Updated: March 3, 2020
I asked a friend what’s her usual impulse buy and without hesitation, she said it’s makeup. She then went on to tell me her latest purchases, which I must say are a lot.
I then asked her if she regrets any of those purchases. She thought for a while, and then answered there were a few items that she wished she didn’t buy, so she’s just planning to sell or give them away.
Curious about the questions, she then asked me why I was asking her. And I said it’s because I’ve been thinking of my own impulse purchases, and why some felt good while some left me with regrets.
Instant vs Delayed Gratification
Society puts a lot of importance on practicing delayed gratification. That it’s wrong to rush into a relationship, that you shouldn’t be an impulsive spender, that you should be patient with your investments.
However, a lot of people still choose instant gratification in most cases. Because there is, and it is addicting, a sudden rush of happiness and satisfaction when you do it.
And if I will be honest, one of the areas that I fail often is when it comes to buying stuff online. When I see something I like, I am one of those who tend to impulsively click on the “Buy Now” button.
Nevertheless, I’ve been more aware about this bad spending habit in recent months. And I believe I’ve found an effective way to curb such unnecessary spending.
The Psychology of Impulse Buying
A research from Princeton University found that the brain has two areas. The first one is linked to our emotions, and the other is to abstract reasoning.
The emotional part of the brain is the primary advocate of instant gratification. When given the choice of buying that seat sale tickets or saving up for retirement, this part of the brain will tell you to choose to travel now.
The logical part of the brain will then try to reason with you. This is when we experience second-thoughts about what we’re about to do. It will tell you to just save the money, you can travel more later when you’re financially secure.
These two parts of the brain are in constant battle. The emotional part doesn’t care much about the future, it’s all about being happy in the present. Meanwhile, the logical part wants your present decisions to lead you to the best future consequences.
And impulse purchases happen when the emotional part wins over the logical part.
Fulfillment as Compromise
So what have I been doing to minimize my online impulse buying habit?
Each month, when my credit card bill comes, I study my purchases and ask myself:
- What did you buy here and where is it now?
- What was your primary motivation for buying it?
- At present, do you feel buying the item was truly worth it?
The first question is a hard reminder how impulse buying is like burning money. When you can’t even remember what you bought or don’t know where it is now, then it was just a waste of your hard-earned money.
It’s an effective wake-up call to always be mindful of what you’re buying in the future.
The second question allows you to be critical of yourself. Sometimes, we buy things on impulse not because we want the item, but simply because we can.
More importantly, there are times when we buy things because we’re bored or feeling down. Thus, we choose to deal with it by doing retail therapy, which actually works in lifting our mood, as several studies have shown.
However, there are better and more budget-friendly ways to get the benefits of retail therapy. So the next time you’re itching to buy something because you’re feeling blue, then consider these alternatives.
Lastly, the third question asks for the value that the item has brought into your life. It forces the question of utility, satisfaction, and fulfillment. This is perhaps the only reasonable justification for buying something, especially on impulse.
I remember buying a shirt on impulse online, which turned out to be of great quality and I wear often. Being aware of this positive experience actually made me less impulsive in buying shirts in other online stores.
Another time, I bought a Pokemon-themed USB drive because I found it cute. However, I eventually gave it away after a few weeks because I got tired of it. Now, I am more wary when buying similar novelty items.
The key to avoiding regrettable impulse purchases is mindfulness. When your logical brains kicks in, and you start to have second thoughts on buying the item, then give yourself a few minutes to step back.
Of course, if you cannot afford it, then you shouldn’t buy it. If it’s something necessary, then see if there’s a cheaper alternative, or find ways to accommodate it within your budget.
Otherwise, question your primary motivation for buying the item. Do you really want or need it? Or are you just itching to buy something… anything right now?
Finally, give your logical brain a chance to state its case. And consider how valuable and meaningful the purchase will be in the long run.
How about you? How do you avoid making unnecessary impulse buys? Share them below in the comments section. Thanks.