5 Tips For Resisting Impulse Shopping.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

I just finished re-reading Paco Underhill’s fascinating book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. (Note: the book has been updated, but I read the first edition, so that’s what I’m discussing here.) Underhill invented the “science of shopping,” and he details many ways that retailers can create environments that encourage people to buy.

As I read, I realized that much of his advice could be flipped on its head, to help people resist buying. So often, we operate on habit and impulse; by recognizing the subtle factors that promote shopping, we can turn that information to our advantage, if we’re trying to shop wisely.

Many of these tips are very obvious, but as one of my Secrets of Adulthood holds: It’s very important, and surprisingly difficult, to grasp the obvious.

1. Don’t take a basket or cart. People who shop with a basket buy much more than those who don’t use a basket.

2. Don’t linger. How much time you spend in a store is one of the most important factors in determining how much you’ll buy.

3. If you’re a woman, shop with a man. A woman will spend less time in a store when she’s with a man than when she’s by herself, with another woman, or with children.

4. Don’t touch or taste. A lot of impulse buys are triggered by some tactile experience.

5. Be on your guard near the register. Lots of impulse purchases are there to tempt you.

As an under-buyer, I actually have to force myself to buy, so I will use these tips in the reverse–except #5. Under-buyer or over-buyer, no one needs to buy those gimcrack by the register.

How about you? Have you found any good strategies to help yourself resist buying, when you don’ want to buy?

  • http://twitter.com/magriebler Marianne Griebler

    For me, the best way to resist impulse buying is to stay away from stores (online or brick-and-mortar).  If I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I shop to feel successful when other parts of my life don’t seem to be going as well as I’d like. Making a purchase can seem like I’ve accomplished something! So I minimize the amount of shopping trips I make. And as I think about what to make for dinner, I try to be more creative with what’s actually in the pantry or freezer. When I try to frame that decision as an accomplishment, it feels satisfying.

  • http://twitter.com/magriebler Marianne Griebler

    For me, the best way to resist impulse buying is to stay away from stores (online or brick-and-mortar).  If I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I shop to feel successful when other parts of my life don’t seem to be going as well as I’d like. Making a purchase can seem like I’ve accomplished something! So I minimize the amount of shopping trips I make. And as I think about what to make for dinner, I try to be more creative with what’s actually in the pantry or freezer. When I try to frame that decision as an accomplishment, it feels satisfying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747948715 Christie McGuire Struck

    For me, remembering what long term goals I have is a great resistance to impulse-buying.  I want a trip to Paris/London with my kids…I have to save up for years and it will take longer if I’m buying things I don’t need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747948715 Christie McGuire Struck

    For me, remembering what long term goals I have is a great resistance to impulse-buying.  I want a trip to Paris/London with my kids…I have to save up for years and it will take longer if I’m buying things I don’t need.

  • Kristy

    I am an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. Some days I appreciate this (like when I know there will be mustard in the pantry when I run out mid-sandwich). Other days (like today when I nearly broke my ankle tripping over two bottles of laundry detergent), I get so frustrated. What? I like empty shelves.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love my empty shelves too! We under-buyers appreciate them. Others just want to plunk something there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrea-Kline/500061679 Andrea Kline

    I’m with Marianne on this.  Stay out of stores unless you need to be there and know why you need to be there. 

  • Kristy

    I am an under-buyer married to an over-buyer. Some days I appreciate this (like when I know there will be mustard in the pantry when I run out mid-sandwich). Other days (like today when I nearly broke my ankle tripping over two bottles of laundry detergent), I get so frustrated. What? I like empty shelves.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love my empty shelves too! We under-buyers appreciate them. Others just want to plunk something there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrea-Kline/500061679 Andrea Kline

    I’m with Marianne on this.  Stay out of stores unless you need to be there and know why you need to be there. 

  • http://twitter.com/DelfEnriquez Delf Enriquez

    LOL, my problem is that I “impulse shop” online, and I usually buy stuff I do use. Regardless, it’s probably safe to advise you readers that Amazon Prime, and it’s 1-click settings ARE NOT GREAT for avoiding impulse shoppers like me. 

    • gretchenrubin

      I suggested to a friend that she try logging all the way out of sites when she was done shopping. That little bit of inconvenience with logging in can make you less likely to jump back in.

  • http://twitter.com/DelfEnriquez Delf Enriquez

    LOL, my problem is that I “impulse shop” online, and I usually buy stuff I do use. Regardless, it’s probably safe to advise you readers that Amazon Prime, and it’s 1-click settings ARE NOT GREAT for avoiding impulse shoppers like me. 

    • gretchenrubin

      I suggested to a friend that she try logging all the way out of sites when she was done shopping. That little bit of inconvenience with logging in can make you less likely to jump back in.

  • JackieDanicki

    I have to delete all the promo emails from my favorite online retailers (Saks, Nordstrom, Gilt, Lifebooker, et al) as soon as they come in. I really should unsubscribe, but every so often, they’re offering something I genuinely need. 

    Similarly, I need to set a budget for Kindle book buys. I can easily drop $200 on books in one sitting. Making rules about first reading what I have is essential. The sampling feature on Amazon does help here. iTunes is similarly dangerous, but I have spent less there since subscribing to Spotify Mobile; it’s $9.99/month, but I can find almost any song there and then listen to it without additional charges wherever I go. 

  • JackieDanicki

    I have to delete all the promo emails from my favorite online retailers (Saks, Nordstrom, Gilt, Lifebooker, et al) as soon as they come in. I really should unsubscribe, but every so often, they’re offering something I genuinely need. 

    Similarly, I need to set a budget for Kindle book buys. I can easily drop $200 on books in one sitting. Making rules about first reading what I have is essential. The sampling feature on Amazon does help here. iTunes is similarly dangerous, but I have spent less there since subscribing to Spotify Mobile; it’s $9.99/month, but I can find almost any song there and then listen to it without additional charges wherever I go. 

  • http://dareyouto.blogspot.in/ Meredith @ Dare You To

    Great advice here!  I usually try to think about if I’ll regret the purchase.  If I find myself wondering what the return policy is, then I clearly don’t love or need the product. 

  • http://dareyouto.blogspot.in/ Meredith @ Dare You To

    Great advice here!  I usually try to think about if I’ll regret the purchase.  If I find myself wondering what the return policy is, then I clearly don’t love or need the product. 

  • Gragusa

    Thank You Gretchen for posting Paco Underhill’s article on not being tempted to over spend, it’s true a man is seldom interested in being in a store for long periods of time.

  • Gragusa

    Thank You Gretchen for posting Paco Underhill’s article on not being tempted to over spend, it’s true a man is seldom interested in being in a store for long periods of time.

  • http://jaredakers.com/ Jared Akers

    Great tips there… I can attest about shopping with a man. My wife often suggests she does her “serious” shopping when alone.

    Although I do enjoy shopping with her, and I must admit I use the time wisely to pick up on subtle clues as to things she likes for gift ideas later.

    However, I don’t necessarily agree with #2 (lingering). For my wife and I, it seems the longer we shop the more we question whether or not we really need what’s in our baskets.

    Or we try and pull off to the side and take a break before we get to the check out line and go through everything in our basket, asking “do I really need this?”, “Am I buying this just to purchase something?” etc. That really helps.

  • http://jaredakers.com/ Jared Akers

    Great tips there… I can attest about shopping with a man. My wife often suggests she does her “serious” shopping when alone.

    Although I do enjoy shopping with her, and I must admit I use the time wisely to pick up on subtle clues as to things she likes for gift ideas later.

    However, I don’t necessarily agree with #2 (lingering). For my wife and I, it seems the longer we shop the more we question whether or not we really need what’s in our baskets.

    Or we try and pull off to the side and take a break before we get to the check out line and go through everything in our basket, asking “do I really need this?”, “Am I buying this just to purchase something?” etc. That really helps.

  • guest

    When I shop with my 6-year old son, I started telling him that the rule is that we only buy at the store what we came to buy. (Because he wants everything he sees!).  However, he has started using this rule against me too … which I actually like because it prevents me from making impulse buys as well. 

  • guest

    When I shop with my 6-year old son, I started telling him that the rule is that we only buy at the store what we came to buy. (Because he wants everything he sees!).  However, he has started using this rule against me too … which I actually like because it prevents me from making impulse buys as well. 

  • http://www.structureinanunstructuredlife.com/ Beth

    I agree that staying out of the store entirely is my number one tip! I try to only go in if I have a list and stick to that list. And if it is only a single item I need, I will usually try to figure out a way around needing that item until my next trip to the store.

  • http://www.structureinanunstructuredlife.com/ Beth

    I agree that staying out of the store entirely is my number one tip! I try to only go in if I have a list and stick to that list. And if it is only a single item I need, I will usually try to figure out a way around needing that item until my next trip to the store.

  • http://www.winifredling.com/ Winifred Ling

    I think “don’t linger” is helpful. Here’s a related tip: at the supermarket I usually just go to fresh produce aisles. Yesterday I had some time and I went over to frozen section for the first time in a long while. Man, lots of temptation there! I resisted a couple of items that I almost put into my basket by looking at the amount of calories on each pack. That works for me.

  • http://www.winifredling.com/ Winifred Ling

    I think “don’t linger” is helpful. Here’s a related tip: at the supermarket I usually just go to fresh produce aisles. Yesterday I had some time and I went over to frozen section for the first time in a long while. Man, lots of temptation there! I resisted a couple of items that I almost put into my basket by looking at the amount of calories on each pack. That works for me.

  • Lisa

    Stay home!

  • Lisa

    Stay home!

  • http://twitter.com/homa_style Homa Style

    I would add take a list and only buy what’s on the list.  If I go with “my guy” I get home with all kinds of extras…candy, ice cream, a big bag of pencils???

  • http://twitter.com/homa_style Homa Style

    I would add take a list and only buy what’s on the list.  If I go with “my guy” I get home with all kinds of extras…candy, ice cream, a big bag of pencils???

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1087728680 Carol Hunt Hauf

    Just as with anything else, I think you have to use the strategies that work best for you.  I know that when I was single and didn’t have much money, I used to walk around a store and put things in my cart.  That gave me time to think about my purchases, and after a while, anything I really didn’t want or didn’t feel was absolutely necessary to purchase at that time, I put it back.  Sometimes it was just the idea of buying something that satisfied that “urge to buy”.  I can’t believe I even did this in grocery stores, but it did work for me.  I even do that online now and most of the time, I don’t buy what I put in my “cart”. 

    When I go to the store, I try not to bring my children, although as they are getting older, when they ask for things I try to turn them into teachable moments and we discuss whether or not it is a wise purchase.  OftenI will simply say, “Well, let’s finish our shopping, and if you still want it, maybe we will go back for it”.  And usually the item is forgotten by the time we check out.  I think it’s really important to teach them to be good shoppers.  Most of the time I just shop with  my husband and a list.  He doesn’t mind shopping for a little while as long as we stay focused and stick to the list, so he is a good shopping influence on me.  Bringing cash is another good way to limit your purchases. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1087728680 Carol Hunt Hauf

    Just as with anything else, I think you have to use the strategies that work best for you.  I know that when I was single and didn’t have much money, I used to walk around a store and put things in my cart.  That gave me time to think about my purchases, and after a while, anything I really didn’t want or didn’t feel was absolutely necessary to purchase at that time, I put it back.  Sometimes it was just the idea of buying something that satisfied that “urge to buy”.  I can’t believe I even did this in grocery stores, but it did work for me.  I even do that online now and most of the time, I don’t buy what I put in my “cart”. 

    When I go to the store, I try not to bring my children, although as they are getting older, when they ask for things I try to turn them into teachable moments and we discuss whether or not it is a wise purchase.  OftenI will simply say, “Well, let’s finish our shopping, and if you still want it, maybe we will go back for it”.  And usually the item is forgotten by the time we check out.  I think it’s really important to teach them to be good shoppers.  Most of the time I just shop with  my husband and a list.  He doesn’t mind shopping for a little while as long as we stay focused and stick to the list, so he is a good shopping influence on me.  Bringing cash is another good way to limit your purchases. 

  • Upbeat Mom

    I find it very helpful to make a list IN WRITING of what I need to buy.  Especially when shopping with kids, it’s helpful to make the list together and then refer to the list at the store.  If you see something your really want, but it’s not on the list, I follow the rule that you have to go home and sleep on it first.  Ususally by the next day, I find that you really don’t want it anymore.  If it is the super special exception, then I’ll consider going back to make the purchase.

  • Upbeat Mom

    I find it very helpful to make a list IN WRITING of what I need to buy.  Especially when shopping with kids, it’s helpful to make the list together and then refer to the list at the store.  If you see something your really want, but it’s not on the list, I follow the rule that you have to go home and sleep on it first.  Ususally by the next day, I find that you really don’t want it anymore.  If it is the super special exception, then I’ll consider going back to make the purchase.

  • Katie

    It’s a fact that I spend way less time shopping when my husband is with me. He helps me be more decisive. My shopping problem is that I overthink potential purchases.

  • Katie

    It’s a fact that I spend way less time shopping when my husband is with me. He helps me be more decisive. My shopping problem is that I overthink potential purchases.

  • Kristen J.

    Hi Gretchen. I followed the link to your previous post on over and under buying. Thank you. I am a severe under buyer and it is without question my no.1 pigeon of discontent. I find myself putting off purchasing items that I need because I feel overwhelmed by the decisions I face at the store. I tend to buy small quantities of items as a way to avoid commitment. I sometimes make several trips to the store, each time thinking that *THIS* is the time I will finally make a purchase, only to come home empty handed and frustrated again. I struggle with indecision in almost every aspect of life, but it particularly maddens me in shopping situations. I’d love to hear more about overcoming under buying, and making decisions (in shopping, and other areas of life) with less stress. Thanks for all you do. Love the book and blog and can’t wait for more! 

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad to hear from a fellow underbuyer. I agree, there’s so little discussion of the problem of NOT wanting to buy, and it’s a real issue. I’ll tackle this soon.

  • Kristen J.

    Hi Gretchen. I followed the link to your previous post on over and under buying. Thank you. I am a severe under buyer and it is without question my no.1 pigeon of discontent. I find myself putting off purchasing items that I need because I feel overwhelmed by the decisions I face at the store. I tend to buy small quantities of items as a way to avoid commitment. I sometimes make several trips to the store, each time thinking that *THIS* is the time I will finally make a purchase, only to come home empty handed and frustrated again. I struggle with indecision in almost every aspect of life, but it particularly maddens me in shopping situations. I’d love to hear more about overcoming under buying, and making decisions (in shopping, and other areas of life) with less stress. Thanks for all you do. Love the book and blog and can’t wait for more! 

    • gretchenrubin

      Glad to hear from a fellow underbuyer. I agree, there’s so little discussion of the problem of NOT wanting to buy, and it’s a real issue. I’ll tackle this soon.

    • kellyjp29 peters

       I also am an underbuyer when I go shopping with friends they always comment how I will actually reevaluate my purchases before going to the register and end up putting half the stuff in my basket or cart back.  I second guess every purchase because I dont’ want to be that impulse buyer, and being a stay at home mom I don’t feel like I have the luxury to just spend on a whim even if  it is a really good sale, if I dont’ absolutely need or want it, it goes back.  The nice thing about it is I always get to brag when my friends’  spend 100’s of dollars and on our way home they are talking themselves out of buyers remorse and I have my chest all puffed up proudly admitting to having self control.

      • gretchenrubin

        As a hardcore underbuyer, I am proud of myself when I actually can get myself to make a purchase. That’s what’s harder for me! At least in some categories. In other categories, I’m not such an underbuyer. Watch me in a bookstore.

  • http://emilialiveslife.wordpress.com/ Emilia

    Great tips, I especially love the one about not taking a basket, I’ll have to try that soon!
    I’m a mix of an under-buyer and an over-buyer (depends on what I’m getting), but I’ve found that the best way for me to get what I need to is to go in armed with a list.  Grocery shopping, book shopping or clothing shopping I always have a list of what I’m looking for to help me stay on track!

  • http://emilialiveslife.wordpress.com/ Emilia

    Great tips, I especially love the one about not taking a basket, I’ll have to try that soon!
    I’m a mix of an under-buyer and an over-buyer (depends on what I’m getting), but I’ve found that the best way for me to get what I need to is to go in armed with a list.  Grocery shopping, book shopping or clothing shopping I always have a list of what I’m looking for to help me stay on track!

  • Anna

    I shop better alone. When I am with my husband or son I tend to rush my shopping and either over buy or not think enough about what I want or need. When I am alone I take my time and often leave the store before making a purchase to think over what I saw. I will go back if I have really decided after about an hour or so I really liked it and it was something I could really use. In the grocery store I rush when my son or husband are there and often do not look for the specials.

  • Anna

    I shop better alone. When I am with my husband or son I tend to rush my shopping and either over buy or not think enough about what I want or need. When I am alone I take my time and often leave the store before making a purchase to think over what I saw. I will go back if I have really decided after about an hour or so I really liked it and it was something I could really use. In the grocery store I rush when my son or husband are there and often do not look for the specials.

  • http://remadebyhand.com/ Erin

    I take a list whenever I can. It’s when I go into a store without one that I get into trouble!

  • http://remadebyhand.com/ Erin

    I take a list whenever I can. It’s when I go into a store without one that I get into trouble!

  • Sarahhp

    Great topic!

    It’s a bit geeky but I have a little note book in my bag and right down everything I buy and the cost.  It has massively reduced my impulse spending knowing that I’ll have to total up the costs at the end of the day (it’s amazing how many little things that you buy slip your mind). 

    Like many of the other people posting I’m a big fan of lists to reign in impulse buying – my husband teases me about my obsession with having a list. 

    I remember reading a great article about supermarket tricks to get you to buy more and like to do the reverse.  Companies pay lots of money to have their products at eye level and it is where the more premieum items are (you might have noticed the store own brands are often lower down).  I aways have a good look at the high and low shelves to find the better priced products.

    Also supermarkets often try and get you into browsing mode by putting lots of lifestyle/non food type stuff immediately after the enterance.  I’ve noticed this in my local store which has magazines, DVDs, home items and electricals before you get to the food.  I love to switch things around and start at the furthest aisles first – by the time you have got your weekly food you don’t have the time or the energy to browse the lifestyle items.   

    My equivalent of #3 is I never go clothes shopping with my 3 year old – she is bored within seconds so there is no chance to buy anything.   

  • Sportshopper

    I have to admit it – I do sometimes “sport shop,” i.e. for entertainment or relaxation or emotional pick-up.   To make this less costly, I’m now playing a game with myself:  I set a money limit BEFORE going into a store to browse – sometimes it’s fifty cents per item, sometimes a total of two dollars….  A few years ago when my family’s income was twice what it is now, I didn’t feel bad about dropping $20 every week or two on “sundries” — now the game is, truly, as much fun as the shopping, and the totals are MUCH lower, so added bonus = no guilt.

  • Debbie

    I figured out a way to get my retail therapy for no cost at all!  I just can’t seem to get off the list for all those catalogs with gadgets and d0o-dads,women’s clothes, shoes, etc.  I put them aside in a basket, and when I feel like shopping, I get out my basket, make a cup of tea, and leisurely shop through my pile.  It’s fun to circle all the latest fashions; a new purse! new shoes!  new swimsuit!   And then I put them all back in my basket, or the recyle bin and wait for the next batch of catalogs.  :)

  • Celina

    I find filling an online shopping cart at one of my favorite stores (like Nordstrom) is really cathartic if I am in the mood to shop.  It is like window shopping, but you get to see a big picture of all the items you like.  And then after reviewing my cart (prior to hitting the purchase button), I close out, log off, and call it good :).

  • Scgmom5

    If I have any doubt about whether to buy something, I promise myself I will buy it tomorrow, if I  remember  it the next day (I almost never do).

  • DanaRae Pomeroy

    Another underbuyer here. I just don’t care to shop. I go to the grocery with a list in hand, usually build around their specials. Part of my “problem” in other areas  is I know just what I want and finding the look, feel, fit seems near impossible and get frustrating and I walk out empty handed or with items I take back the next day or so. I”m not sure this is a bad thing. I have everything I need and most of what I want (I’m pretty simplistic). One thing I’ve found is from JC’s book, “Simple Abundance.” If you go through closets, house, kitchen, whatever and get rid of what you don’t use or no longer like, it seems to open a door that leads to what fits your needs much better. For example, after recently clearing out dozens of tee shirts and some other clothing items that were no longer “me” and donating them to the local mission,  I walked into a store and found exactly the “look” I wanted in summer tops. I replaced the dozens of unworn tops with six tops I know I’ll enjoy wearing. I think Cameron called it something like, “making room for abundance.”

  • Amieburke

    if i know i will be out somewhere shopping for groceries or a gift for friends/family or even helping a friend to shop…but shouldn’t be purchasing anything for myself….I leave my credit cards at home.    that way if i happen to fall in love…which i often do….it is a cash only purchase and will only come home with me if i have the funds to purchase it.  often, i don’t…..so i end up getting over the craving once i am home and away from that ‘must have’ purchase.

    putting the credit cards away when i am not in the midst of temptation (before the outing) offsets the ability to make an irrational impulse buy!

  • slow2balance

    The easiest is not to go in supermarkets
    or order online with home delivery. Use local small stores and buy what is missing.