Smart Shopping: 5 Tricks to Avoid Impulse Buys

Last Updated Oct 12, 2010 5:29 PM EDT

We've all done it: splurging on an impulse buy, only to come home to a "what was I thinking?" reality check.

A new survey by Harris Interactive and the National Endowment for Financial Education says a whopping 80% of American adults admit to making impulse purchases in the past year, either for themselves or for their home. Not surprisingly, two-thirds say they later regretted the purchase.

The fact is, the pressure is on when we shop. There are numerous factors at play - from loud, fast music to the beautifully packaged products to attractive smelling fragrances in the store. All excite the dopamine (aka "happiness") levels in the brain and entice us to buy that very chic, but unnecessary leather jacket. We also tend to shop at the last minute, particularly around the holidays, which leaves us with little time to debate whether a purchase is really worth it.

Here are five tips to help you gain control during your next shopping trip.

1. Stick to Your List
When you narrow your options, you simplify the decision making process. Making a shopping list - and sticking to it - can be one of the best ways to avoid impulse shopping. And be specific: Instead of considering all 200 winter coats in the department store, zero in on the few that meet your needs and fall within your budget. Otherwise, you may be tempted to spend more than you should.

2. Get Some Air

Give yourself at least 10 to 15 minutes to disassociate your mind from whatever it is you're considering purchasing, whether you're shopping online or in a store. Put the item in your shopping basket online, or leave it at the sales counter while you take a lap around the mall. Without a sense of urgency or the pressure to buy, you can make a more rational decision.

3. Be Critical

Before you pull out your wallet, ask, "What are the trade-offs?" If you have ample cash in the bank, then you can afford the purchase. But what if buying a new laptop is the difference between going to the Bahamas for spring break or a staycation?

4. Phone a Friend

For big-ticket items, it sometimes helps to grab a second opinion. (And no, the salesperson's doesn't count.) You want to ask someone who understands your goals and can give you honest advice on whether that new sofa is worth the $1,200 price tag.

5. Use Cash

Using cash, rather than a credit card, may seem more painful. But if you can't afford to pay cash, you might not be able to afford your new splurge, period. Actually watching our funds shrinking can be the very wake-up call we need to beat the impulse buy.


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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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