Personal Finance

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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