20 Ways to Reduce Impulse Purchases

Impulse purchases are a serious issue. We’ve all fallen subject to that tempting cold drink right before the checkout line, the email that says “free shipping,” or the dessert deal to go with our pizza. Impulse buying is a habit that causes us to spend money we don’t have by either busting the budget or going into debt. We have to stop giving into these temptations if we’re ever going to reach our financial goals. That means we must understand what an impulse purchase is, why we do it, and most of all the steps necessary to end it.

20 Ways to Reduce Impulse Purchases

What Are Impulse Purchases

We’ve all been there. You’re shopping about the store, picking up things you need, and suddenly a magnificent something catches your eye and you realize you need it. You throw it in the cart, swipe the card, and even feel a jolt of excitement for making the purchase. That’s the impulse buy high. The next day, or even later that night, when the excitement is gone, many of us feel buyer’s remorse which is that unsettling or ashamed feeling from purchasing something you shouldn’t have. The bigger the purchase, the greater the remorse.

By definition an impulse purchase is “the buying of goods or services without planning to do so in advance, as a result of a sudden whim or impulse .” It’s something that you never planned to purchase. It’s that thing that catches your eye and dazzles you. The gum, candy, and cooler of ice cold (over-priced) beverages at the grocery store checkout? Those are placed there intentionally because it catches your eye right as you’re about to checkout and you throw it in with everything else without giving it much thought.

To clarify, let’s continue with the grocery store example. You’re almost to the checkout line and realize you forgot to get milk, so you walk to the back of the store to get it. The milk is not an impulse purchase because this is something that you intended to purchase, you just forgot to put it on the list or to grab it. The milk is a normal item on your grocery list and you budget it for regularly. On the way back from the milk cooler, you catch a glimpse of some pre-packaged donuts with their glistening, shiny glaze on top. Your mouth starts to water and so you grab a package and try to decide if you’re going to snack tonight or save it for breakfast tomorrow. The donuts are an impulse purchase. They were not on your grocery list, you didn’t plan on including them in the budget, and when you entered the grocery store you had no intention of buying them. You purchased them on a whim.

Another great example that lures in so many of us is that darn free shipping scheme. You get an email that your favorite store is having a sale, so you add a few items to the cart. Then the screen flashes at you “You’re $5 away from Free Shipping!” So you spend another 20 minutes trying to find something else you might want to add to the cart so you can claim that free shipping and by the end of it you’ve bought another $20 top just so you could save $10 in shipping. On an impulse, you spent more because they convinced you it was saving you money. But in reality, you can’t save what you never intended to spend in the first place.

how to reduce impulse purchases

How to Reduce Impulse Purchases

Even though we can easily understand why impulse purchases are detrimental to our financial plan, it can still be hard to resist. Marketers have spent so much time and money studying the psychology and tactics that convince us we need what they’re selling and relieve any pressure we feel about making the purchase. The best way to reduce the temptation to buy on impulse is to recognize these strategies, know your weaknesses, and have a plan in place.

Wait at least 24 hours before making a purchase.

Our impulse decisions to purchase are often made out of the emotional excitement we feel when something catches our eye, or out of the fear of missing out. The best way to curb these two emotions is to develop a waiting period before making a purchase. This will give you enough time to let the emotions subside so you can make the purchase with a clear head.

It’s recommended to wait at least 24 hours, but you can wait longer than that. Maybe you require yourself to wait an entire month and that allows you to make sure the money for that purchase is properly included in the budget. For our family, we have a general rule that the bigger the purchase, the bigger the wait. The decision to purchase is not something that should be taken lightly, so allow yourself enough time to get rid of the emotions and think through the purchase. You can decide what’s best for your own personal waiting period based on your personality and your spending habits.

Shop with a list.

It’s easy to see how this strategy can keep you focused at the grocery store. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the cart. This allows you to have a plan in place and holds you accountable for going off-plan. And this strategy can easily go beyond the grocery store. If you’re shopping for back to school supplies and clothes for the whole family, make sure you have a list of what’s actually needed. You can resist the impulse to buy that cute dress for your daughter when you know dresses were not on the list of things she needs for the school season.

Unsubscribe from emails.

We’ve all gotten that email from our favorite online store telling us about a major sale. Suddenly we’re adding items to cart that we hadn’t even wanted 10 minutes ago. The best way to avoid that temptation is to unsubscribe from their email newsletters so you don’t even know the sale is happening. This will transition you to the habit of shopping for what you need and with intention rather than just purchasing something because it’s on sale.

Resist sales.

Similar to the strategy above, you have to resist the sales. Beyond the emails with coupon codes, many of us fall trap to the clearance racks, the final sale tabs (for items you can’t return even when the remorse sets in), and big events like Prime Day. Make a commitment to not shop sales. If you set out to purchase something and it happens to be on sale, great. Sales are really just a marketing scheme to convince you to spend money you weren’t planning to spend in the first place. And whatever you do, do not sign up for the store rewards card or credit card just to save 30%. Remember, these stores would not be offering this if it wasn’t beneficial to them, they’re not just giving you things for free.

Make a budget and stick to it.

Sometimes I take it for granted that everyone reading this blog knows you should be living on a budget, but in case you don’t….you should be living on a budget! This is not a restriction, it’s simply a plan for your money. You decide ahead of time where you’re going to spend money, that is, what things are important enough to spend money on. Make a commitment to yourself and your family to stick to this budget. Then when you feel the impulse to buy that thing on a whim, you can resist it knowing it’s not worth messing up your entire financial plan.

Related: 4 Reasons You Need a Budget

Budget for impulse buys.

Yes, you read that right. Create a line on your budget specifically for impulse buys. You can call it “fun money” or whatever else you want to. This will give you permission to spend without feeling guilty but sticking to the limit on the budget will keep things under control. The biggest benefit of this strategy is that it keeps you from busting the budget and throwing in the towel on everything. The hard part here is to make sure the impulse items budget isn’t taking away from your financial goals such as paying down debt. Everyone’s situation is different so be honest with yourself when deciding if there’s actually room in the budget for this category.

Only take the cash you plan to spend.

Purchasing with cash causes you to really feel the weight of the purchase. It also limits you to only being able to spend what you have on hand. If you’re going into the store and you only plan to spend $5 on milk and bread, just stick the $5 in your pocket and leave your wallet in the car. When you spot the sale on a brand of mascara you have never tried, you won’t be tempted to pick it up because you literally don’t have the money to pay for it at the register.

Take stock of what you own.

We’ve all come home from the grocery to discover we already had two jars of unopened spaghetti sauce already in the pantry. Part of making a shopping list includes taking stock of what you already own so you aren’t making unnecessary purchases. This goes beyond the grocery and applies to everything else, too. I recently entered into panic shopping mode because I needed to find a navy dress for an event. My husband relentlessly tried to convince me I already had a navy dress that would work, but I knew that was not true without checking my closet. He convinced me to wait and sure enough, there was a navy dress already hanging in my closet. Take stock of what you already own.

Stop making shopping a “hobby.”

I’ve admittedly always wanted one of those t-shirts that says “shopping is my cardio” although is more realistically like “chasing tiny humans is my cardio.” I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of shopping for fun, because it is fun. But let’s save that for when you’re financially free. You should not have a hobby that results in you overspending, getting into more debt, or leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed. You can easily find a hobby that is free, cheap, or even makes you money!

No emotional shopping.

This goes hand in hand with shopping as a strategy. We love to act like retail therapy is a real thing. We justify that it makes us feel better but those kind of emotional purchases only bring a temporary high and when buyer’s remorse sets in we often feel worse than we did before the shopping excursion. And there’s no limit to the emotions we use to justify shopping. We can have a really awesome day at work, maybe even with a promotion, and we celebrate with shopping (or other forms of blowing money) because “I deserve it.” Similarly, when we’ve had a really bad day at work we indulge in some retail therapy because “I deserve it.” Find a new way to deal with your emotions and don’t let your emotions control your finances because they will wreck it.

Shop online.

Let’s all just have a brief moment of silence for all the things we’ve added to cart and never purchased. That a joke, but it honestly could be used a strategy to help curb your impulse spending. Sometimes we can experience the high of purchasing just by adding items to the cart. Then you can close the laptop or whatever device you’re using and walk away. Chances are you’ll forget about the items in your cart and you won’t have to spend the money. If you don’t forget about it, use your 24 hour waiting period rule like previously discussed and go back to purchase anything you know you absolutely want. It’s a great way to shop for groceries too. Shopping online keeps me from browsing the aisle with an empty stomach and making all kinds of unplanned purchases. Plus, my online cart keeps a running total for me so I know to make adjustments if I’m getting close to going over budget.

Keep wallets away from where you shop.

If you’re an avid online shopper like me, make sure you keep your wallet far away from wherever it is you tend to shop. That means if you tend to do most of your online shopping from the comfort of your bed late at night, keep your wallet on the other side of the house in the kitchen. Many times the inconvenience of having to get up to go get your card to make a purchase will prevent you from impulse buying. This includes not saving your card information online, making it too easy to purchase with the simple click of a button. Sometimes you may even need to go as far as deleting the apps on your phone. You’ll be far less tempted to browse Amazon when you’re bored if you would have to download the app before you can shop.

Read reviews.

If you’re not already doing this, you should be! Reading the reviews will help give you the time and information to decide if you really want an item before making the purchase. Do the research and save yourself from the remorse of buying something you wouldn’t have if you had only read other’s reviews.

Ask your spouse or accountability partner before purchasing.

Your spouse or accountability partner may be just what you need to resist that impulse buy. Make a rule that you must text or call that person before making a purchase. They may be able to help you realize if the purchase is unnecessary or emotional (like the story I mentioned above with my husband and my navy dresses!). Your accountability partner is likely not going to be an enamored with the impulse buy as you are, so let them talk some sense into you and resist the temptation.

Remember previous impulse purchase regrets.

We all have something we purchased on a whim and later regretted. For me, it’s that beautiful dress still hanging in my closet with the tags on it. It was just a little too small but it was beautiful and it was on sale. I justified it as being motivation for me to work out and go down a size. Almost four years later and it’s still in the closet with the tags on it. But it does serve as motivation now. Motivation to resist the impulse buys and avoid collecting more regretful purchases like that dress. Keep your impulse purchase regrets in mind when shopping and use that as reasoning to not go there again.

Calculate the item’s value based on your time.

This one can be very eye-opening. Calculate the value of an item based on how much time it would take you to work and pay for that item. For example, if an item costs $60 and you make $15 an hour, you would have to work four hours to pay for that item. This helps you put things in perspective and determine if it’s really worth your time and money to make that purchase.

Take a “no spending” challenge.

No spend challenges can be great for helping you reduce temptations and cut out spending. It’s very beneficial for helping make big strides toward financial goals. Decide ahead of time how long you want to take a spending break. It could be a week, or it could be 30 days. On average it takes 21 days to break a habit, so a 30 day no spending challenge could be great for breaking your spending habits but you might need to test it out for a week first so you can ease into it. It’s a big change and it can be extremely challenging, but it was also yield big results.

Keep financial goals in mind.

Whatever financial goals you’re working towards whether it’s to get out of debt, save up an emergency fund, or cash flow a new car, it’s important to keep these goals at the forefront of your mind. You may find it easier to say no to purchasing that new bike for your child when you know you can find one at a thrift store and not have to postpone getting out of debt. Knowing what your financial goals are and which ones you’re currently working towards will help you purchase with intention rather than impulse.

Consider the opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is an economic term defined as the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. That means, what you miss out on because you chose something else. For example, you could spend $5,000 on a cruise vacation and there’s nothing wrong with that but you’ve lost the opportunity to invest that same money in your 401(K). Or, you could invest $5,000 in your 401(K) and there’s nothing wrong with that but you’ve lost the opportunity to take a cruise with that same money. They’re both good things and I hope you get to do both, but when you’re deciding where to spend money you need to consider the opportunity cost and decide if what you’ll be missing out on is worth it.

Stop the comparisons.

We’ve all fallen into the comparison trap at one time or another. One of our Facebook friends posts photos of their vacation and suddenly we’re browsing VRBO. We’re scrolling Instagram and our favorite fashion blogger posts a clothing haul she got from a favorite store. We’re eating dinner with the family and your brother-in-law shows up in a brand new car we didn’t even realize we wanted. We have to stop the comparisons. Find contentment in what you already have and stop seeking out what you see other purchasing (because who knows if they actually purchased it or just put it on a credit card?!)


  1. Wait at least 24 hours before making a purchase.

  2. Shop with a list.

  3. Unsubscribe from emails.

  4. Resist sales.

  5. Make a budget and stick to it.

  6. Budget for impulse buys.

  7. Only take the cash you plan to spend.

  8. Take stock of what you own.

  9. Stop making shopping a “hobby.”

  10. No emotional shopping.

  11. Shop online.

  12. Keep wallets away from where you shop.

  13. Read reviews.

  14. Ask your spouse or accountability partner before purchasing.

  15. Remember previous impulse purchase regrets.

  16. Calculate the item’s value based on your time.

  17. Take a “no spending” challenge.

  18. Keep financial goals in mind.

  19. Consider the opportunity cost.

  20. Stop the comparisons.

You have to reduce the impulse purchases so you can live and spend with intention. Financial freedom does not happen by randomly purchasing everything that catches your eye. You need a plan and you need to be working that plan. You have to limit the distractions and the things trying to derail your plan. That means no unplanned shopping trips, no impulse buys. These 20 strategies will help set you up for success in resisting the temptation to purchase on a whim. In the words of Dave Ramsey, “children do what feels good, adults devise a plan and stick to it.” It’s about maturity. You have to grow up and own up to your behavior. It’s time to stop living all willy-nilly and live with intention.