Shopping rules to slash impulse spending

Whether you’re shopping for small things like groceries or big things like a new car, it’s easy to get carried away and end up spending more than you intended.

That’s especially true when stores and websites are designed to encourage you to spend as much as possible, even as inflation is pushing up the cost of nearly everything.

Institute These Simple Rules to Limit Impulse Buying

One way to prevent spending regrets is by instituting simple rules to limit impulse purchases.

“Retailers are experts at taking away the roadblocks or the friction in the purchasing process,” Scott Rick, associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who studies consumer financial decision making, says.

That means that even if you’ve taken the time to create a budget, it can be hard to stick to it. Consider putting the following rules in place if you’re worried that your spending is on the rise:

[Read: How to Make a Budget — and Stick to It.]

Rule No. 1: Shop Only With Cash

If you struggle to stick to your budget when shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, using only cash to make purchases is a good way to force yourself not to exceed your predetermined spending limits.

“Leaving your credit cards at home is an easy way to limit the amount of damage you can do,” Rick says.

In addition to making it impossible to spend more than the cash you’ve brought, the physical act of handing over money to a cashier can drive home the impact of spending more than simply swiping a card or tapping your phone.

Rule No. 2: Use the Smallest Basket Possible

If you’re just running into a store for one or two items, skip the wheeled cart and use a handheld basket — or no basket at all. That way, you won’t be able to throw in additional items that will hike your bill.

Rule No. 3: Sever Your Relationship With Online Retailers

Online shopping makes it dangerously easy to complete your purchases — and overspend.

Unsubscribe from online stores’ promotional emails — or redirect them to an email account you check only when you’re about to make a purchase and you’re looking for a discount code.

“When you’re constantly seeing those emails come in with the discounts and specials, it’s too easy to click through to the website,” Linda Matthew, owner of MoneyMindful Personal Finance Coaching, says. “And then you end up buying more than one item.”

If you must shop online, sometimes simply finding an item and putting it in your cart can scratch the shopping itch.

Wait a day or two before checking out — that will give you time to consider whether the purchase is something you really want. If you forget about it, it’s probably something you can live without.

Rule No. 4: Have an Accountability Buddy

Whether it’s a romantic partner, family member or close friend, find someone who supports your savings goals or is on a similar path.

Agree to check in with them whenever you’re considering buying something above a certain amount. Simply knowing you’ll need to check in and justify the purchase may help you reevaluate it.

Rule No. 5: Take Advantage of Discounts

Before checking out of a brick-and-mortar store, take a minute to do an online coupon search. You can use browser extensions like Honey to do the same when shopping online.

In addition, Bobbi Rebell, certified financial planner and founder of Financial Wellness Strategies, suggests asking salespeople whether the item might go on sale in the near future. Sometimes, she says, they’ll give you the discount early — or offer to hold the item until you come back to get the sale price.

[12 Best Discount Shopping Apps]

Rule No. 6: Return Things You Don’t Want

Even when you put all these rules in place, you might still have regrets following a purchase. The easiest way to take care of that, Rebell says, is to return the item.

“We have all had those moments,” she adds. “In most cases, you’ll get 100% back with the return if the item isn’t damaged or used. And it’s easier than ever now to return items you’ve purchased online as well.”

More from U.S. News

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Shopping Rules to Slash Impulse Spending originally appeared on

Update 05/10/23: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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