On Impulse Purchases (And How They Ruin My Life)

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I have a hard time with impulse purchases, although everyone probably does, thus the whole term and concept. But I am going to assume based on my personal experience that my susceptibility to buying stupid stuff at the last moment for a variety of reasons is, even amongst 20-something professional women in New York City, pretty high.

And I have tried to slow myself down over the past week and really break down my impulse purchasing, and I think I’ve realized that ultimately, regardless of the individual circumstance or what I’m buying, the reason is always the same:

My brain doesn’t consider things under 10 dollars as having cost any money.

And of course, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t cost that much money, but only assuming you don’t purchase handfuls of these things a day. Recently, I came home feeling good about a day full of activity and totally devoid of frivolous spending, until I realized that I had spent, without ever considering it a hit to my bank account:

  • 7 dollars on coffee and a pastry to work in a coffee shop
  • 4 more dollars for another coffee because I was taking up the table for a while
  • 10 dollars on my metro card (I always put tiny amounts on and have to refill it every few days instead of just putting a lump sum and saving myself the constant headaches because, you know, I think those 10 dollar swipes don’t count)
  • 8 dollars on a few small items at Duane Reade I didn’t need
  • 8 dollars on a cute shirt at the thrift shop because, you know, it’s basically free~~
  • 12 dollars on two glasses of wine at happy hour
  • 8 dollars on a hot dog and some tater tots

Almost 60 dollars. On basically nothing. And again, none of this was done with any deep, psychological drive to purchase. It’s just my brain looking at a low price, thinking that it is somehow not real money, and OK-ing the spending without further thought. It’s something that is almost subconscious at this point, grabbing a new lip balm here, an iced tea there, a new bottle of nail polish I’ll barely use, a fancy pastry because I want to treat myself.

And yet “treating myself” has become the norm to the point that I no longer feel any sense of reward. I no longer feel like the little bursts of happy, frivolous spending are attached to any kind of achievement or even maintaining of otherwise-healthy habits. There’s no “Ah, I’ve had a great week and I’ve been thrifty, I’ll treat myself to a nice lunch at a sushi restaurant instead of eating at my desk.” I just spend this money carelessly, and always feel guilty instead of ever feeling like it’s special.

For that reason, I’ve decided to start writing down my impulse purchases as I make them. If nothing else, it will likely force me to slow down and consider what I’m doing, and ultimately decide that a lot of stuff isn’t worth it. I may sometimes bore you with the details of what my brain decides is a reasonable buy, but mostly it’s for me. Because I want impulse purchases to go back to being fun and rare, not the unsatisfying way I drain my bank account.