Who loves the feeling of a package showing up on your doorstep with your latest find? But a pile of boxes arriving daily could be a sign that you're in the grips of impulse buying online.
You don't need a full-blown compulsive shopping disorder to remain in an out-of-control purchasing phase. Whether you're buying for yourself or your kids, it's a slippery slope from convenience to an impulse buying habit.
Online impulse buying and overspending can affect your life more than you might think. It can leave you feeling guilty and ashamed, negatively impact your relationships, and even hinder you from achieving your future financial goals and dreams.
One Mom's Story with Impulse Buying
It started innocently enough for me. After giving birth to my son, I ordered necessities, like diapers and wipes, on Amazon because it was more convenient than running to the store.
But alas, the speedy free delivery process proved to be too easy of a dopamine fix for my sleep-deprived brain to resist. The baby and I started to “need” a lot of stuff.
Whenever I had time to myself, when I wasn’t feeding, bouncing, or consoling my precious son, I would take a little break and buy something online. It was entertainment. It made me feel good. I was buying things just to buy them.
Couldn’t get the baby to sleep last night? CLICK.
Looked at my naked postpartum body a little too closely today? CLICK.
Spilled the freshly pumped bottle of breast milk? CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
Quickly, my online ordering became a bad habit with a steep price tag.
Unlike a brick-and-mortar store, the internet never closed (perfect for 2 am feedings), and I didn't have to wrestle my child into a car seat to get there.
What Science Tells Us About Impulse Buying and the Brain
I know I'm not alone in this addiction to the “click.” An article in Psychology Today entitled “Shopping, Dopamine, and Anticipation” talks about how the anticipation of receiving a reward “Shopping, Dopamine, and Anticipation,” they talk about how it is the anticipation of receiving a reward that releases dopamine (feel-good chemicals) into our brain. And when it comes to online shopping, there's quite a bit of anticipation as we wait for the package to arrive at our front door.
Now, go ahead and factor in the stress of being a new mom (or dad) or raising kids in general, and you've got an understandable reason to turn to online impulse buying for a feel-good fix.
In addition, the fact that we can do our shopping from a device we always carry with us (and can even receive instant notices about sales) only magnifies our impulse buying.
Now that we have online shopping available at our fingertips, the desire we feel to buy things all the time is natural.
I’m bombarded online all day with images of sexy women that I should try to look more like and a hundred other beauty and fashion products that will help get me there.
Then there’s the Insta pressure for my home to look like a West Elm catalog, and I find myself on Etsy at 1 am, buying little motivational words signs to hang all over the house.
And I know I don’t need one more pair of high-waisted, strategically ripped jeans, but I feel like maybe this pair will be the one that finally makes my butt look how I have always imagined it should. Sigh.
How I'm Wrangling My Impulse Shopping and Overspending Online: 7 Ways
Determined to curb my impulse buying, I figured out some clever ways to trick my brain into thinking I was making a purchase without wasting my money (and adding to the guilt from overspending).
I also tried some more thrifty ways to buy or get something used when I felt compelled to buy something. Here is my list to tell my brain who is boss!
1. Add Items to Your Amazon Cart (Or Other Shopping Cart) but Don't Buy Them Right Away
This has worked wonders for me. If I’m craving to click on something and get that purchasing rush, I add it to my cart. Then I check back in a day and ask myself if I still want it. Usually, I don’t, and I delete it.
But, sometimes, I do. If that’s the case, and I'm on Amazon, my next step is to add the item to my “Saved for later” list. Hopefully, it will stay there.
I love returning to my cart's “Saved for later” items and checking out all the crazy things I stopped myself from purchasing.
Likewise, if you're adding to a shopping cart in an online store other than Amazon, don't allow yourself to buy anything on the first day (or maybe two). Hopefully, you'll miss whatever sale was going on that got you there in the first place, and you'll give up! Take that impulse buying!
2. Use an App That Forces You to Wait
The problem with buying online is that it’s too easy. It would help if you found ways to make it harder. There’s an app called icebox, which you can install for Chrome, that forces you to wait before you buy. Icebox changes all your “buy” buttons to instead say “on ice.”
You will not be able to purchase any items you put “on ice” until the waiting period (which you determine) is over. It's like having a personal impulse buying trainer watching to ensure you do the work you know you're supposed to but usually whine about and never do.
3. Make A Budget and Use the “List” Function in Amazon
Kids’ birthdays and holidays are triggering for me to overspend. For each of these occasions, I make a budget using a google sheets budget template. Then I create a list using the “list” function on Amazon. It's like a little wish list you can organize by subject or event.
For example, for my son’s birthday, I’ll start a list called “3rd Birthday Party.” Then I allow myself to scroll through Amazon with reckless abandon, and when I see something I want, I click the “Add to list” button (which you’ll find below the “Add to cart” button). After you click “Add to list,” you can start a new list or select which list you want to add your item to.
I’ll gleefully permit myself to enjoy doing this for months. It gets a lot of my impulse buying tendencies out of the way. Then, a couple of weeks before the party, I sit down and start scrolling through the list. Most of the things I’ve selected ($40 worth of light-up bubble guns?!) are clearly a waste of money.
Just make sure that no matter what, you stick to your budget! You may want to plan ahead by making your budget a little bit tighter than necessary in case there's a last-minute emergency purchase you need to make. (You can more easily do this by tracking your finances with software.
Once I’ve deleted many items I don’t need, I can see exactly how much money I’m spending on the party (food excluded).
4. Delete All Shopping Apps
Shopping apps are the devil. They're way too enticing and addictive to have right in the palm of your mere mortal hand. You will not save money by using shopping apps.
The coupons, bonuses, etc., are all geared to suck you in and trigger your impulse buying. Like in Vegas, you will ultimately lose to the house.
5. Unsubscribe from Store Mailing Lists
One of the biggest reasons we start overspending online is the lure of a sale. You will undoubtedly click if your inbox is filled with links to all your favorite stores. The promise of a good deal is just too tempting for us!
According to The Psychology Behind Sale Shopping, “People love sales because it makes them feel like they’re saving, not spending.” You might end up buying a product that is way out of your budget or in contrast, a whole cart full of cheap crap you don't need! Either way, don't be fooled into impulse buying.
If you can't bring yourself to unsubscribe to all your favorite stores, at least do yourself a favor and delete all your saved credit cards on these sites.
It will throw up one last impulse buying roadblock for you (like having to get off the couch and find your wallet) if you can remove this way too easily accessible, one-click feature.
6. Text a Friend Before You Buy
Before you purchase another baby/kid item that every friend you know has purchased at some point for their kids, force yourself to send out a group text to see if anyone is willing to sell or lend, you said item.
Most likely, your buds will be thrilled to have the opportunity to hand it down to a cherished friend instead of storing it in their dusty garage–and they might offer to give it to you for free!
Texting a friend might distract your mind from that craving to buy online. This simple act also reinforces the priority of relationships over material items.
By the way, don’t worry about feeling like you are always asking for a handout because if you set the precedent of asking for old things instead of buying them, your friends will start asking you for stuff, too! Everyone can save money if there are enough new babies to go around!
I've successfully used all the above techniques to curb my online impulse buying and overspending. But lately, when I’m being drawn into clicking on another “sale” in my inbox, I know I need to take a moment to meditate or breathe.
My latest technique to curb impulse buying is simply spending more time thinking about and being grateful for all the wonderful people and experiences in my life and what I already have. I don’t need it anymore.
If you close your eyes and put down the phone for 10 minutes, your compulsion to spend money will most likely disappear.
There are many more exciting and essential things to contemplate than what to buy next.
Is All That Stuff Important?
Listen, shopping can be fun. There are so many cute items out there for every single holiday. But ask yourself, is it more important than your bank balance or setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement?
While one year of over-shopping won't derail your personal finance goals, five, 10, or 15 years of an ingrained habit can.