Recently, I’ve been trying to pay close attention to when and why we have the impulse to consume. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, a trip to Europe, or a magazine at the drugstore, our human desire to buy something seems to fall into a few categories. Below, check out the most common “spending triggers,” and learn how you can kick your impulsive shopping to the curb and make more thoughtful, intentional decisions in the future.
Trigger One: “I’m Bored”
You’re feeling a little restless. You’re looking for a little energy boost. Suddenly you find yourself browsing your favorite online retailer so you can cash in on that lovely little energy boost you’ll get when you click “add to cart.” I am certainly guilty of splurging on a handbag at 1 a.m. only to wake up and wonder, “Why on earth did I do that? I don’t even need a handbag!” The reason, of course, is that it felt good in the moment. What’s important to remember here is that the short-term reward our brain gets from shopping (in the form of a dopamine hit) pales in comparison to the long-term implications of making frivolous spending a habit.
The Solution: Healthy Energy Boosters
The next time you feel bored or restless, opt for one of the following activities to give your brain and body a quick and healthy energy boost:
• Make a to-do list of small tasks and check them off
• Take a brisk walk
• Try out a new workout class or activity
• Listen to music
• Engage in a creative hobby
• Do something that scares you (instant energy boost!)
All of these activities can trigger the same dopamine hit you get from shopping, minus the credit card debt and pangs of regret.
Trigger Two: I’m Bummed
The urge to spend is frequently triggered when we are feeling negative emotion. The thrill of a new purchase falsely promises to elevate our mood, and provide relief when we are feeling lonely, anxious, or down. The problem is, the relief is generally short-lived and then we are right back where we started. Not to mention that impulsive shopping can lead to other negatives like credit card debt, anxiety, and cluttered, stressful living spaces.
The Solution: Get to the Root of The Problem
Instead of medicating at the mall and pursuing retail therapy, focus on identifying why you are down in the first place so you can get to the source of the problem and solve it. For example, if you find that you’re feeling lonely or disconnected, you might try reaching out to a trusted friend or family member. Choosing to deepen your connection with others will ultimately be far more rewarding than that new blouse, (yes, even if it’s a really pretty new blouse!).
Trigger Three: I’m Inspired!
Who hasn’t been inspired to start spending up a storm when browsing Pinterest, or a fashion magazine, or favorite catalogue? When you find yourself feeling inspired, try out one of these delayed gratification techniques so you can ensure your purchase is a good one:
The Three-Day-Rule: Simple as it sounds, if you see something you want, just jot the item down. If you still really want it in three days, you can pull the trigger. I find that if I tell my brain, “Yes, but not yet,” I am able to quickly move on without feeling frustrated. Goodbye, impulse buys!
The Inspiration Board Rule: If there is something I feel like buying, I simply add it to my Pinterest Board full of the items I’m currently coveting. Since I’m such a visual person, I love to peruse this inspiration board, but rarely actually purchase anything from it. Sometimes getting things out of your brain and onto the page quells the desire to splurge carelessly.
The Budget Like a Boss Rule: Try setting a monthly budget for non-essential spending. If you want something that exceeds your budget, save up until you can splurge responsibly. Delayed gratification does not come easy for most, but the deeper satisfaction associated with spending thoughtfully and responsibly will be well worth the wait.