Why Do We Impulse Spend?

Try these willpower hacks

Impulse Spending

We’re all feeling the pinch at this time of year, when the spending splurges of the holiday and sales periods come home to roost. Recent figures from the RSA show 26% of British workers feel that they are not earning enough to maintain a decent standard of living, and a big part of why even those with budgets feel they are spending too much each month is the menace of impulse spending.

Impulse purchases have a funny way of going under the radar. They don’t feature in your budget, and as soon as you’ve made them you try to forget about them. Yet in that moment, when that naughty item is calling out to you - whether it’s a pair of Louboutins in Selfridges or a chocolate bar by the supermarket check-out - it feels like the most important thing in the world.

Why does impulse shopping feel so good and how can we stop it?

A big part of its appeal is because it’s forbidden. Tell us we can’t have something and it becomes incredibly desirable. Another reason we fall for impulse buys is because of the way they are marketed at us. A big red banner across a web page saying “LAST CHANCE TO BUY!”, or the strategic positioning of an item by the check-out queue, when it’s almost too late to buy anything, are sure to have us reaching for our purse. We don’t want to miss out. We want to be part of the clever crowd who came away from the shop with something special.

So what’s a girl to do?

Remind yourself that by falling for a merchandiser’s tricks you’re not scoring a cool cut-price treat, but falling in to a trap laid by ruthless advertisers. You’ll soon see impulse buying as a fail rather than a win.

Another angle is to stop making treats forbidden in the first place, by tweaking your budget. If you know you’re going to do it anyway, factor in a monthly amount for impulse spending, even if you have to take it from the proverbial avocado toast. And who knows, once you’re allowed to spend it, you might even not want to.

You could also try following the 10/10 rule: if an item costs more than £10, spend 10 minutes thinking about it. If after that time you’re still not sure whether to buy it, put it back on the shelf.

There’s even some new software to help you here. It’s called Amazon Contemplate, and it forces you to wait 30 seconds before buying something you like the look of online. The scourge of one-click ordering need not trouble you any longer!

Opportunity cost is your friend

But perhaps the most effective hack works on a deeper psychological level, and it’s all about being aware of “opportunity cost”: what future benefits you might lose by spending something now. You have saving goals based on what’s going to make life relaxing and fun for you in the future. If you buy that pointless pair of pointy shoes right now, it’s going to impact or delay your future happiness. So when you say no to the shoes, don’t see it as a sacrifice. See it as a great opportunity to bring your goals close, quicker! It’s easier than you think to flick a switch in your brain from negative to positive if you really believe it’s for the best.

So next time you’re out shopping, or browsing online with a glass of wine in your hand, just be mindful of what’s really going on here, and what you really, really want.

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom & Lea Dubedout on Unsplash.