pro life problems
Tips to Control Impulse Spending (especially if you grew up poor) • r/personalfinance
Someone over on LPT asked for tips on controlling impulse spending, since they grew up without money and now have a lot of it. I thought I'd...

Originally written because it feels like most advice pieces for people who impulse spend were written by people who’ve never felt those impulses and grew up pretty comfortably, to boot.

Someone over on LPT asked for tips on controlling impulse spending, since they grew up without money and now have a lot of it. I thought I’d compile and share my tips. If these or tips like these have been posted before (and I just missed it when I searched for them), please let me know, and I’ll delete this post.

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to be universal or all-encompassing, they’re just suggestions that people can try and see if it works for them. These were written with a disadvantaged background in mind, and are based off my own experiences.)

  • Firstly, as soon as you get paid, pay off your bills (and/or set aside money for bills), and then immediately move some money into a savings account where it is, at the very least, a little difficult to access. This already limits the amount of money you have sitting in your checking account or wherever that’s easily accessible to you, and also makes sure impulse spending doesn’t start to impede on your financial obligations and important expenditures. Think of it as preventative/preemptive damage control.
  • If you’re going shopping (i.e. grocery shopping) and keep wanting things you don’t need, put it in the cart and keep going. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of the trip in the store thinking about it and convincing yourself you want it/need it. But putting it into your cart and “planning on”/expecting to buy it means you’ll sort of stop thinking about it and can just keep going through your list. Just before you go up to the cashier, go through your cart. Most likely, you’ll already start to feel those shades of “buyer’s remorse”, or at least realize how stupid or unnecessary the product is (now that you’ve psychologically spent some time “away” from it), and you’ll put it back. This only works if it’s a lot easier for you to make yourself put things back than stop yourself from picking it up in the first place.
  • For return-able things, just go ahead and buy it, hold onto the receipt, and set an alarm for a day or two before the return period expires. If you haven’t used it by then, return it. (Again, by then you’ll probably already be feeling buyer’s remorse, anyway). Sometimes, it helps to wrap it in a bag and staple/tape that bag shut, and write that date on the bag. You’re a lot more likely to regret an impulse than to stop it in the first place - so work with that.
  • Get into the habit of making a list of what you need, and sticking to it…but if you find something you want, don’t tell yourself “no, I don’t need it” - just tell yourself, “I’ll come back and get it tomorrow”. Nine times out of ten, you won’t, but in that moment when you really want something, it’s easier to convince yourself to walk away when you “know” you’ll come back for it. But if you do come back, buy it, and hold onto the receipt. Either it turned you really did need it/wanted it (it happens!), or you can return it.
  • Intentionally give yourself some wiggle room to control it. i.e. “I can spend $10 on stupid shit I don’t need, but no more than that.” Allow yourself a few small impulse buys to stave off the bigger ones. Make this money easily accessible, i.e. cash in your pocket (as opposed to cards in your wallet). If you are going to impulse buy something, better a cheap candy bar than an expensive appliance.
  • Corollary: sometimes, set out to treat yourself. Growing up poor, you get used to holding onto or grabbing for everything, because there is just so little of it and you never knew when the next tiny windfall would come. You got used to denial, and now impulse buying is a sort of reaction to that. If you never treat yourself and continue to guilt yourself over the times you do, you’re basically just recreating that psychological environment of denial, and perpetuating the same cycle in a slightly different direction. Treat yourself every now and then to something stupid, in a way that’s built into your budget. i.e. I go buy myself a stupid, overly priced Fro-Yo whenever I get paid, or a Funko Pop, or a bag of candy, or a book. It took a while, but this eventually made me less hung up on my impulses in the first place, and in the long run reduced a lot of my impulse buying. I intentionally set out to buy something that would normally only be an impulse buy, so that over time, I’m less likely to feel impulses in the first place.
  • Finally, if you accidentally opened/used something once, waited too long, or are otherwise unable to return it, set it aside as a gift for someone (especially if it’s something you know you won’t use often or even ever again). And set it aside for someone specific. You’re less likely to use it if you already have a specific person who you know this item is now “for”, and some of the money you just “lost” on this stupid impulse buy, you can get back when you “save” money come birthday or holiday season and you already have a gift for this person (meaning you don’t have to go out and buy one). Even better, just gift-wrap it right away - you’re less likely to try and use it if you have to undo that work of wrapping it, and you’ll viscerally “feel” more like you’re taking away someone’s gift if you use that unnecessary item (so you’re less likely to try). Keep a roll of holiday-neutral giftwrap on hand just for impulse buys. (Disclaimer: only do this if it is actually nice enough to give as a gift.)
  • Bonus: counter-intuitive as it sounds, use a credit card to buy this shit, but again, set an alarm for the return date. If you don’t return it, go through the motions of transferring or paying off that purchase’s amount from your checking account to your credit card. You go through the process of paying, but you’re not getting the emotional pay-off of “getting” something new (since you already have that item). Do that enough times, and you may start to feel that impulse less in the first place, as you start to build up the association of dissatisfaction with impulse purchases.
Pro Tip

Be nice to cashiers. They’re working a minimum wage job and most likely don’t have answers to all of your dumb ass questions. Don’t make a joke about the chip cards. Don’t say anything about the chip cards actually. Smile and be polite because most likely they’ve been yelled at by multiple customers that day for something that they couldn’t help. Don’t be a douche in general. Just be nice to the poor smoll cashier who is trying to have small talk with you so the check out isn’t as awkward. We’re people and we’re squishy and sad when you treat us mean. Please think next time you buy something.