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zen habits: Monitor Your Impulse Spending Urges

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Monitor Your Impulse Spending Urges

Every Wednesday is Financial Tips Day at Zen Habits.

Do you have a problem with impulse spending? If so, the first step to controlling it is monitoring your urges. Make it a goal to monitor and track your spending urges over the next week or two.

Keep a small notebook handy, and every time you get an urge to buy something, practical or not, put a little tally in the notebook. Tally every urge, whether it is to buy something online, or at a store, looking at a catalog, thinking about that new iPod while at your desk, or even if it's multiple urges to buy the same item.

Whether you buy the item or not, just keep track of the urges. Many times the urges are subconscious. You won't be able to control your spending if you're not aware of it.

Some other tips, beyond this first step, for controlling impulse spending:

  • Avoid the mall or Walmart other shopping areas. Just going there practically guarantees you'll buy something on impulse. Do something outdoors or at home instead.
  • If you have to go shopping, go with a list. And stick to the list. Tell yourself that anything not on the list is strictly verboten.
  • Keep a 30-day list. If you have an urge to buy something, make it a rule that you have to first write it on your 30-day list. If, at the end of those 30 days, you still want it, then you can buy it (if you have the money). Just the act of putting it on the list (awareness) and forcing yourself to wait (delay) can make a big difference.
  • Breathe. And drink water. This delay can help you get past your urge.
  • Find other things to do with your friends or family. Do you hang out with people who love to shop as a pastime? Encourage them to do something else. Go outside, to a park, to the beach. Have a potluck dinner at home. If your friends refuse to change, you may want to give some thought to who you hang out with, if you have different values.
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Ben said...

This is such a good idea.... I regularly find myself making small impulse buys and these I think are the worst

Leo said...

Thanks for the comment, Benno. I'm happy if I helped at all. And btw, I think most of us have that problem. I've been getting better in recent years, simply because of my focus to eliminate my debt.

Anonymous said...

Good article. It seems that purchasing stuff can be as much a compulsion as any drug. It's pretty insidious!

We've had a much better time after no longer watching television. We simply don't watch it. If the TV goes on, it's to put in a movie from Netflix, nothing more. And we always watch it together. It's easier to control urges when you don't know what is out there to buy. ;-)

Thanks for the tips.

Leo said...

Thanks for the excellent comment, DW! I appreciate you sharing your experiences -- it's inspiring to hear others having success. If you're interested in writing about it in a guest post for Zen Habits, shoot me an email at zenhabits (at) gmail (dot) com.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I'm a pretty frugal person (not into big shopping sprees, and I save up money for any big purchase I want) . . . but I still have a weakness for target. I go in there intending to spend $5 or $10 (say, to buy toilet paper and some shampoo), and I always come out with $30 or $50 worth of stuff. The cheap DVDs are my main weakness. I find it's better to just not go there or to take a strict list when I do.

Leo said...

Hi Leah ... I empathize. I'm a fairly frugal person too, but I buy stuff on impulse just like everyone else. My weak spot is KMart (we don't have Target or Walmart on Guam) -- there's always stuff there that I didn't know I wanted! So I stay away for the most part. Thanks for the great comment.