Do you buy stuff suddenly without planning (impulse buying)? This might help

Published: May 26, 2018 at 10:58 am

Last Updated on August 30, 2021 at 8:07 am

Impulse buying refers to the sudden purchase of goods and services without planning or without evaluating if it would be useful. It is the same as the sudden urge to pick up a packet of namkeen or sweets just because we have seen it! If you are worried about how you or someone you care about buy stuff, give this method a try. It might work for at least expensive purchases.

Impulse buying has a lot in common with impulse eating. So at least one remedy has a lot in common and is well known: delay gratification. There is, however, one key difference. Delaying the purchase does not mean avoidance and that is what this post is about.

There is a common myth that if you close your nose and eyes, you cannot tell the difference in taste between an apple, an onion and a potato! Some people cannot, but most of us can tell the difference. Give it a try! The origin of this myth is the fact that smell plays a big role in taste and satisfaction.

For example, those who have just given up sugar and/or started on a low-carb high-fat diet often feel the temptation to eat spiced up carbs or sweets. The urge to give in might go away if we spend some time sniffing the food. Obviously, those who have poor self-control will give in, but it worth a try. This is delay gratification by embracing the presence of what we desire and not by avoidance.

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A similar strategy might (note, again I only say might) work with impulse buying. Today it is so easy to buy stuff without stepping out of the house. We so many products, so much choice within each product type and so many ways to buy. However, we should also keep in mind that information about the product features, its pros and cons are also easy to access. There are online reviews for most medium-ticket prizes.

Perhaps it is an age thing, my first instinct to search for reviews is on Google and click on articles. Younger people prefer to search straightaway on youtube – smart move! So each time anyone in the family has an urge to buy something “expensive”, we will have read or watch reviews, compare the specifications within and across brands and understand why something costs more or less.

If we do this “sniffing” for a few days, we understand how to use the product, when to use the product, what it cannot do. The impulse to process it and our perception of its value as sensed by advertisements change significantly.

If after this exercise, we still think the product would be of value or use to us, we go ahead and buy it without the guilt (which often sets in later).  I have done this for many purchases big, medium and small- my wife’s smartphone, a professional quality tripod, her DSLRs, camera lenses, my son’s toys etc.

Every single time that we did this, we went from “that is nice, I want to possess it NOW!” to “hmm there are better products out there at a lower price” or “maybe I don’t really need this now”. Delay gratification by embracing the object of desire has done wonders for us. It may or may not help save money, but it keeps the regret away. Money is there only to be spent, but we must at least try and spend it well.

Many people want to know how to teach their kids money management. I think all we need to do is to teach them delayed gratification via product research. Next time they want something expensive, the first step is to discuss the budget and when we are going to make it. If we need to save up for it, then we can get them involved. The comes the product research. Let them do the searching and make a presentation. Then a purchase is made.

There is an extreme situation that I would like to add here. I know many parents who deprive children of their wants (not needs). This can be extremely harmful to the child. If they get the impression that their parents will not buy what they want, they might stop communicating with them reg personal and emotional issues. So it is important to strike a balance – buy what they desire (with research) but not spend beyond our means

What I have discussed above will work for reasonably expensive purchases. Impulse buying could also involve repeatedly making small purchases. Eating out too often is a common example. I would think a different approach is necessary here. As I don’t have this problem, cannot comment on this.

If you have overcome impulse buying (small/big) do share how you went about it. 

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalDr M. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He has over ten years of experience publishing news analysis, research and financial product development. Connect with him via Twitter(X), Linkedin, or YouTube. Pattabiraman has co-authored three print books: (1) You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) for DIY investors. (2) Gamechanger for young earners. (3) Chinchu Gets a Superpower! for kids. He has also written seven other free e-books on various money management topics. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India,” an organisation promoting unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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