How I Tell The Difference Between Impulse Buys & Things I Genuinely Want

I know comfort shopping is a risk for me. I’ll be having a shitty day, so I’ll start browsing stores online and — oh my goodness, look at this thing I just found. I have to have it. It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever seen and it will make me feel better and I want it immediately. Where’s my credit card?

Whoa now, pump the breaks.

I used to combat this by just denying myself anything non-essential. If I could go without it, I would. But those weeks of absolutely no spending would build and build and build and inevitably result in an out-of-control splurge later on. One particularly bad day would open the floodgates to weeks of purchases I’d foregone, and suddenly I’d have spent hundreds in one day.

I realized I needed a more measured approach to my discretionary spending. I have room in my budget to treat myself sometimes, but I have trouble deciphering between stupid impulse buys and things I genuinely want. So I established a handful of habits to use to tell whether I really want this thing, or just want something. Here’s how I used them to decide on four recent things I wanted.

Delaying Gratification

Best employed: When I have the sudden urge to buy something fun

Someone I greatly admire Instagrammed this card game, and I wanted it instantly. That’s a pretty good recipe for buyer’s remorse.

The surest way for me to tell if I really want the thing or just want something is to force myself to delay gratification. That means no free two-day shipping on this set of Sneaky Cards, even though I have Amazon Prime. Lunacy, I know. But I find that knowing my purchase won’t arrive until a week or two later forces me to think about whether I’ll still be excited to receive it then — a pretty good indicator of how worthwhile the purchase would be. Plus, when you choose the slowest shipping option on Amazon, there’s usually a bonus in the form of a credit or discount, so it feels like I’m being rewarded for my patience.

Result: I could easily picture myself still having fun with the cards two weeks from when I wanted them, so I bought them on the slowest shipping option and earned myself a dollar credit to spend on a digital download.

Buying it IRL

Best employed: When I might just be online shopping because I’m bored

With the end of the year approaching, I find myself daydreaming about my upcoming vacation a lot. I’ll be spending a lot of time at the beach, so a new beach towel might be in order…

I hate taking my physical body to a brick-and-mortar store to buy things, so I try to use that to my advantage. I find I’m happy to fritter away my money online while I’m stuck at work, but as soon as we’re talking about using my precious free time, I can think of much better things to be doing. I know a lot of people love shopping in all forms, so if that’s you, then this strategy will fail. But personally, I dread the maze of stores and crushing crowds at the mall, especially at this time of year. Making a date to go buy it in person forces me to decide if I value that new beach towel enough to take time out of my weekend to get it — time that I could otherwise spend on things I enjoy.

Result: When the weekend came around, I found I had better things to do with my time than suffering the dreaded mall. I have a perfectly good (if not pretty and new) towel I can take on my trip.

Borrowing it First

Best employed: When I can’t tell if I want the thing to use, or just as a shiny token to add to my nest, bowerbird style

For me, books are a constant temptation. I love the look and smell of a new book, and if left alone would happily fill my house with every book in existence just for the pleasure of their company. And I know I’m not the only one with a shelf full of unread books.

My rule now is that if I can borrow it first, I do. Friends have been happy to lend me board games and hair dryers so I can try before I buy. For books, I enjoy regular trips to my local library. There I can indulge that book-hoarding tendency without spending a penny by browsing the aisles and borrowing stacks at a time — and when I don’t get around to reading them all, no harm done! I’ll only buy a book if it’s a favorite I know I’ll read again and again (and will want to lend to friends), when I can’t get it from the library, or when it’s by an up-and-coming author I really want to support.

Result: Necessary Trouble was available at my local library, and a chapter in I found I wasn’t as interested in it as I’d expected. But some of the other books I grabbed off the shelves on a whim turned out to be real page-turners!

Adding it to a List

Best employed: When I find something awesome that I definitely don’t have a use for

When I found this punny washi tape, it made me laugh a lot. My gut said yes, let’s own it! But my brain couldn’t think of a single use for it.

When it’s a gag item like this that I don’t really need, but simply think it’s cool that it exists, instead of buying it, I try to add it to my gift ideas list. It’s not quite the same rush as a purchase, but I still get a little kick out of adding it to my virtual collection of interesting stuff, and later on, when I need to buy someone a gift, I have a source of inspiration handy. This is an artform that Pinterest users have perfected.

Result: This spinal tape has been sitting on my gift ideas list since the start of the year. I don’t need it for myself, and I might never buy it for someone else, but I still get a kick out of it every time I’m browsing for gift ideas. And you never know — maybe one day I’ll be shopping for a friend who loves Spinal Tap and puns, and I’ll have the perfect gift ready and waiting!

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Tried these methods? Got your own technique that works? Let me know in the comments!

Helen Burak is a writer and aspiring badass of Australian extraction, fumbling her way through life in Los Angeles since 2014. She can currently be found working her administrative magic at a small tv agency, writing avidly, and dabbling in amateur electronics in her garage. Follow her on Twitter here.

Image via Unsplash

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