Five ways to avoid impulse buys

If shopping is a contact sport, the entire marketing industry is in one corner of the ring; in the other, you stand alone. How can you even up the odds of spending only as much as you can afford, and only on those items you really want or need? Here are five suggestions to counter those enticements to impulse buying.

1. Don't sit down. Not long ago, I had a question about my bank account, so I stopped at my local branch. The teller hooked me up with one of the cubicle people who escorted me to his office so he could look up my account. As I took a seat, however, I belatedly realized that this was merely a ruse to get me on his turf. Sure enough, he immediately began pitching new credit cards, CDs, and other products. I'm embarrassed to say that I ended up with a rewards card I have no use for, and now I have to go to the trouble of canceling it. I'll never sit down in a bank office, car dealership or showroom again, unless I'm committed to a purchase. Remain on your feet and you can control the situation. Sit, and your normal reluctance to appear rude can trap you into a full-scale pitch session.

2. Don't read newspaper circulars. How many times have I picked up the Sunday ads, needing nothing, only to discover that I suddenly couldn't live without the Blue-Ray player, Crocs or holiday ham featured in the glossy ads? The goal of advertising is as much to create desire as to lure you to fulfill an existing desire in a specific store. If you don't open your mind to these enticements in the first place, you'll avoid many an impulse buy. The same goes with direct mail advertising.

3. Take cash, and leave your credit card at home. That people spend less when forking over cash is an established fact, and a recent Walletpop post cited a study showing carrying large bills spent even less. However, the retail industry is working very hard to make credit purchases so seamless that we barely notice an exchange has taken place. Witness the fast food purchase, where not even a signature is required. Witness the speed with which processing now takes place, so fast we barely have time to be ignored by the clerk. If you spot a deal you can't live without, you can always come back with your credit card. I'm betting that most of the time you won't.

4. Take along Mr. Negativity. You probably have a friend with whom you enjoy shopping, but who may be exactly the wrong person to invite along. Do they think everything you try on is marvelous? Do they buy on impulse? Do they stop mid-day for a cocktail before continuing to shop? Such company can be hard on your wallet. Better you should invite along a reluctant spender, even (shudder) a spouse. If you can't justify the purchase to such a skeptic, you probably don't really need it.

5. Don't touch. The Consumerist recently cited a study that found that people who touch an item have a higher propensity to buy said item. This is why newlyweds should be very careful about picking up babies.

Those are my top five. What tips help you rein in impulse buying?

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