Small Item Impluse Control

It’s the destroyer of budgets, killer of savings and bane of those trying to crawl out of debt: the impluse buy.  It’s so innocent that you often don’t realize you did it at first.  You walk past the chocolate bar display and pick one up.  Then you stop in the next display and go “I could use that” and before you know it you have a $40 bill at the till when all you needed was $4 of milk.

The problem with trying to control your impluse buying is it just keeps coming back.  You just get the thing under control and suddenly you are back doing it again.  I’m fairly good at controling the bigger purchases by waiting and making sure I need something before I buy it.  It’s the little things that end up consuming my spending cash that I still struggle with now and again.

In my case I tend to buy because I want a quick pick me up.  It’s not even like I’m sad or anything.  Often I’m just a littled tired or stressed and I end up buying something.  In reality I don’t need the item in question at all, but at that moment in time I do want it.  Some days I win and keep walking past and other times I lose and buy it.

I’ve yet to figure out a way to control the little spending other than having a short term goal to have something else I want to spend my money on more.  Often its a movie I want to see in the cheap theatures or a new DVD that I use as a short term goal.  That way I can ask myself, do I want the little impluse item or the thing I really want.  I’ve yet to take this concept and exapand it to my retirement savings.  Something in my head resists savings for that long of a period for a reward despite the fact it sort of makes sense.

So how do you control that little spending on impulse items?  If you got an idea I would love to hear it.

7 thoughts on “Small Item Impluse Control”

  1. Couple of ideas…

    When going out for something with a small fixed cost (like milk), take only enough cash to cover it. Leave the credit/debit cards at home. You can only spend what you’ve got. 🙂

    To expand on that, you can give yourself a “small stuff” allowance. $10/mo (or whatever) to blow on whatever little thing catches your fancy. Write it down whenever you spend some of that money. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. By giving yourself a fixed amount to spend, you’ll find yourself having to make a choice every time you want to dip into that reserve — “do I really want this? What if there’s something more I want later?”

    If you really want, you can even reduce that amount over time until you’ve basically reduced the spending. But I think there’s some value in allowing yourself a little bit of play money for the “little things”. Otherwise, you can find yourself in a situation where it’s very difficult for you to spend money on anything (that’s where I’ve been recently, and it’s almost as bad as spending more than you want. And it’s hard to train yourself out of :-))

  2. What is impulse buying? A fast decision? Stumbling upon a good deal?

    We all need entertainment of some kind. Our monthly spending tally sheet includes an entertainment category. A quick look suggests it has been about 5-10 % of total annual spending. Our so called entertainment includes wine and holiday travel costs such as BC Ferries and Hotels but not restaurants or boating. Its a personal definition but it works as a constant measuring stick for spending.

    We don’t have a category for “impulse spending”. Maybe that is part of the issue here. Seems to me…as long as one’s entertainment category, or any other category is within what one defines as being within a reasonable range…there is no problem.

    If we stumble upon something we have been meaning to buy anyway…or find it on sale…impulse buying can be a good thing.

  3. If the impulse items you’ve buying are things like books and DVDs, I’ve found that a focus on decluttering works wonders to avoid purchasing new things.

    If you spend several hours purging your home of the excess crap you’ve accumulated over the years, it’ll make you think twice about buying new crap to take its place.

    I haven’t bought a DVD or book in several years now – the library and the video store work fine for me, especially now that we have children.

  4. @Canadian Money
    I think of impulse buying as not including things like “stumbling upon a sale for an item you wanted anyway”. I think of impulse buying as buying something you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it for sale (whether on sale or otherwise). A chocolate bar at the grocery checkout, a DVD you had forgotten existed but had a passing interest in watching, a big screen TV you buy because it’s on sale before you’ve even done any research or comparison shopping, etc. Items you can either live without, or can get for free at the library (or equivalent) that you buy because you see them while out buying other things.

  5. If I’m considering a small unnecessary purchase I try converting it into an equivalent in travel money. If I see it in terms of something given up then I can decide which is more important. New DVD vs. admission to the Louvre? Dinner out for no special reason vs. gondola ride in Venice? Once I put it in perspective travel almost always wins out over the less memorable thing in my hand.

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