The Psychology of Impulse Buying and How To Avoid It

Posted by under Personal Finance . Published: April 24, 2018

An attendee of a personal finance workshop that I was conducting asked, “How do we avoid spending during a mall sale?”

“Don’t go to the mall when there’s a sale,” was my instant answer.

“But I can’t avoid the mall, that’s where I pass by when I go to work and on my way home,” she asked again.

“Then just close your eyes while walking through the mall,” I replied, which solicited several laughs from the attendees.

“But seriously,” I continued. “If you want to avoid buying on impulse, especially when there’s a sale, then you need to have self-control. And that’s something you need to practice and nurture because you can’t learn that overnight.”

Indeed, when it comes to proper money management, it usually boils down to how effective we can be at fostering good money habits. And when it comes to impulse buying, it’s all about our willpower to resist.

Why do we impulse buy?

Everyone, at one point of their lives, have made an unplanned and spontaneous purchase. The reasons may vary, but in most cases, it’s because of effective sales and marketing.

Loss Aversion
Stores often play on our fear of missing out. That’s why discounts and sale promos are available only for a limited time. They use phrases such as “while supplies last” or “last few pieces remaining” to create a sense of urgency.

In most cases, what personally gets me through this situation is to imagine what happens if I don’t buy the item.

There will be that sense of missing out, of course. But apart from that, I see that my life won’t really be any worse if I don’t purchase it.

Moreover, I’ve experienced this often enough to say that the feeling of missing out doesn’t last long. I normally forget about it after a day, and I move on without regret.

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The Desire to Save
Everyone wants to save money. That’s why stores emphasize the amount of savings you’ll get if you buy something now. But this is often a financial trap.

If you bought something that’s originally P1,000 for only P600, then you didn’t actually save P400. What really happened is that you just spent P600 on something you probably don’t need.

It’s important to have self-awareness, to realize the motivation behind our desire to buy the item. If you’re buying it just because it’s on sale, then chances are, it’s just a want and not a need.

I Think I Need It
Marketers are good at making you believe that you need their product, even if you don’t. They enumerate its desirable features and all its benefits to tempt you into buying.

During these instances, it helps to remind myself that if the product is as good as it says, then a lot of people must have it. This means, I can and should ask around first if anyone I know uses it.

And if it does deliver what it says after my research, then that’s when I make a budget to buy it. Doing this has helped me avoid purchasing a lot of useless stuff.

Retail Therapy
Perhaps the only reason that’s not directly motivated by advertisements and marketing tactics is when impulse buying is done for the sake of buying, or retail therapy.

Studies have found that shopping can help ease anxiety, lessen stress, and even boost creativity. In short, it just feels good to buy something. It is a great mood booster.

Again, it is important to be aware of one’s motivation. Because if the purchase is meant to primarily be an emotional antidote, then there are definitely smarter and cheaper ways to do retail therapy.

How to avoid buying on impulse

There are many ways to avoid impulse buying. You should try these tips and see which ones work for you.

But the most effective way, as I’ve personally experienced, is to always be mindful of your purchasing decisions. To be sure that you are aware that you’re about to do an impulse buy, and then summon the willpower to avoid it.

It will be difficult at first. But I guarantee that it gets easier after successfully resisting a few temptations. It really takes practice before you eventually gain that self-control.

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2 Responses to “The Psychology of Impulse Buying and How To Avoid It”


  1. definitely retail therapy cause it relieves the stress…

  2. Raffy says:

    Been there. The tip I can share is if be aware of yourself. Once “impulse buying” attacks, control it. Come back few days later and see if you still want to buy it.

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