4 Common Budgeting Mistakes
- No specific motivation
- Unrealistic spending estimates
- Overlooked expenses
- Too many restrictions
Do you often find yourself buying things even when you didn’t plan to? It can be hard to resist a good deal on football tickets or a stylish new pair of shoes—even if they don’t quite fit in this month’s budget. In the moment, the purchase may feel great. You’re pumped for that football game, and you already have a whole outfit planned around those shoes.
But over time, impulse buying could mean bad news for your wallet.
“It is absolutely important to avoid making impulse buying a habit because it can lead to several dangerous financial consequences,” says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of personal finance site Money Crashers. If you consistently ignore your budget and give in to every tempting purchase (oh, there can be so many!), you run the risk of getting yourself into credit card debt, negatively impacting your credit score or not being able to contribute to your financial goals, such as an emergency fund or retirement savings, Schrage adds.
If you consider yourself an impulse spender, you may have to ask yourself, “How do I avoid going broke on my impulse buying habits?”
“Impulse buying has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of intelligence. It has everything to do with the actions you take,” says Clare Dubé, personal finance expert and blogger.
Take action today with these five steps to use a budget to stop impulse spending and avoid impulse spending to save money for your future:
If you’re looking for ways to stop overspending on impulse buys, Dubé says to first ask yourself why you are making the purchases in the first place.
“While that may seem obvious, the answer is often unknown to the person,” Dubé says, adding that she believes every purchase fills a need. “Oftentimes, the need being filled is an emotional need.” Have you ever raised your spirits after a bad day with the instant gratification of buying something new and shiny? Now, consider whether that purchase actually made you feel better. More often than not, the answer is no.
Putting your money toward the things you do actually care about is a way to stop overspending on impulse buys. To recalibrate, Dubé suggests listing your values, then narrowing the list down to the top three. “Use those values as a guide with every financial transaction,” she says. For example, if you value supporting your local business community, you’ll start to think twice before impulse purchasing a mass-produced clothing item you could find anywhere.
This process serves two purposes when it comes to ways to stop overspending on impulse buys. “One, moving forward, purchases are being made based on what is important to that person,” Dubé says. “Two, when you stop and think what value [or values] the pending purchase aligns with, it allows you to be more mindful of the purchase, and therefore keeps the purchase from being an impulse.”
One way to avoid impulse spending to save money is perhaps a surprising one: Give yourself permission to spend a little on “fun stuff.”
“There should be a line for discretionary spending” in your budget, Schrage says. Without this, your budget may feel too restricting and it can be more difficult to stick to in the long run. Making financial room for fun is a way to use a budget to stop impulse spending because it allows you to know your budgeting limits without feeling deprived.
“At the beginning of each month, if you know that you only have $250 to spend on ‘stuff,’ you’ll be that much more likely to remain in control,” Schrage says. That “stuff” will include any non-essential spending that relates to your values and brings you joy—perhaps spending on books or on supplies for your favorite hobby.
If you end up spending more than you have in your budget on discretionary spending, you’ll be able to flag it right away and make a decision about where to cut back elsewhere.
“It is absolutely important to avoid making impulse buying a habit because it can lead to several dangerous financial consequences.”
Swiping a credit card may not feel like spending “real money” in the moment, but you always have to pay off your balance later—and sometimes with interest.
As you learn how to use a budget to stop impulse spending, consider how your credit card usage has been impacting your budget. For instance, when you swipe your card, do you always make sure the spending falls within your budget? Or do you think of your credit card spending as separate from your budget, carrying a balance from one month to the next?
To see how often you use your credit card to make impulse purchases, comb through your last few credit card statements. If credit seems to be linked with impulse spending, you could cut back on your credit card usage—or cut it out altogether—as a way to stop overspending on impulse buys.
Instead of swiping your credit card for discretionary expenses, consider going a different route. A cash envelope budget, for example, can be a great method to avoid impulse spending to save money. This involves withdrawing your full spending budget in cash every month and divvying up the cash into one labeled envelope for each budget category. That way, you can spend on impulse without spending beyond your budget.
If cash is not your style but you still want a break from credit, you can build good money habits with a debit card.
If you’re determined to avoid impulse spending to save money, try giving yourself some spending parameters. Schrage has several suggestions for ways to stop overspending on impulse buys—you simply have to figure out which ones will hold you most accountable.
“One strategy is to always give yourself a 24-hour waiting period before making any significant purchase,” he says. The waiting period will help you determine whether you really need the item. If you don’t, the purchase may completely slip your mind. But if you’re still thinking about it after a full day and it aligns with your values, it may be worth fitting it into this month’s discretionary spending budget.
Schrage also suggests avoiding shopping—online and in person—unless you know exactly what you want to buy. “Then you should create a list if necessary and stick to it,” he adds.
Another of Schrage’s ideas to avoid impulse spending to save money is to include your long-term financial goals in your budget, such as saving for your dream vacation or buying your first home. “That way, you know that you have to set aside money for them instead of blowing it on unnecessary buys,” he says.
In addition to evaluating your own spending habits and goals, consider the habits of those you spend the most time with. “If you have friends who you’ve determined have bad spending habits, distance yourself from them,” Schrage says.
“When you stop and think what value [or values] the pending purchase aligns with, it allows you to be more mindful of the purchase, and therefore keeps the purchase from being an impulse.”
What happens if you want to use a budget to stop impulse spending, then slip up and buy something you hadn’t planned for—not even in your discretionary fund category? Dubé says not to beat yourself up about it.
“Money shaming and blaming is never the answer when an impulse purchase is made,” she says. Instead, she suggests trying to rectify the transaction. “For example, is the purchase a piece of clothing or other item that has not been worn or used with tags still attached? Then return the item,” Dubé says.
Otherwise, you can simply accept that you’ve lost money to an impulse purchase and pledge to do better going forward. Refocus on the tips above and use a budget to stop impulse spending for good.
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1 “Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015,” Revised March 2017, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, United States Department of Agriculture.
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