Money·3 min read

Impulse Buys Derailing Your Budget? Use These Expert Tips To Skip the Splurge

A woman shopping in a store
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
February 1, 2022

Snacks in the checkout line. The BOGO sale that was too good to pass up. We’ve all succumbed to impulse buys at some point. And that’s OK — in moderation. But too much impulsive spending can derail your budget and make it even harder for you to achieve your money goals. 

Is it really that big of a deal?

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Many money experts even encourage it. Because taking control of your money is all about affording the things you want — even if it's just a check-out candy bar every time you go shopping. And giving yourself little rewards while working toward a big financial goal can motivate you to keep going. (Psst…science says that's just one successful savings habit that works.)

Agreed. Bring on the impulse spending.

Hold on. The "impulse" part can be more troublesome. A lot of small surprise buys can add up to a big drain on your budget before you know it. Planning ahead can help you focus your spending on things that matter to you and make you happy. If that’s a daily $5 coffee, work it into your budget. That way you can make sure all your little splurges don't get out of control. You might even start a sinking fund to cover them.

Okay, but what about sales? I can’t pass those up, right?

Right — if they're really worth it. A lot of stores use mind games to make you think sales are saving you more than they really are. Including limited-time offers that pressure you into purchasing things you don't really want or need before you have time to think it through. So before you hop on a sale, consider if it's actually stuff worth buying. And do some comparison shopping to see if the discounts are legit.

Tara Unverzagt, a financial planner who specializes in financial therapy, stresses the importance of slowing down your transactions. One strategy: “Put your credit card in a different place so that you have to go look for it before you pull it out,” Unverzagt says. “That pause gives you a little bit of time to stop and think and get into your cognitive brain where you can then make more rational decisions than just a reactive decision.”

How do I get rid of that little voice in my head saying ‘just buy it?’

The good news is you don’t have to. Unverzagt likes to imagine a spender and a saver making decisions in our brains. “If they're balanced, then that's usually somebody who has good financial wellbeing,” she says. “But if the spender part is a little too extreme, or if the saver part gets too extreme, that's not healthy either.”


Don’t beat yourself up for succumbing to an impulse buy every now and then. A better strategy: planned spontaneity. Work splurges into your budget to make sure they don't get in the way of your big money goals and overall financial plan.

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