Impulse Shop

Credit: sarahbaker

We have all done it at least once, usually when we are feeling emotionally low. We pass by a storefront with a shiny new boondongle in display, drop in and buy it. An instant hit of pleasure floods through our being, we enjoy the company of the shiny new thing, use it with joy – for sometime. Very soon, though,  we end up consigning it to that special drawer, where the rest of our impulse purchases are stored and never mention it again.

Welcome to the world of retail therapy.

It adds clutter to our lives and the pleasure that it gives us is all too fleeting. Very soon, these items we have purchased each become a millstone around our neck, weighing us down with guilt every time we look at the object that once gave us pleasure but is no longer useful. The next time you are faced with this decision, how do you avoid the impulse purchase?

1. Procrastinate. This is one instance where procrastination comes to our rescue. When faced with an impulse purchase, don’t do it. Instead, postpone the decision and add the item to a list of “someday maybe” purchases. You now have it in a list, so it no longer weighs down your mind. Chances are a month later, when you look at the list, you can cross this item off without feeling any loss – mission accomplished. On the other hand, if after a month, you still feel the need for this item, maybe it does belong in your life, go ahead and purchase it without any guilt.

2. Focus on something you are more passionate about, dragging your attention away from the impulse buy. For this, you have to find out what you are truly passionate about and develop awareness of your likes and dislikes. For example, a friend of mine has craving for coffee each time he passes by a certain coffee shop near his house. He overcame this addiction by focusing on his children, waiting for him at home each time he developed this craving and hurried past the coffee shop – mission accomplished. This takes a bit of will power, though. And a body that obeys our mind. Something we all aspire to.

3. Carefully think about the impact of the purchase. Remember the last time you bought the latest electronic thingummajiggy and its just lying around in your house now. Vividly picture the first time you got the object, felt the “hit” of pleasure from possessing the object, the many hours of joy you got using the object. Also then picture the first time you started taking this object for granted, stopped deriving pleasure from using it and finally either hid it away from sight or got rid of it. This will give you a clear picture of what the “curve” of possessing a material object and deriving pleasure from it feels like. Will the impulse buy you are craving now be any different? This breaks the illusion – mission accomplished.

4. Walk past, do something active for sometime. Drag yourself away from the scene of the temptation and go for a run. If what you have been thinking about is an impulse buy, by now it must have gone from your memory – mission accomplished. Did I mention, this takes a bit of will power?

5. Call a friend or a loved one and talk for sometime. This is a variation of (2), of course, but very powerful since the ties that bind us to our loved ones give us much most intense pleasure than anything we can get from a material object. Very soon, the combined “electronic pocket calculator with french-to-english translator” you wanted to buy will be a distant memory.

6. Understand truly the value of the money you are doing to spend on this object and convert it into terms that have meaning for you. For example the authors of “Your Money or Your Life”, a path-breaking work on personal finance, ask the reader to convert any dollar value into its corresponding “life energy” units. This is roughly the number of hours it took for you working at office to make this money. This will convert the dollar amount into something that is real and tangible and allow you to compare the pleasure you are going to derive – long term – from the purchase with how much toil it took for you to bring that money into your life. Makes it very real.

7. Think about the burden of bringing a new object into your life. Look past the pleasure of owning, lets say, a bicycle and think about the time and effort it will take for the care and feeding of this new object in your life. For example, owning a bicycle means you need a whole set of accessories to go with it. Helmet, brightly colored clothes, a pump, chain lubricant, panniers and new friends – cycling friends! Also, the time it takes to do routine maintenance of the bike once a week. Is it really worth it?

8. Come up with substitutes that are just as good. Do you really need that voice recorder gadget or can you make do with recording messages on your phone or using the record feature of your mp3 player? Do you really need the latest model phone or can you just add an application to your phone to bring some extra bit of functionality into the instrument? Do you need to buy that book or can you reserve it at the local library and wait a bit of time to read it? You get the point.

9. Get down to the underlying reason why you want to make the impulse purchase and attack it! Do you really want that whopping 2 pound burger or are you just feeling lonely? Maybe its time to go to a bar or a friends place so that be amongst other people! Bored and don’t have anything to do? Maybe you can borrow and watch a movie or take a walk instead of purchasing that monogrammed set of Ginzu knives? You got it.

10. Break any mental association between being “patriotic” and purchasing more items you don’t need. Remember that shirt/tie/cuff-link you are going to splurge on might contribute more to the economy of another country and might add wealth to the coffers of middle men and management who are already rich, rather than your fellow country men. There is nothing wrong with enriching the coffers of another country (an ally?) or contributing more to the welfare of the corporate class, but is that what you intended? Are you sure?

The next time you are drawn to the promise of pleasure by buying that “must have” antique roller blade from the shop front, try applying these techniques, in isolation or all at once, and see what happens.

All it takes is a bit of awareness. Remember, its not a one way street to depriving yourself. Its all about allowing only those things in our life that bring us true and lasting pleasure, at least for a lot longer than the time it takes us to tire of the latest “shiny object” in our life.

What impulse buys have you made in the past, that these techniques could have helped you avoid?


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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

sac August 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Bravo! Finally done it :)

Nicely done too. Great post and I see every word comes from experience. :)

Keep it up buddy.

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Krishna August 29, 2009 at 2:44 am

Thanks so much, Sac. First of many, I promise :-)…

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JS Dixon August 26, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I love #10 it even tempts an impulse rant. Spending with no savings and especially on impulse is BAD for the economy!

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Madeleine August 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Krishna,
A good post and one with wider applicability than impulse purchases. I think that some of your suggestions apply equally well to other dysfunctional behaviour, such as overeating. Certainly, that’s the case for #3 4,5, and 8. Nice job.

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Krishna August 26, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Thanks so much, @Justin, @Madeline @Sac.

@Madeleine, Yes, some of these items are definitely applicable to other areas. And Madeline, funny you should use the term "dysfunctional behavior", because that is what impulse purchases are.

@Justin, yeah, the first time I heard the marketing around "shopping is good for the economy", just didn't sound logical, definitely worth a rant :-).

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JS Dixon August 27, 2009 at 1:00 am

Yeah, I'm an economics nerd and I really don't like the mainstream school of economics. Its only popularized because it encourages those in power to grab for more power, where as classic economics (austrian school) say that you have to save because hard times will come.

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Jeffrey Tang August 27, 2009 at 2:29 am

I'm a big fan of the Austrian school of economics. As far as I know, they're the closest to understanding how economies really function and -should- function.

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Krishna August 28, 2009 at 9:55 pm

I have to check up, the Austrian school of economics.

And yeah, by definition, something that has to keep growing to succeed is an unstable structure and will go through devastating cycles. Have you read Charles Handy? Some great thinking on economy and corporate structure.

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Kye August 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Krishna, I love both the content and also several delicious phrases in your post. Favorites: “a shiny new boondongle”, “the scene of the temptation”.

I think the most profound thought in it is the idea of the ‘curve’ of possessing a material object. That’s powerful.

Kye

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Krishna August 28, 2009 at 9:56 pm

I can see you are a reader of "your money or your life" :-), very powerful book and gets into the curve much more in depth!

Thanks for pointing this out…

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Karlil August 26, 2009 at 11:19 pm

I'm especially good with #1. I'll just say, "i'll come back later" which i'll never. But with that said, I've done it too many times in the past. Some turn out to be a good buy while many turn out to be a wrong decision made. Great post Krishna.

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Krishna August 28, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Thanks so much, Karil, and you know what. #1 (finally) uses procrastination to our advantage :-)!

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Jeffrey Tang August 27, 2009 at 2:28 am

I very much agree with #6. Money is just a tool to help us quantify things like time, effort, and ingenuity. If you think about money in that way, it because much easier to make worthwhile purchases and avoid frivolous ones.

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Krishna September 17, 2009 at 11:57 am

Thanks Jeff, and yeah, we typically have more hangups around money than anything else in our lives. Its pretty powerful considering its just a unit of exchange!

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Jai Kai - SharingSuc August 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Krishna,

Great techniques… I don't impulse by and I use a lot of these that you mention here. Especially the procrastination – I say to myself that I will buy that later and I never end up doing it.

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Krishna September 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

Hi Jai, great to hear your confirmation this works for you :-). Procrastinate away…. :-).

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Arvind Devalia September 7, 2009 at 10:29 am

An excellent first ever post, Krishna!

I agree with all you say – especially the bit about how all this excess buying is good for the economy.

You should submit this article to all those online shopping websites!

I thought I had conquered impulse buying but I visited IKEA last week and bought all a crockery set I didn't really need! The new plates and bowls look great but they are far too big for my kitchen cupboards. So I might go back to the original ones.

Anyone out there looking for a new crockery set?! They can have it as a gift:-)

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Arvind Devalia September 7, 2009 at 10:34 am

I just remembred an anecdotal story about Rumi who used to wonder through the shopping alleys with a big broad grin on his face.

Someone asked him why he always looked so happy loking at the wares in the shops, yet never bought anything.

He replied that he was so happy admiring and appreciating all the things he didn't need!

PS This story might have been about Socrates – easy to get your Rumi and Socrates mixed up :-)

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Krishna September 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

Very powerful quote, my friend. Thanks for that :-). And hope you had luck selling that crockery set :-).

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Prachi September 9, 2009 at 5:41 am

Krishna,

Nice post, so true. "Impulse buy" does help reduce the stress from busy lives we live by giving that temporary high. Your suggestions are really interesting – I should try them ;)

PS: I am getting better coz of Sac (he is lazy to go to the mall or maybe it's his 'technique')

Good stuff! keep writing.

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Krishna September 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Hi Prachi, thanks for your comment. And you know what, knowing Sac, it might be his technique, you never know :-).

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