Death By A 1,000 Small Purchases

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
It's been a long, hard day at work, and you have a precious free evening to yourself. I'll run errands, you think, beelining for the nearest Walgreens. You're out of shampoo, so you'll just pop in quickly and grab some. Of course, the shampoo is way in the back, and as you snake your way through the aisles, you see so many other things you just can't live without. A new nail polish. A three-pack of gum. A new scent of deodorant. Cleaning products. Suddenly, you've got an overflowing basket of stuff. And when you get home, you realize you've forgotten the one thing you needed: shampoo.

You know you're not supposed to buy things on a whim, and yet you fall into the same trap over and over.

If it's any consolation, you're not the only one. According to a survey conducted by CreditCards.com, 75% of Americans are prone to impulse buys. And we're not talking about small things: of the survey's 1,000 respondents, 10% admitted to spending at least $1,000 on these purchases, while 16% spent at least $500.

While nearly 48% of the respondents said they felt excited when they made the purchase, people don't just buy when they're in a good mood. Almost 30% of women surveyed said they made an impulse purchase when they were sad, and 10% when they were angry. (Who hasn't indulged in a Sephora spree after an especially bad day at the office?)

Unfortunately, according to the survey, most people feel bad after making an impulse purchase, with 52% of women reporting buyer's remorse. Not that last-minute buys are bad, mind you. There's nothing wrong with indulging yourself once in a while. But if your wallet is starting to feel the pinch, here's what you can do to keep unplanned purchases to a minimum.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Before you start trying to curb your impulse buys, it's important to take a look at what you're spending each month. You can keep track via an old-fashioned Excel sheet, or try a budgeting app (Mint, HomeBudget with Sync, Wally, You Need a Budget, and Spendee all fit the bill). There are many different opinions regarding how to budget, but one school of thought is that your monthly expenditures should break down as follows:

Housing: 35%
Food: 20%
Transportation: 10%
Utilities: 5%
Debt Repayment: 10%
Entertainment: 5%
Savings: 10%
Medical: 5%

You can be loose with these percentages, as long as you're paying down any debt, saving, and not over-spending each month.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
After tracking your expenses, you should have a better idea of areas where you need to cut back. Maybe you're ordering takeout every time you work late. Or, maybe you find yourself over-spending at sample sales.

It's easy to account for these occasional slipups by setting aside a portion of your income specifically for these types of expenses. If your monthly budget includes room for some indulgences, you won't feel so bad next time you impulsively buy a new pair of shoes that's on sale.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
It's not always obvious when you're making an impulse purchase, since it can be easy to justify a lot of the things you buy — whether it's an extra box of cookies at the grocery store or a new pair of high heels. According to personal finance expert J.D. Roth, you should wait 30 days before making an unplanned purchase. If that sounds a little too extreme, you can cut it back to, say, two weeks or even two hours. What's important is giving yourself enough time to consider whether the purchase is necessary, or if you're just indulging a whim.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
You might be thinking, What's the point of having a credit card if I'm not going to use it? But if you're prone to overusing those cards, leaving them at home is an easy solution. Unless you're planning to buy something big — a new air conditioner or refrigerator — you don't need to lug your magic plastic around, and risk being tempted by it. Instead, try to go one week paying for everything with just cash. When you only have a limited amount of money to spend, you'll be less likely to add extra items to your cart.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Shopping lists aren't just helpful when you're at the grocery store. They can be handy when you head out to any type of store, especially when you're prone to over-spending. Organize your list according to item type, and include a dollar cost for each item. This way, it will be easier to find substitutes within the same price range, in case the item you want isn't available.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Did you know that every aspect of a store — from the music to the layout to the scent — is designed to push every "buy now!" button in your brain? Of course, this is completely intentional on the part of retailers. They're in business to make as much money as possible, after all. That's why it's best to shop when you're awake, alert, and focused, and less likely to fall for the "free" samples that are designed to make you buy (and thus less likely to blow your budget).
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
It might sound cheesy, but there's something to be said about enjoying what you already own. Take time to clean your closet, rearrange your stuff, and find something you can reuse. You can also ask your friends to come over and help you put together new outfits, or make something new out of the ingredients in your pantry. Not only will you save money, but you'll also feel good about creating stuff with your own hands. Can't put a price on that.
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