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- Most shopping experiences are designed to make it easy to buy, and to keep you coming back.
- A financial planner suggests getting more intentional about purchases and resist the impulse buy.
- Ask yourself questions like whether you actually need or want it, if you already have it, and if you can afford it.
- Find a financial advisor near you with SmartAdvisor.
The average American spends an average of $155 per month on impulse purchases, which anyone who’s ever seen an ad on Instagram hit “buy” without hesitating will believe.
As a financial planner, I believe that impulse purchases directly lead to overspending. Unfortunately, most shopping experiences are designed to get you to overspend or keep coming back for more.
If you struggle with overspending, I recommend asking yourself five questions before you click “buy” or swipe your card at the register. These questions have helped me almost eliminate impulse buying and kept my budget on track.
1. Do I actually need this or want this?
Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious — if you’re on a tight budget and deciding if you should buy a $350 vintage Monopoly game, the answer probably is, “I don’t need this.”
However, deciding if something is a need or a want isn’t always black and white. Some things that may seem non-essential to some people, like a gym membership, others can’t live without. It’s all about weighing your current priorities with your long-term goals.
If I feel like I need an item, I’ll typically write it down. I’ll take a picture with my phone so when I’m out shopping, I can check to see if it’s on my list. If I haven’t felt like I needed the item before, it’s likely not on my list and is a want, not a need.
2. Do I already own this?
There’s a tendency to want to keep up with the Joneses, or own the latest and greatest items. This is made especially worse by social media — seeing your friend’s new car or splashy vacation may give you the feeling of missing out, pushing you to buy things you may not need or already own.
Whenever I consider buying something, I always ask myself if I already own the item. If I own it and it’s in working condition, I’ll skip the new item. If something I own breaks, I’ll typically throw it away right then and there and put it on my list, so I’ll remember to buy it next time I’m out.
3. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
Just because something is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better quality. In fact, many expensive brands simply charge more for a similar-quality product thanks to branding or packaging. Studies show that we tend to value expensive items over their cheaper counterparts, known as the “marketing placebo effect.”
That’s not to say some things aren’t worth the money. For example, I’ll always splurge on a high-quality mattress. But if you’re debating buying something, think through some of the benefits that item will bring you. If you don’t feel like those benefits will outweigh the cost, it’s not worth it.
4. Can I buy it used (or cheaper)?
I furnished my entire apartment with second-hand furniture, and saved thousands of dollars.
While it does take a little extra effort, shopping around can save you a lot of money instead of buying the first thing you see. Check out marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for used items and larger retailers like Amazon to get an idea of how much the item costs. If you want to shop small and still save money, consider websites like Etsy that let you compare items from independent sellers.
Plus, the time you spend hunting for a better deal may help you discover if you actually need the item or not. I’m a huge fan of sleeping on a purchase decision (if you can) before buying. Most of the time, you’ll forget what you were even considering purchasing in the morning.
5. Can I actually afford it?
There’s a difference between being able to pay for something and actually being able to afford it. Credit cards and financing options like Buy Now, Pay Later make it possible to buy something and pay for it later. However, if you don’t have the money to cover your debts, you could wind up paying late fees and interest, which can quickly spiral into debt.
The last question I always ask myself is if I can actually afford the item, meaning I can comfortably pay for it without running into trouble with my budget or bills later. Even if you have enough money in your account to purchase something outright, it doesn’t mean you should make the purchase.
The purpose of asking yourself these questions before making a purchase is to be more intentional with your spending. Taking some time to walk through if this purchase is the right one for you can often remove the impulsiveness — I can’t tell you how many unnecessary purchases I’ve avoided this way.