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What to do about impulse spending

Have you ever found yourself about to buy something you think you need — but you really don’t?

Maybe it started as a social media scroll at the end of a long day. Next thing you know, you’re halfway through the checkout process for something you didn’t even want.

In this moment, how can you learn to press pause?

  • First, learn what’s going on in your brain to cause spending impulses
  • Then, consider tips for preventing a purchase you may regret

Is your brain wired for impulse spending?

Studies have shown the simple act of shopping lights our brain up with dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, enabling us not only to visualize rewards, but to take action to move toward them.

Yep, this is what your brain is doing when you’re about to make an impulse purchase: It’s releasing lots of good old dopamine, and that makes us happy. That’s why it’s so hard to kick our spending habit. It’s a continuous battle between immediate desires and long-term wisdom.

So why am I an impulsive buyer?

That rush you get when you snag a bargain? It’s real. In fact, surges in dopamine can begin just thinking about shopping. The rush is not just about the final purchase, but the thrill of the hunt.

Knowing this about yourself helps. Next time you feel that impulse to buy, ask yourself: Is this the dopamine talking or do I really need this?

5 tips for controlling impulse spending

1. Wait it out

Flash sales and online purchases make it easy to spend impulsively. If you give yourself some time, you might decide you didn’t need that purchase after all.

2. Set a limit

Maybe its $20, $50, or $100. Make a deal with yourself that if it’s over your set amount, you will wait a day or more before your purchase it.

This doesn’t mean you should go on a spree of low-price impulse spending. For items under your limit, consider pausing 1 minute for every dollar you’re considering spending. Costs $15? Wait 15 minutes. Give yourself some breathing time.

3. Spend mindfully

We all have spending weaknesses. Maybe it’s dining out or the semi-annual sale at your favorite store.

Know yourself. If your knees go weak at a sale, remind yourself of the difference between your wants and needs. Think about other opportunities that money could be used for, including saving for something you REALLY want.

Take time to identify your spending traps and evaluate what is practical. A mindful approach to spending helps you deal with your spending impulse head on.

4. Save the amount you splurge

So you’ve made the decision to take the leap and buy what you want. Hey, that’s OK every once in a while!

Here’s an idea to really make your occasional splurges count: Transfer the same amount you spent into your savings account. Even if it was just $25, that money can add up while you enjoy your purchase.

Sure, this practice essentially doubles the price of the item, but that just makes it another great way to decide if you really need it.

Bonus tip: If you turned down the splurge, consider transferring the amount you would’ve spent into savings, where you let your money make you money. With Numerica’s Bonus Saver account, you can earn up to 2.05% APY on balances up to $2,500*.

5. Be careful using a credit card

Don’t end up spending more on your splurges by having to pay credit card interest. Pay off your credit card as you use it.

And when asked to save your payment information online, consider saying no. When you have to input your payment information each time, it can really help you make a conscious decision.

Take control of your spending

It’s easy to fall into the trap of impulse spending. Don’t spend your money on regrets. With knowledge and practice, you can make smart decisions that will help you live well.

*Here's the legal stuff: APY = Annual Percentage Yield. Terms and conditions apply. Membership fee may apply. Deposit bonus - 1.00% APY after six months of consecutive deposits. No withdrawal bonus - 1.00% APY after six consecutive months without a withdrawal. You already earn 0.05% APY. Rates and APY are accurate as of 12/01/20 and subject to change after account opening. APY is accurate as of the last dividend declaration date. Bonus rates apply to the first $2,500 in the account when qualifiers are met. Fees may reduce earnings on the account. Open Bonus Saver with only $25.


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September 28, 2023