This is a guest blog by author Kim Stephenson.

We evolved to want things now!

Many people impulse buy. Some give in to temptation more than others, but most people have triggers.

The people who can control their impulses best, often use this general method as a starter…

1. Have priorities

If you’re saving for a special treat, it’s easier to avoid spending on impulse. Have a goal in mind, it might be a holiday, a new car, something for your hobby, a present for a loved one. Make it a positive goal, if it’s “to avoid being unable to pay the bills” it won’t work as well as “have spending money on holiday” .Think about how good that goal will feel when you achieve it.

Visualise what you are saving for. Have pictures of what you want, stick them on your make-up or shaving mirror or have them on your phone. Put a mark (for example, a red dot from a stationery shop) on the picture wherever it is. Get that link in your head. Then put a red dot on your cards too. When you see the dot (when you take out your credit card or wallet, for example) you’ll see in your mind the treat you’re saving for. It will make you think, and thinking is the enemy of impulse!

2. Common triggers


We see our friends or rivals with something new. Whether we see it in real life, or posted on Facebook or Instagram or any other social media, we think, “I’ve got to have that too”. Next thing, we’re buying it online and/or on credit.

Remedy: Focus on your goal. If you keep your mind on what is important to you, you will be less tempted to impulse buy something just to compete with others. We all like to have the latest stuff, to be the one who is envied, not the one who is jealous. But let other people spend money they don’t have, on things they don’t really want, to impress people they probably don’t even like – focus on what’s important to you and ignore what other people do.

Monkey see, monkey buy!

We buy things “because they are there”. So, some buy clothes that never emerge from the wardrobe, more food than they need (a big reason we have epidemics of obesity and type- 2 diabetes) and lots of shiny things that seem to cry out “buy me and you’ll have lots of resources, you’ll be safe”. If we see it, we often buy it without thinking.

Remedy: Thinking is the solution. Ask yourself, “on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is what I really love, how much do I really want this?” Make that your automatic default, see something, it appeals, ask yourself the question. Unless it’s a 9 or 10, don’t even consider it. You don’t want it, you’re just reacting to it being there. If it is a 9 or 10, then think about it. If you spend the money on that, you can’t buy something else. It means that if you buy this item at, say, 6 on the scale then the money has gone, and all the other 9 and 10 items have gone as well.

Tricks by vendors

Selling is a science. Shops are designed to take you past things you’ll buy on impulse (like at the checkout), websites are designed to make it easier to “one click” than it is to move on. It’s a multi-billion-pound industry, to get you to buy without thinking, to buy on impulse.

Remedy: The best protection is knowledge. Assume that any time you go into a shop, browse a website, even go past a store display, somebody is trying to sell you things.

Here are some more specific examples:

Websites – try not to log your details or use apps that allow instant payment. They keep it simple, so you will pay before you think. You need to think. If you must enter credit card details or put in identifiers not on the system beforehand, you have a little more time to think and decide if you really need it.

Try to ignore offers of “full refund in X days if you change your mind”. Once you have made the purchase many people find it far too embarrassing to admit they can’t afford it, or find returning it a huge effort which will tie up too much of their time, particularly compared to the simplicity of paying.

Special offers – they aren’t always special. They’re designed to make you think you’ll get something for nothing which isn’t necessarily true. For instance:

Two for one or Buy Two Get One Free both light up part of your brain marked “if one is good, two or more are better” before you think about whether you really (9 or 10) want two.

Discounts make you focus on what you “save” from “normal” price. But what you’re doing is spending. It may be at a discount (from an inflated price, sometimes) but it’s still spending even if it’s “only” 70%. Unless you really want it – don’t buy it on the impulse that you’re saving, because you’re not.

If something is “only” any amount “when you buy X”, think! Our brains want free stuff. It’s easy to want something costing, say, £10. And to be lured by, “with metallic finish is only £1” and “batteries fitted is only £1.50” and so on. The basic purchase might be worthwhile (a genuine 10). But the extras that “only” cost a few pounds or even pennies, can double or triple the cost – and that’s giving way to impulses.

About the author

Kim Stephenson is the only person in the world qualified and experienced both in finance and psychology. He spent over a decade advising many clients as a fee-based Independent Financial Adviser and went on to qualify as a Chartered Psychologist and to coach and teach how to think, feel and behave with your money to get the most of it.

He is a guest lecturer at various universities on psychology, risk and finance and is on the finance industry’s “Subject Matter Expert” lists.  He’s also a tutor and assessor in postgraduate neuroscience. He’s written two books for the general reader on the psychology of finance, Finance is Personal for university students and Taming the Pound.