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How to Avoid Impulse Purchases

How to Avoid Impulse Purchases
Emily Greenhill Pierce
Emily Greenhill PierceUpdated May 30, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
We’ve all experienced the allure of impulse purchases — the sudden urge to buy something without giving it much thought. It’s easy (just tap your card or click “buy”) and it’s fun – at least in the moment. But too many mindless purchases can deplete your checking account and keep you from being able to do and buy the things you really want, whether it’s going on a great vacation, owning your own home, and/or being able to comfortably retire one day. Here’s a closer look at impulse buying, including what triggers it, what you’re most likely to buy impulsively, and how to gain better control of your spending and start growing your savings.

What Is an Impulse Buy?

By definition, impulse buying is the act of buying something that you had not planned to buy because you suddenly want it when you see it. Generally, impulse purchases are driven by emotions rather than rational decision-making. The trigger might be a sale or ad, for example. Or, maybe you saw the item in the store, on social media, or in the hands of a hip friend and now, all of a sudden, you really want to have it. Impulse buying is often situational and externally motivated.

Examples of Impulse Purchases

Impulse buying can vary widely — it can be as minor as grabbing a candy bar in the checkout line (that wasn’t on your grocery list) or as big as walking into the Apple store “to browse” and walking out with the latest iPhone. Here are some common scenarios where someone might purchase something they want but don’t need — and haven’t budgeted for.

Clothing and Shoes

When you see the latest fashion trends (especially if they’re on sale), it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and purchase items that might not align with your wardrobe or personal style — or clothing budget. Online and brick-and-mortar retailers often encourage impulse buys by highlighting accessories and other clothing items that “complete an outfit.” You needed pants, but somehow ended up with a matching top and “must-have” boots.

Snacks and Junk Food at the Checkout Counter

Those tempting chocolate bars or bags of chips conveniently placed near the register can trigger an impulsive craving.


You may think you need that 4pm coffee or energy drink, but chances are you could get by without it. Impulse beverages generally result in empty calories and a drain on your wallet.


It’s been a long day, and you had planned on making dinner but…With a tap of an app, you can have already prepared food brought to your door. It may be a little bit cheaper than going out to eat, but a regular habit of ordering in can be costly.

Home Decor Items

The desire to spruce up your living space can lead to impulsive buys like decorative items, furniture, or artwork, often without considering if they truly fit your aesthetic or needs. 

Electronics and Gadgets

The lure of the latest smartphone or gadget can be hard to resist, especially when you’re bombarded with advertisements showcasing their cutting-edge features.

Limited-Time Offers

Sales and promotions that create a sense of urgency can push people into making impulsive purchases, fearing they might miss out on a great deal.Recommended: 25 Ways to Save Money Fast 

What Causes Impulse Shopping?

Impulse spending is on the rise, as evidenced by some surprising impulse buying statistics revealed in a 2022 survey by Slickdeals: 
  • Three in four (73%) respondents said most of their purchases tend to be spontaneous — a significant increase from 59% who said this in Slickdeals’ 2021 study.
  • The average consumer spends $314 per month on impulse purchases, up from $276 in 2021 and $183 in 2020.
If people are aware they’re impulse buying, why do they do it? Here are some primary reasons.

The Appeal of the Deal

Impulse buying doesn’t always mean spending a week’s pay on a frivolous item. People also make unplanned purchases because they honestly think it will save them money in the long run. Sales promotions tend to increase sales because consumers are generally price conscious and enjoy getting a deal. But buying something you don’t need, or more of something than you actually need, really isn’t a deal.

Emotional Triggers

Many impulse purchases are driven by emotions. The momentary satisfaction we feel when we buy something can temporarily distract feelings of sadness, anger, or low-self esteem. Shopping can provide immediate gratification.Of course marketers know this and will often play on your emotions with their ads, hoping it’ll hit a nerve that triggers you to make a purchase.

Peer Influence

Seeing other people make purchases or receiving recommendations from friends or influencers can create a sense of social pressure (or FOMO), leading to impulsive buying to fit in or keep up with trends.

Retail Marketing Strategies

Clever marketing techniques — such as limited-time offers, strategically placed items, and persuasive advertising — can create a sense of urgency and/or entice customers to make impulsive purchases.Recommended: How Much Should You Be Saving a Month? 

Steps You Can Take to Limit Impulse Buys

If you often wonder where all the money in your checking account went at the end of the month, you’re likely making occasional — or frequent —  impulse purchases, rather than planning out your spending and making sure it aligns with your priorities. Here are some steps you can take to regain control of your spending habits.

1. Create a spending budget 

A great first step is to establish a monthly budget that outlines your necessary expenses and sets aside funds for savings. This will help you prioritize your spending and make conscious choices before making any purchase.There are numerous ways to set up a budget. One simple approach you might consider is the 50/20/30 budget, which dictates that 50% of your take-home income should go to your needs, 20% should go to savings, and 30% should go to your wants. 

2. Pay Yourself First

Consider setting up a recurring automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account for a set amount of money on the day your paycheck clears. This will leave you with less available cash in your checking account that you might be tempted to spend. After you pay yourself, you can then pay your bills. After that, you can spend the remaining money however you please.

3. Practice the 24-Hour Rule 

Consider implementing a rule where you wait for 24 hours before making any non-essential purchases. This waiting period allows you to evaluate whether the item is truly necessary and aligns with your long-term goals and values. Often, you'll find that the initial impulse fades away, and you can make a more rational decision.

4. Always Shop With a List 

Before heading to the store or browsing online, it’s a good idea to make a list of the specific items you need. As you shop, stick to your list and avoid deviating from it unless absolutely necessary. Making a list encourages you to be more thoughtful about your purchases and not buy items that fall outside of your main spending priorities. It also helps ensure you check and see what items you already have in your cupboard or closet before you begin shopping.

5. Unsubscribe from Retailer Emails

A good way to resist temptation is to keep it from landing in your inbox. Any time you receive a message about a new sale or promotion from a clothing store, ticket vendor, and other merchants, take a moment to “unsubscribe” to future emails from the sender. When possible, try to avoid signing up for promotional materials.

6. Use Cash or Set Spending Limits

Consider carrying and using cash for your day-to-day discretionary purchases. Seeing physical money leave your hand can make you more aware of your spending and less likely to make impulsive choices. Or, if you prefer using digital payment methods, set specific daily or weekly spending limits for yourself. This can help you stay within your budget and avoid overspending.

7. Seek Alternative Activities 

Instead of turning to shopping as a form of entertainment or stress relief, you might want to explore other activities that bring you joy or help you relax. This might include engaging in hobbies, spending time with friends or family, exercising, reading, or practicing mindfulness. Finding healthier outlets for your emotions can reduce the desire for impulsive buying.Recommended: What is the 52-Week Savings Challenge? 

The Takeaway

It’s fine to make an impulse purchase as an occasional treat. But when it becomes a habit, it can lead to unnecessary expenses, clutter, and financial stress. Creating a budget and bringing mindfulness to your shopping habits can help you spend less and siphon more money into savings each month.If you’re looking to get the best possible return on your savings, Lantern by SoFi can help. With our online banking marketplace, it’s easy to compare high-yield savings accounts based on annual percentage yield (APY), fees, and balance minimums.Lantern can help you compare online savings accounts and find today’s best rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes impulsive purchases?
Who are the most impulsive buyers?
What are three ways you can cut down on impulse purchases?
Photo credit: iStock/Csondy

About the Author

Emily Greenhill Pierce

Emily Greenhill Pierce

Emily Greenhill Pierce has been a writer in the areas of finance, lifestyle, travel, and health for over 15 years, contributing online content to Lantern, Google, and Frommer’s Travel Guides. She holds degrees from Emerson College and Fairleigh Dickinson University, including an MFA in Creative Writing for Young Adults and Children. She has authored two middle grade books.
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