7 Effortless Ways to Prevent Budget-Busting Impulse Buys
I can remember a time when controlling impulse spending was relatively easy — if you avoided going into stores, you missed the vast majority of spending opportunities. Yes, there were the As Seen On TV products you could buy over the phone, as well as the occasional door-to-door salesperson or girl scout giving you a chance to fall victim to a spending impulse — but in general, pre-internet consumers had much greater control over their shopping environments.
Now that the majority of Americans have smartphones or tablets, you don't even have to get out of bed to have to spend money. That means you still have to avoid the types of impulse purchases that have been plaguing would-be savers for years — like the candy bars in the checkout at the grocery store — and beware of the more modern spending temptations — like shopping apps, targeted advertisements on social media, and freemium games.
However, even though impulse spending is effortless in the modern age, avoiding impulse spending can be just as effortless. Here are seven ways you can control your impulse buys without ever breaking a sweat. (See also: 10 Classic Impulse Buys We Need to Stop Falling For)
1. Remove your credit card information from online retailers
Every online merchant offers the same helpful "service," which is remembering your payment information so you don't have to enter it every time you make a purchase. But that service is actually only helpful to the retailer, since it makes it possible to buy something with a single click without giving the purchase a second thought.
It's a major bummer to have to get up and hunt down your wallet or purse to enter in your credit card information. But that "major bummer" of having to get up is the time that the angel on your shoulder needs to remind you that you probably shouldn't be spending any more money. And having time for such a mental reminder is a necessary part of keeping your spending in check. After all, retailers wouldn't remember your information for you if it weren't in their best interest. (See also: 8 Self-Destructive Habits That Keep You in Debt)
2. Block internet access to your favorite retail sites
I removed my credit card information from all of the usual retail shopping sites, but since I have my credit card number memorized, it did not slow down my impulse purchases a great deal. An easier way to keep me from surfing my favorite online retail sites is to install a web-filtering software to automatically block them for me.
For instance, programs like Optenet Web Filter PC completely block users from accessing entire genres of internet sites. You can pick what types of sites you want to block (such as shopping, games, social media, etc.), which you then password protect. Either let a friend choose your password to keep you from disabling the block, or choose a random string of letters and numbers for your password, and store the impossible-to-remember password someplace difficult to access. If you have to get a ladder to get the password down from the very top shelf of your guest room closet, you're less likely to disable the block when you're in the mood to shop.
3. Remove shopping apps from your phone
You may love scrolling through the apps for your favorite retailers, but they are just another path to impulse spending. There is no reason for you to invite these temptations into your life!
4. Unsubscribe from shopping emails
Along the same vein, it's a lot harder to succumb to the temptation to shop if you aren't reminded of the opportunity. Unsubscribe from any retailer emails you receive — or if going through the unsubscription process is too much of a hassle, then simply filter those emails to go straight into the trash. That way, you won't see them before they get trashed. (See also: 5 Easy Ways to Declutter Your Digital Life)
5. Use gift cards for mobile purchases
Deciding to download your new favorite song from iTunes seems like a no-brainer, since it only costs 99 cents. But it's surprisingly easy to spend a small fortune on songs, apps, and in-game upgrades on your mobile devices, since each little purchase doesn't seem to be worth worrying about. Unfortunately, you might find yourself staring down the loss of big bucks if you let yourself click-to-buy any kind of mobile purchase that tickles your fancy.
To protect yourself from wasting more money than you can afford on mobile device purchases, pick up a gift card to iTunes or Google Play each month. That works as a natural limit on how much you can spend on mobile purchases. Once you've reached your limit, you'll just have to wait until the following month before you can start buying again.
6. Make it easy to get entertainment for free
I'm an avid reader, and I'll often receive emails or ads that suggest books that I might be interested in reading. On the plus side, the algorithms that Amazon and Audible use to recommend books are top-notch, and I love the books I end up reading or listening to. However, it's very easy to spend more than I can afford on these books.
That's why I have my local library's website bookmarked on my computer, and its app installed on my phone. When I learn of a book that I want to read, I immediately log onto the library and put a hold on the book. I feel the same sense of instant gratification I would experience by buying the book, without having to spend a penny.
While it may take a little longer for me to receive the book than it would if I bought it, I'm putting holds on books at least once a week, so I consistently have a new book or audiobook waiting for me at the library through this system. This method could work just as easily for movies and music, or any other entertainment you can find at your local library. (See also: 5 Easiest Ways to Score Free eBooks)
7. Have a snack
There is definitely something to the age-old advice about never going grocery shopping on an empty stomach: according to a 2007 study by Matthew T. Gailliot and Roy F. Baumeister, your ability to exert self-discipline depends partially on your blood-glucose levels.
This is pretty obvious when you are hungry in the supermarket, since you're feeling tempted by the very thing you lack. However, the relationship between self-discipline and blood-glucose levels is also behind your struggle to avoid other types of temptations. That's because, according to the researchers, "self-control requires a certain amount of glucose to operate unimpaired."
This means that an easy way to control your impulse spending is to have a piece of fruit or other complex carbohydrate when you're feeling tempted to buy something you don't need.