Simple Rule to Avoid Impulse Purchases

I love dessert. And while it might seem silly to you, my all time favorite dessert is a chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles. As a matter of fact, I love that delectable treat so much that I am willing to go up to the window of the ice cream shop and utter the words “I would like a chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles.” I feel like a five year old and it’s totally embarrassing, but I’m willing to suffer the indignity because, I really like it.

I’m sure you can relate. Unless, of course, you’re like my husband who doesn’t like sweets. Then I’ll just say to you what I say to him (in the most loving way possible). You’re weird.

Unfortunately, there would be undesirable consequences if I indulged in my sugar-coated chocolate ice-cream whenever I was so inclined – my love handles would explode, I’d be totally broke, with ten cavities, and a fresh outbreak of pimples… Okay, maybe not that bad, but it sure wouldn’t be pretty.

Therefore to avoid this nutritionally catastrophe, I have given myself a rule – I can only have dessert twice a week. It keeps my impulses in check, but I have the freedom to enjoy little treats. A perfect combination.

Sadly, ice cream is not the only impulse that I have had to learn to regulate. I found that impulse shopping was one of my bigger problems when I started to live on a budget. I would think “ooo, a new pair of sandals! I need another pair (not!)” or “I’m feeling lonely/discouraged/bored… let’s buy a camera!” Obviously, not a great way to approach these decisions and I needed to make some changes.

These are the simple rules that I’ve implemented to help me avoid my budget busting pitfalls :

– I allocate a set amount of money that can be used on splurges. Both my husband and I get $50 a month that we call “discretionary money.” We put it in cash and can do anything we’d like with it, without any justification or consultation. Fortunately this includes buying ice cream cones.

– I force myself to wait a fixed time period before I buy something. I’ve learned that if I delay a purchase, even for just a few days, I’ll avoid wasting money on stuff. This rules seems especially valuable on vacations, when you’re tempted to think “I MUST HAVE THIS OR I WILL DIE.” Give yourself a few days to see if you die or not – well, not really, but you get the point.

– If I do buy something and then start to feel the pangs of regret, I don’t open it! Just tape the receipt to the box and get it back to the store pronto. Listen to your gut and take the darn thing back. You’ll be glad you did and it will help you avoid making the same mistake in the future.

– Finally, write down a “wish list” of items that might be appropriate for gift giving and then tell your family about it. When birthdays, holidays or an anniversary rolls around you can easily reference your list. Sometimes, I ask for money that can be put towards one of these items, but other times I just wait to see if someone will gift it to me. This seems to work really well in our family, and I end up receiving gifts that I am really grateful for and it’s a lot easier on the gift giver.

These simple steps have made a big difference in how I approach purchases and have saved our family significantly over the last few years. I’ll admit, it’s probably a little counter-cultural, but I actually think that’s rather cool. I’m a rebel. A chocolate ice-cream, rainbow sprinkle lovin’ rebel. Watch out James Dean!

Have you used a simple rule that helps you avoid impulse purchases? Tell us about it via the comment section below – it would be neat to learn about them!

Sharon is the woman behind Good, True and Beautiful ( and is learning to live abundantly on a budget! After 15 years of a successful corporate life, she is now applying her business skills to the best job of all – mom. She lives on a small farm in Upstate NY with her husband and toddler son

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chicagolandia June 5, 2009 at 4:53 pm

For any item over $25-$30, I have the 24-hour rule. If I still am thinking about that particular item after that much time, I can consider getting it. After searching for a coupon, better deal, etc.


2 Devon June 5, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Great post! I really enjoyed reading it!


3 Kristine June 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I totally agree with the wish list. We have a list in the kitchen drawer for everyone in our house. Whenever we think of something we write it down on the list and it helps SO much with holidays/birthdays and our extended family appreciates it too (although NONE of them will provide their own extensive list!). It makes you feel like there is hope in getting what you really want, you aren't depriving yourself. Plus, then you don't get a bunch of "junk" presents from people who just don't know what to get you! (I mean "junk" in a loving way – you know what I mean!)


4 Debbie June 5, 2009 at 7:10 pm

You are so very wise to have these guidelines. Sounds like they work well for you.


5 Nicole June 5, 2009 at 10:35 pm

We spend a lot of gift cards in my family-but we rarely receive them. I allocate a certain amount for eating out and we purchase gift cards at our favorite resturants with that money. That way if I just don't feel like cooking one night we can go out (as long as we've got a gift card left).

We also use gift cards to save up for big purchases (like the kitchen aid mixer I want). Any money I'm "under" in my shopping goes on a Bed Bath and Beyond reloadable gift card-we just keep adding to it until we have enough up there to purchase what we want.


6 Cathy June 6, 2009 at 6:20 am

I am so guilty at this. Whenever I see sales and have coupons, I just can't stay away. I thought I would by buying sale items and with my coupon but by the time I get out of the store, I realize I spend more than I needed. My addiction is yarn these days… like I don't have enough.


7 LittlePeopleWealth June 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

The gift card tip is very interesting – I think it could work well for a lot of people! I am guilty of keeping gift cards forever and never using them 🙁 I love getting restaurant gift cards though and I usually spend those pretty quickly because it gives me an excuse to eat out 🙂


8 Sharon June 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Great ideas! I'm going to add a few to my list. Glad to know I'm not the only one who has to reign in her impulses.

BTW, I'm going to use my own guest post on my own blog today. Feels a little like cheating, but we're all fighting the sniffles. Feel free to visit!


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