you are stressed out!

  3. Heather on March 3, 2016 at 2:43 am

    When it comes to souvenir shopping when on holiday, I have made it a tradition to buy something small that will remind me of the trip and can go on my Christmas tree. Beyond saving me having to lug around anything big in my backpack, it is easy enough to store away most of the year and brings back memories when we decorate the family Christmas tree.

  4. 12-Minute on March 3, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Interesting post!

    Eternal savers by nature, my wife and I still used to do impulse buying convinced we were saving a bunch. From time to time, useless stuff really got in our way…

    We now like to wait a couple weeks before buying anything significant. It gives us time to think about it and answer this simple question : do we really need it?

  5. Sharon Koenig on March 3, 2016 at 11:33 am

    This was something that I had to get under control in a BIG way when I recently became divorced. Everything changed and my impulse spending was an issue that had to address. I decided on a “spending fast”. Well that’s what I called it. I decided to go an entire month, yup an entire 30 days without buying anything outside of my food, utilities, gas and rent. It was a great start! The other factor to my impulse spending was my Amazon purchasing behavior. As you mention, shopping on the internet is a problem for a lot of people. Amazon makes it so easy too! A little too easy if you ask me. I think the bottom line is to be mindful but more importantly, it is to make a decision and commitment to making the financial goals and to stick to them!

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