My husband and I are both impulse buyers - not a good pair now that our combined income has been reduced! How do you stop yourself from making an impulse purchase? I need some help to improve our spending habits.

16 Answers 16


For me, it would be hard to leave all forms of money at home (cash, credit card, debit card.) There are times when you simply need to have money on hand. But, here's a simple idea I have that lets you bring your cards with you, yet still puts up a hurdle to curb impulse buying.

  1. Get a sheet of paper, scissors, pen, and tape.
  2. Craft a small envelope just the right size to hold a credit card.
  3. Put your credit card in this new envelope and tape it shut; i.e. no easy access.
  4. On both sides write: Do you really need it?
  5. Repeat for each of the cards you need to carry.

When you're in a situation where you want to buy something, the card that's in your wallet/purse will be wrapped in your crafted "reminder envelope." You'll see the reminder, which is hopefully enough. Then, in order to make a purchase you'll need to tear it open. That should get you to think twice.

The one problem with the above is online purchases: If you have memorized your card information, add this rule for yourself: No online purchases without the payment card present and visible. (i.e. you also must tear open the envelope for online purchases.)

  • 2
    I liked the first bit, but you hit the nail on the head with the online shopping. I can rhyme my credit card info off faster than I can my phone number.
    – Nat_Rea
    Commented Nov 19, 2009 at 2:52
  • 5
    Chris, you make a really good point about the "do you need it question". There are 2 extremes to this - a person who always answers "yes" (no discipline) and a person who always answers "no" (too restrictive). The key is balance. One needs to indulge once in a while but stay within a budget. Make rules for discretionary spending so that if you do not use it - carry it forward (e.g. I have $x this month). If you carry forward long enough then maybe it should be converted to savings. This is how I resist peer pressure from certain individuals to buy Macintoshes, even though I want one. :-)
    – Zephyr
    Commented Nov 20, 2009 at 4:43
  • 1
    LOL :-) p.s. Certain individuals aren't trying to persuade you to buy Macintoshes (plural) - just one ;-) Commented Nov 20, 2009 at 12:38

We spent a few months on Gail's "jar system". It does a really good job of removing impulse buying.

The other thing I've found works is to find a way to occupy your time with an inexpensive pastime. In my case programming, building something out of materials I already have in the garage, reading, and even cleaning, etc., are all low cost ways of passing the time without spending a lot of money. If you think about it, shopping is just a form of procrastination.


I generally only carry my debit card and a small amount of cash. On payday most of my money goes into a bills account, so I only have enough in the main account for a few days regular spending. This means if I want to buy anything I need to make a transfer from my bills account. If I really need to I can transfer the money instantly this over the phone or the web, but it cuts down greatly on the impulse purchases as I have to go through a process to get hold of the money.

As an aside this approach would probably help if I got mugged or lost the wallet as they wouldn't get much cash or be able to use my card for very long.

  • 4
    +1. Good answer. & re: "would probably help if I got mugged". I see you're an optimist! ;-) Commented Nov 20, 2009 at 12:39

I see you have posted other questions regarding household budgets. This is a huge first step. Once you see what is coming in, then list everything that goes out regularly...and then try to break down what is leftover into spending, household maintenance, gifts, haircuts, whatever...it becomes very obvious if you have x to spend and you spend 3x.

I budget a certain amount of discretionary money for both my husband and myself to spend each month. All of our basic expenses are covered under other categories, but I found out long ago that we each need some money to blow on Starbucks, DVD's, books, etc without having to defend or explain it. If we spend too much, it digs into the next month's amount, or if we are careful, we get to carry it over. I can impulse shop guilt free because it's budgeted in.

Long story short, if you set up a budget and have an amount budgeted for most reasonable expenses, and see what is left over...it becomes harder to "unwittingly" overspend. When you are paying attention to your money, and start looking carefully at how you are spending it, you'll notice.


I make it a habit at the end of every day to think about how much money I spent in total that day, being mindful of what was essential and wasn't. I know that I might have spent $20 on a haircut (essential), $40 on groceries (essential) and $30 on eating out (not essential). Then I realize that I could have just spent $60 instead of $90.

This habit, combined with the general attitude that it's better to have not spent some mone than to have spent some money, has been pretty effective for me to bring down my monthly spending.

I guess this requires more motivation than the other more-involved techniques given here. You have to really want to reduce your spending. I found motivation easy to come by because I was spending a lot and I'm still looking for a job, so I have no sources of income. But it's worked really well so far.


Leave your money at home? I don't carry cash therefore if I make a purchase I make it on plastic and have to explain myself to my spouse. It isn't that either of us is particularly brutal about it, but we have agreed that neither of us wants to waste money we don't have.

The downside to my plan is that the guilt comes later, after the damage is done.


First, you must prioritize what a "need" and what a "want" is. This is different for everyone but generally, I think most people will agree that impulse items are "want" items.

Look at the item, hold it, put it back and wait 30 days. Put the money that the item costs $x into your savings account (transfer from checking, straight deposit, etc)

Come back to the store and hold the item again and as "did I miss the fact that I didnt get it 30 days ago?". 95% of the time, the answer is no. You saved $x for 30-days, and received what is a tiny bit of interest for it.

This is cause for celebration! If you repeat this for every item you THINK you "need" or "want" then you'll be amazed at what you saved. Dont waste this money on a vacation to the islands either! Keep saving.

There will be plenty of rainy days when you'll have wanted to trade that island vacation (or the impulse items you bought that you used once or twice and are lost in your garage somewhere) to pay for some unexpected emergency. Trust me on this!


When I go shopping I make sure that I am not hungry and I have a written list that lets me to go through the shop as quick as possible.

  • especially when buying clothes :P
    – warren
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 18:14

Make a list and require your spouse to approve any purchase not on the list.


My simple rule to avoid impulse buys is that if you see something you want, you can get it.... but not today; go back and get it tomorrow (or wait even longer, for big-ticket items). This way you'll have time to think about it rather than just doing it.

That won't address all your wasteful spending, but it's a good way to avoid "why did I think this would be a good idea?" type situations.


My best advice is to avoid shopping as much as possible.

Minimize the amount of time you are in situations where you will be tempted to purchase random things (i.e. the checkout line! they put that crap there for a reason!). Don't go to the mall. Make your trips to the grocery store as fast as possible. Put your head down and run past it all to grab the thing you need and get out of there.


Shop consciously, mindfully and deliberately every single time you venture into a store. Don't allow yourself to zone out while shopping, and be sure to keep yourself on a very short leash.


One thing I've always done is purchase things only through Amazon. And when I feel the need to buy something, I add it to my shopping cart, but not checkout. I do my best to always wait at least a few days before going through checkout.

Adding it to my cart fills the need in my head for owning that thing. I've found if I wait a few days, my need to own it goes away enough so that I often end up not buying it.


Budget out the amount you save and owe per month. Make sure that amount doesn't stay liquid, invest it, send it out. Make it go away. Learn to live in the rest. If you still have some left over then enjoy the impulse buying (why not).

Second rule, try to payout your credit cards every month.


Best strategy that has worked for me is to remember first of all that you hardly ever need anything "right now". Try this: if you see something you want to buy, leave it for at least two weeks, better yet a month. If after that time you have hardly thought about it, then you almost certainly don't need it. But if you've thought quite a lot about owning it and how it will be beneficial, then perhaps it's worth picking up. You will probably find that a small percentage of things you'd like to buy make it through that screening period.

  • Leave wife at home
  • Leave kids at home
  • If you have not needed it in last 30 days, you do not need it now

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