I stopped, I looked, I wanted – Fighting the Impulse to Blindly Consume

impulse shopping

I’m usually very good at shopping with a list, knowing exactly what I’m going to a store to get, and coming out with only those items. But every now and then, like this weekend, I’m assaulted by the “I want it now monster” and I’m forced to fight my way through the impulse. I have to fight the primitive “gimmie” portion of my mind and make the rational portion prevail. More often than not I succeed, but sometimes I fall and fall hard. So how did I do this weekend?

I went to Best Buy because I needed a new flash drive and they had the one I wanted on sale. Unfortunately, the computer stuff is in the back of the store, past all the fun DVD’s and CD’s. They know this, which is why the store is laid out like that. Anyway, as I’m sauntering past the DVD racks, there it is. My temptation. A certain set of DVD’s that I’ve been wanting forever is on the end cap and look — it’s on sale! The regular price is $180. It’s on sale for $100. I drool. I’ve wanted this set for quite some time. I’ve been looking for it, haunting the used dealers hoping for a deal. Today is my deal. Or is it?

I stop. It’s $100. That’s still a lot of money and more that I was hoping to pay. I was hoping to score a used copy for around $50:

“Yes, but it’s almost 1/2 price” screams the gimmie monster.

“It’s $100 that I could better use elsewhere, like on a trip,” says the smarter part of my brain.

“But you’re getting a tax refund that could cover it without tapping other funds,” says the gimmie monster.

This back and forth goes on for a while until I push on and go to the computer section. I pick up my flash drive and try to head for the cash register, but the gimmie monster and the frugal part of my brain are still duking it out. I figure it won’t hurt to go back to the DVD aisle and look at it some more. So back I go.

I pick it up and flip it over to read the back, even though I have it memorized. I’m stalling for time, trying to see which side of my brain will win this war. Secretly I’m hoping I can banish the frugal side and give the gimmie monster free reign for once. But it’s too ingrained. I wander around the store for a while, still clutching the DVD and looking at other things, still stalling for time. I start toward the cash register twice, before backing off to think some more. If anyone could hear the war inside my mind, they’d have me instantly committed.

I go back to the DVD shelf to put it down. It looks like the battle is won. But then, another customer comes up, sees the set, says, “Ooooh,” picks up a copy and goes immediately to the cash register. Why can’t I be like this person, I think? Why can’t I just pick up some expensive item and buy it without a second thought? Sometimes it would be nice to do so. I have the money. I could just go right up to the register and buy it, no problem. But I’m not built that way. I know when I get it home I’ll assault myself with guilt, thinking of what else that $100 could have (and should have) been used for.

Now I’m tired. I’m tired of thinking, tired of wandering around, tired of trying to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make today. I have a headache. I’ve been in the store for forty minutes for a trip that should have taken five. I put the DVD down and go to the register, purchase my flash drive and leave. But even as I’m heading to the car, my gimmie monster is screaming at me that it’s not too late. I can still go back! Fortunately, I have somewhere else to be so I need to get a move on. But even as I’m driving away, there’s a tiny part of my brain that’s saying, “It’ll still be there tomorrow.”

I’ve temporarily won the battle, but I know I’ll be fighting the war all week. That’s how long the sale is good for. I’ve already checked the store’s website twice, checking store inventory and fantasizing about store pickup. Hopefully it will be a busy week and there will be much to distract me from this consumer mindlessness. I hate it when I feel this way, which is why I try to plan my purchases and avoid temptations. I hate feeling out of sorts, out of control and, frankly, obsessed by something that is just a thing. Yes, it’s a very nice thing and one I’d like to have, but it shouldn’t have this kind of power over me.

So why didn’t I just buy it? I had the money and it wouldn’t be a hardship. How did I talk myself out of it? Here’s what I told myself: First of all, $100 is a lot of money to me and well over my comfort level for impulse purchases. That $100 would buy quite a bit on my upcoming vacation so I really need to think about it. Second, I think I’ll be able to get it for less on the used market, I’ll just need to be patient. Third, if it comes down to it, there are special occasions like Christmas or my birthday for which it might make a nice gift. Fourth, if it’s on sale today at Best Buy, the chances are very good that someone else will have it on sale some other time. Besides, since DVD’s constantly go down in price as their popularity declines, this one will probably go down as well. I just have to wait it out. I’ve gone this long without it, I can go a while longer.

The mistake that almost cost me was allowing myself to think about it at all. I should have just gotten the flash drive and gotten out of the store. I could have thought about it at home, away from the store. But I stopped, I looked, I wanted. The longer I thought about it, the harder it became to put it down. So the next time you’re confronted with consumer temptation, what can you do to get past it?

1. Tell yourself all of the things I listed above. You don’t have to buy it today. It will be cheaper later. You can ask for it as a gift. Let your rational mind be heard.

2. Walk away. Don’t do what I did. Don’t carry it around the store and don’t keep looking at it. It only makes it harder. The longer you look and touch, the easier it is to see yourself owning it. Walk away and do your thinking outside of the store where you can do so with a clear head.

3. Consider what else that money can buy. If you have a vacation or other special event planned, think about what the money would buy. If you’re saving for a specific goal, think about delaying that goal because you spent this money today.

4. Ask yourself if this thing will be used or sit on a shelf — and be brutally honest with the answer. I know that I will enjoy watching those DVD’s. But after I’ve seen them once, I know it will be a while before I watch them again. In the meantime, they’ll gather dust. Yes, I’d like to own them, but $100 is still too much for something that won’t be used often. I need a lower price to make myself comfortable with that.

5. Find another way to satisfy the gimmie monster. If he just won’t shut up any other way, find something that satisfies the urge to possess and consume without breaking the bank. My solution was twofold. Fist, I put the entire set of DVD’s into my Netflix queue. The first should be here tomorrow. That will quiet some of the urge I’m having to own this set and, probably, convince me that I don’t really need to own it until it’s less expensive. Second, I went to the library and loaded up on books and DVD’s. No, I don’t own them, but I have a whole bunch of “new to me” stuff in the house to look at. It tames the monster a bit, knowing that I have some things I’ve never seen or read before to look forward to.

6. Write about your struggle. Writing this article has put the whole thing into perspective for me. It’s given me a chance to see how out of control I was (which is the way retailers like you to be) and given my rational mind a chance to be heard. If you don’t have a public forum to confess to, write in a journal or just write it on a piece of paper and throw it away.

It’s now two days after my shopping trip. How am I doing? So far so good. My urge is in check and I’ve stopped checking Best Buy’s website. I’m feeling more in control. To make the point, I took $100 out of my regular account and put it in the vacation account. It’s safe and I like the visual of seeing that account balance jump by $100, thanks to my control. I’ll probably make it through the week without buying that DVD set. Probably.

Image courtesy of evilnick

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13 Responses to I stopped, I looked, I wanted – Fighting the Impulse to Blindly Consume

  1. Raven says:

    I don’t think that buying something that you’ve wanted ‘forever’ and which is on sale for a good price counts as an ‘impulse purchase.’ Yes, you hadn’t planned on buying that item, but it was on the ‘things I’d like one day’ you keep tucked in at the back of your mind. It’d be great if you can find it used for 50$ and go ‘ha!’ to your gimmemonster, but I don’t think this would have been a bad purchase for you since the money spent wouldn’t have inconvenienced you in the least.

  2. zenith says:

    I say “Good for You!” for struggling through this event and adding the $100 to your vacation fund.
    This is called “delayed gratification.” I’ll bet when you go on your vaction you will remember this and be happy with yourself for making the decision that you made.
    Yes, it was something you wanted for awhile and it was a good price, but, it would still have been an impulse buy since you had not “planned” to purchase it that day.
    The more we so “no” to ourselves the stronger we become in that department.

  3. sir jorge says:

    You make great points, it’s hard to not spend when you’ve got the funds…or even if you don’t, but have some credit.

  4. moneyglut says:

    What is wrong with all of you people? It’s no wonder that you can’t be happy. Money is meant to be spent. If it is something that will make you happy and you have it, spend it and make yourself happy. Spending hours thinking about whether it is worth getting something or not is wasted time of your life. Your time worrying is worth more than a lousy $50.

  5. Cortni says:

    I recently went through the same situation with a snowboard I wanted to buy. I planned on buying a used set for under $100, but I was having trouble finding one I liked. Then I found a brand new set for $270, which is cheap for a new snowboard set- plus it looked so nice. But even though $270 is cheap for a snowboard set, it’s also a lot of money in general. I debated for weeks and finally decided I don’t need to buy it now because the season is almost over and it might even be cheaper at the beginning of next year since it’s this year’s model. But it’s hard- I visited online probably a thousand times. I’ve found that I can be so disciplined in my spending sometimes, but there are just some things that really make it hard :)

  6. moneyglut!

    Those $50 purchases ad up over time, until individuals find themselves with thousands of dollars worth of consumer debt that they can barely make the payments on. Then they lose a job or some other circumstance arises and they can no longer meet their debt obligations, and are faced with a VERY stressful situation.

    Your right in once sense, if you’ve got the money spend it! That is the ultimate goal of most people with a financial plan. That learn to sacrifice now so that they can prosper in the future. For now though, most people reading financial blogs struggle with the urge to buy MORE than they can afford.

    Ben @ Trees Full of Money

  7. Wisepicker, personal finances says:

    That behaviour is called “compulsive”. It’s in the nature of the human race, we feel attracted by the product (and all the marketing techniques behind it) and then we are catched.

    I have to confess mea culpa, as I’m also a (currently under control) compulsive buyer, and have applied at least 5 out of 6 of the techniques that you enlist above.

    What I could humbly add to the list is to live (over any time or condition) by the firm rule of a Budget. It doesn’t have to be so complex, just a simple list with quantities on the right. It helps to keep focused and to stop the compulsive desire of buying what we don’t need immediately.

  8. Way to go! Sometimes I struggle with my impulses to buy some random item, even if it’s something that I’ve never even heard of before. But I have found if it at least wait a day or two before I buy I eventually come to my senses!

    Ben @ Trees Full of Money

  9. Efraim says:

    Why anyone should buy DVDs at all beats me. Just find someone that bought them (or a library) and borrow them. Once you buy those DVDs and watch them they WILL gather dust of course, what else?
    Same with most purchases: stuff that you don’t really need, bought because of peer pressure or silly advertisement or some other flimsy reason.
    I am personally very happy EVERY time I manage not to buy something that looks oh so inviting. I always consider NOT buying stuff a more gratifying result than nuying it.

  10. fractalbrothers says:

    tell the gimme monster that your tax return isn’t free money, it’s money you already earned and should be treated just like a paycheck.

  11. Maxine says:

    The netflix suggestion was the best solution of all. Even though you don’t own the dvd, once you see it; you’re usually satisfied with it. In reality, think about it… how many times do you look at the same dvd over and over…..

  12. Pingback: Taking Extreme Measures to Avoid Overwhelming Temptation To Spend - SavingAdvice.com Blog

  13. silver fox says:

    Great article. Having a strategy for dealing with impulse items is definitely smart. I especially liked your idea of ‘find another way to satisfy the gimmee monster’.

    I keep a ‘wish list’ of things I feel would make life better, and save towards those. If I see something else and impulsively want it, I ask myself whether I want it more than the top item on my wish list. Usually the answer is no, especially after I’ve thought about it and procrastinated until the impulse passes. Procrastination can be a good thing! I tell myself I’ll buy it another time, then I forget why I even wanted it. There’s a strong feeling of freedom in walking out of the store WITHOUT that impulse item.

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