You’ve probably experienced that intense urge to shop for no obvious reason, followed by a whole lot self-questioning when you emerge with a whole lot of stuff you didn’t need.
How practical was that red dress?
Will my kids actually use that?
Did you really need all those baked goods??
If you’ve ever wondered why you fall into the trap of impulse buying, there are probably underlying triggers prompting you to spend extra cash — which isn’t exactly practical. We asked Abid Malik, MD, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital to share why some of us buy (and buy some more).
“Like most things, impulse buying falls along a spectrum,” he says. “Some buy once or twice a year, something big, and others do it on a regular basis.”
Malik says if you find you’re buying up a lot of items you don’t need, there are some common culprits that might be prompting your purchases. Here are a couple biggies, along with how to stop the bleed.
Research shows us that hunger can affect our purchasing. According to an experiment from the University of Minnesota, researchers had 379 participants rate their hunger levels and their desire for certain food items (like cookies and sandwiches) and non-food items (like iPads and spa trips). The participants who were hungrier wanted more of both categories.
“Different areas of the brain help us make decisions,” Malik says. “When they’re not working correctly, or suppressed — like when you’re hungry — and that can affect impulse control.” Malik says it’s best to avoid shopping on an empty stomach.
Any time you’re under stress, you’re more likely to make a poor decision on a purchase. Like with hunger, your brain is compromised. “The prefrontal cortex regulates emotions and decision-making, which is why we tend to make impulsive decisions when we’re under stress, when we’re sleep-deprived, when we’re angry or physically tired,” Malik says.
Similarly, this is likely why people gobble up sales and limited-time offers. If you’re feeling the pressure to buy something in an instant, just because it’s on sale right now and you might want it later, that stress may cause you to continually make bad decisions. Creating the anxiety of “missing out” is part of why sales work.
So, what can you do? Here are some tips for avoiding impulse buys:
Sleep on it. If you’re ever unsure about a purchase, take a night to both think it over and get proper rest. If you still want it as badly in the morning, you can buy then.
Avoid hitting the mall or grocery store after an argument as a stress-reliever. Try hitting a yoga class or the treadmill instead.
Disable one-click purchasing online. Going through the process of entering your billing and shipping info might make you re-think if you needed that last item you added to the cart.
Don’t shop while you’re hungry; eat a small snack before you hit the store.
Make a list before shopping. You’re far more likely to avoid grabbing unnecessary items and stick to only what you need.
Consistently do activities to keep stress low, like meditation or deep breathing. Don’t shop when you’re stressed out at work, at school, at home or otherwise. Your brain’s impulse control will be lowered.
If you find yourself making frequent impulsive decisions, talk to your doctor. It’s possible there might be an underlying medical condition or disorder.
Never buy without a coupon code! If you stop to check for a coupon code before pressing “BUY” on that shopping cart, one of two things will happen: 1) You might decide to rethink or postpone the purchase; or 2) You might find a coupon code that makes it a worthy purchase!