Short Circuiting Impulse Purchases

I can’t browse anywhere on the internet without falling in love with a new knife, wallet or watch. I can’t look up a recipe without lusting after a new toaster, sugar bowl or some tin camping cups. Photos of other people’s pocket dumps inspire me to acquire vintage leather keychains, zippo lighters (I don’t smoke) and hand made folding knives. Even worse is the stuff I feel compelled to buy and will never use: items for robustly outfitted zombie apocalypse “bug out bags” that contain everything from rain gear to emergency cigars and bourbon. Yeah, I have this disease really bad.

But the speed bump for a runaway shopping cart is simple and easy.

Make A List

A shopping list can be the best way to avoid impulse purchases. It works for groceries right? I keep a single note on my phone as an inbox for every item I want to buy. It’s not a complicated system, the latest thing (and URL for purchase) just goes at the top of the list.

Here’s how it works: Adding that bespoke guitar effects pedal (or whatever it is) that will rejuvenate my under-nourished musical project to the list makes me feel like I’ve captured both my desire and the specifics of the thing well enough that I can carry on without divulging my credit card number right this instant. It’s written down, I’ve done something with the thought and I can let it go. Anyone will familiar with G.T.D. will know this works great at freeing your mind and it works with purchases as well as to-dos.


The Cooling Off Period

By the time I get back to my shopping list the impulse has usually diminished enough that I’m unlikely to pull the trigger right away. For once procrastination does something good! My problem has never gotten so bad that I’ve needed to declare a mandatory “Cooling Off Period” but if you’re a serial shopper then consider it.

The great thing about the list is that I can come back to it one, two or more paychecks later and prioritize all the “wants” I’ve collected. If I have some discretionary cash at hand I can shop based on whatever is most compelling or choose to save up for a bigger thing on the list. I keep one list for the entire year – nothing gets deleted and things I do buy move to a special list for reference. It’s an interesting exercise in self-analysis to look back at all the things I wanted, so few of which hold any lasting interest for me. Good thing I didn’t buy that pocket flask I wanted two weeks ago. Yeah I don’t even drink. But there’s also things on that list that I really want and it’s great to remember those. Like yeah, I still want a leather jacket if I could just find the right one of course. Maybe I should do a web search for that again.

Here’s the philosophical crux of the argument: Good taste is discriminating. That means not buying everything you see and want and cluttering up your life.

Sticky Wants

If a cooling off period isn’t enough to abate the compulsion to shop then there’s another trick: Sticky Wants. I always have some big project that needs a LOT of money to get started, an upcoming trip or a strong desire to destroy debt. By putting that thing at the top of my list I’m reminded that anything I buy from the list puts me further away from that goal. This helps keep priorities where they should be.

Shipping and Discounts

The list helps reduce impulse and makes shopping more deliberate so I can plan better: like bundling all my Amazon or orders into one so that I can save on shipping or wait until there’s a sale. No need to elaborate on this point, I think it’s easy to understand.

The shopping list isn’t only for avoiding impulse purchases and saving money on shipping: It’s a great tool for self analysis and concentrating money where it does the most good.

Leave a Reply