Killing the Impulse: Breaking the habit of impulse buying

Before discovering the art of being content and having enough, my life was wrought with the desire to purchase things I did not need, with money I did not have to impress people I did not like.

Impulse buying, retail therapy, the euphoric experience of clicking on check out, handing the cashier your credit card, watching the status of your package getting shipped, unwrapping the item once it arrives, trying it on, putting it to work, hanging it up, plugging it in, playing the game…all of these experiences bring about a different sense of satisfaction while lacking intentionality. 

The habit of impulse buying was very real in my own life, affecting me financially, emotionally and physically. Instead of addressing stressors, I pacified them with impulse buying. Like many others, I gave things authority over my life and allowed the false sense of security and urgency to permeate my soul in the form of clothing, power tools, comic books, music, books, cookware, yard tools, landscaping and the latest iPhone. 

The ephemeral experience left me empty, leaving me to deal with the mental clutter in the midst of the physical. Every item purchased was another load of dirt tossed over my back as the financial hole grew deeper, deeper and deeper. Granted I never had much in credit card debt, but money spent on the 85% of items I ended up tossing could have gone toward paying down our cars, student loans and our mortgage. Thus freeing us to do something more meaningful with our time and money. 

Knowing I needed to do more than simply toss things out, I set up financial rules for myself to prevent the return to bad habits. Adding several rules and limitations to how I made purchases assisted me in the process of relating to money differently.

  1. Budget: Every dollar has a place and my money goes where I tell it. This means that even money going toward a quick purchase at a coffee shop is placed in the budget. It is notable to mention that if Rebecca and I decide to make a purchase over $20 out of budget we speak with each other. This also works well with my $20/30 Days rule.
  2. Pay with cash: With the exception of most bills and paying at the pump, I use cash for virtually every purchase. Feeling the money I am spending and looking at it as I hand it over adds an additional layer of self accountability. Before making an online purchase I ask myself a simple question: “Would I drive to the store to purchase this?” If the answer is yes, I hop in the car, drive to the bank and deposit the money. Only then do I put the item in my online shopping cart and hit checkout.
  3. Shop with Lists: Before walking into a store or going to a website to shop, I write down what I am looking for. If I end up in the store and remember something I actually needed or wanted, I stick to my list and wait until the next trip. Granted, if I am at the store and realize I forgot to write down deodorant, I will spare the world of my body odor.
  4. Shop in Home: I was in a situation where I ended up getting rid of five large trash bags of clothing. This ranged from button-ups, dress pants, suits, shoes, graphic t-shirts, and plain t-shirts. One of the ways I could have prevented accumulating so many things was shopping in my home and truly evaluating if I needed something new, or if I could rewear/reuse something I already had.
  5. Shop in Pantry: The average American Household wastes 15-25% of the food they purchase. Before leaving to go to the store, I print off my standard shopping list and shop in our pantry. We waste too much money annually on food, and could do better if we meal plan by first checking on what we have in our stock. Here is an example of the grocery list I use.
  6. Envelope System: Each line in our budget that involves making purchases outside of donations, bills, gas, and pledges is taken out in cash each month and placed in an envelope and treated as a separate account.  The envelope system has provided us with the accountability necessary to spend and save deliberately.This simple system is broken up into several categories:
    • Rebecca allowance
    • Thomas allowance
    • Home Improvements
    • Home (Mostly candles, cleaning products etc.)
    • Furniture
    • Trips (Rebecca has an affinity for Disney)
    • Eating Out
    • Groceries
    • Pet care
    • Entertainment
    • Thomas clothing
    • Rebecca clothing
    • Personal care (shampoo, nails, haircuts, shaving cream, etc.)
    • Medical (copays, prescriptions etc.)

This is not a recipe that will work for everyone, and what works for me does not work for Rebecca (she thinks my “List rule” is dumb). These rules are simply ingredients for your own recipe to become debt free and learn how you can relate to money  more deliberately. 

Have any other tips or ideas? Send them my way or tweet them to me @thefletchsays. 


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