Chapter 3: Impulse Buying

You go to the store with the intention of buying a new pair of jeans. Three hours later, you leave with a pair of jeans, a pair of shoes, a belt, and two t-shirts. What happened?

Impulse buying is the Achilles’ heal of the responsible shopper. You know you shouldn’t do it, but finding something you like unexpectedly and buying it is exciting. And stores and online retailers encourage it. What do you see by the checkout lanes when you go to the supermarket? Magazines, soda, and candy – perfect impulse buy items. (Staples, such as milk, are often placed in the back.) Malls, with their winding architecture, benches, and food courts, are designed to keep shoppers there for as long as possible. Go to a store’s website, and you will likely be bombarded with an array of featured products.

Research shows that the longer a person stays in a store, the more likely he or she is to make impulse purchases. You can combat the urge to impulse buy by being a focused shopper. Create a shopping list at home before you go to the store. Once you are there, stick to the list, and get in and out as quickly as possible. Don’t browse or examine things you were not planning to get. Avoid taking free samples or trying on clothes just to see how they look. Don’t talk to employees unless you have to – typically their aim is to sell you more items. Shop alone whenever possible. If you are doing social shopping with friends, you will probably linger longer. If you are shopping with your children, you are likely to hear “I want it” or “Can I have it?” at least once or twice.

Bargain Hunting
People love to buy things on sale. You see a cashmere sweater at 75% off and think, How can I pass up this up? The next day, you brag to all of your friends about the great deal you snagged. It is an accomplishment, a reflection of your bargain-hunting abilities. Sales that give away something for free can be especially enticing (hence the common infomercial sales pitch “and we’ll throw in a second one free!”) After all, what could be better than getting something for nothing?

Buying items that you need or were already planning to buy on sale is a great cost-saving measure, but you are not really getting a bargain if you bought something impulsively just because it was on sale. Let’s say the cashmere sweater originally cost $300. Your initial thought may be that you saved $225, but in reality, you spent $75. And that free second Wonder Mop isn’t really free – you had to spend $20 to get the first one (plus shipping and handling on both mops). When you are tempted to buy something on sale, ask yourself if you really need the item, and remember to focus on the cost, not just the savings. If you weren’t going to buy it anyway, the best bargain is to not buy.