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Home » Budgeting

How to Control your Wants & Impulsive Buying

Last updated by on 13 Comments

Deciphering what is a want vs. a need is not always the easiest thing to do.

As we previously covered, at their simplest level they can be defined as:

What you need: the basic things that you need to survive and function effectively in society: food, heat/electricity, shelter, a means of transportation, clothing, communication, and water.

What you want: everything else.

The ‘what you need’ category can easily be muddled and wants sometimes get mislabeled as needs.

The ‘what you want’ category usually consists of things or services that are one-off purchases. They could range in price from something as cheap as a book to something as expensive as a car. And we’ll focus on these items in this post.

Some examples of wants include:

  • impulsive buyinga new pair of shoes to accent your wardrobe
  • a tablet computer when you already have a laptop or desktop
  • video games
  • a treadmill
  • a gym membership
  • a new set of golf clubs
  • the latest smartphone
  • a new piece of furniture
  • a DVD or BluRay

The problem with the purchase of most of these types of items is that we let our emotions take over. We convince ourselves that we will be happier, smarter, more attractive, thought more highly of, or better off in some way if we get that new item or service, which justifies the purchase.

Some of these ‘want’ purchases result from impulsive buying, but not always. Many ‘want’ purchases are deliberately planned out. We set out on a mission to buy something and we don’t stop until it’s bought.

A Method to Control your Wants

control_your_wants

To control my wants, I have recently started documenting them in a way via a spreadsheet that invites rationality and cuts back on emotion. It also eliminates all impulse buying. Here’s how you can do it too:

  1. Make a copy of this Google docs spreadsheet to edit (you must sign in to your Google account to do this). Screenshot above.
  2. Any time you are about to buy something new, hold off on buying. Instead, enter what you want to buy on the spreadsheet, date it, give a future date to review (1 month out), give your reason for buying it, and research the alternatives (is there a cheaper or free alternative)?
  3. Rate the item on how badly you want it on a scale of 1 (seems like a good idea) to 10 (absolutely must have it).
  4. If you share finances with another, seek out their approval for the purchase.
  5. Come back 1 month later to re-evaluate and either delete the item, or move forward on purchasing it if it still makes sense to you.

What are the benefits to using this method?

  1. In documenting and waiting, you’ve effectively taken impulse and emotion out of buying. I am willing to bet when you come back in a month, you won’t want a number of the items you were thrilled about a month earlier.
  2. By putting something on this list, you acknowledge it is a want and not a need. This is a skill worth building.
  3. You will see exactly how many items you have been buying over time. This will be a real eye opener.
  4. It can allow you to rank the items in order of priority. Buy only the things that will benefit you the most.
  5. It will prompt discussion with loved ones vs. unspoken resentment after a purchase. It may just save your relationship.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Cutting Down on Wants & Impulse Buying Discussion:

  • What tricks do you use to cut down on wants and impulsive purchases?
  • Do you think the method I’ve highlighted will work for you? Why or why not?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


13 Comments »
  • Alyssa says:

    I like this idea a lot and I think it’ll help me. Particularly because I love shopping and it’s going to be hard to justify the things I want.

    Going to update the spreadsheet based on my amazon wish list. Thanks for another great post!

  • Natalie says:

    I love spreadsheets! This is great. I agree that it will be a great supplement to my Amazon wish list. What to you do about item on 1 day sale? For example, on Black Friday I missed buying a ladder for half price because I hesitated. Now I have to wait a year or pay significantly more. I wish I hadn’t hesitated now. Do you ever make exception to the one month policy for good deals? If so, how do you make a quick decision?

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I would say that if something is on your list prior to the sale, then it might be reason for exception to the 30-day rule. If not, then you have to question whether or not you’re letting emotion (the fear of losing out on a good deal) get the best of you. This is the whole purpose of having a sale – to get you to make the justification.

  • Jeena says:

    Great tips! I like the spreadsheet idea as well. Another thing I’ve found to be helpful is to break up the items into: “need” vs. “want.” Very few items fall into the “need” category – so those should have low priority.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    For me, I cannot do this system w/ the spreadsheet. I don’t make a lot of money but I am a bit less than comfortable that I can buy what I want w/o needing to question it so much.

    Then again my goal is not to try to save up $500k before I turn 40. Too late. I have a wife and 1 kid, possibly more on the way. I’ve already conceeded that I’m not going to be rich.

  • Nick says:

    One of my favorite ways is my 10-foot rule. I don’t buy anything w/in 10 feet from the cash register unless I went in to the store specifically for that item.

    I like the spreadsheet, too, but I find I have more fun and success with “silly” rules like the 10-foot rule. Another thing I like to think about is whether my grandmother could live without my purchase. If she could then it’s probably not a need. (i.e. the obvious iphone, HBO, heated seats). If it’s something I think she “needs” then I feel it’s closer to an actual need.

  • Azra says:

    Great tip, simple yet effective. It’s surprising how much of our needs aren’t really needs but wants after all. Eg, I just got done talking to a couple who used our product to get out of debt and they functioned without a car in an area where the public transportation isn’t great (western New York)…it took her 2hrs on a bus to go 4 miles to get to her dentists apointment but she had no choice since it was so cold outside! Now that’s extreme sacrifice for a worthy cause, but it just goes to show how much of our lives are really ‘wants’. Studies show that specific, deliberate objectives that get written down get accomplished and this is a great way to be conscious about your purchasing decision.

  • Herbert Alford says:

    Impulse buying is typically buying something that is not within budget or a part of a monthly spending plan. It is a purchase that is not necessary. Personally, I feel strongly against impulse buying because it is one of the largest causes of consumer debt each year.

  • jeffrey@money-builders says:

    Like most other people I flirt with the constant desire to make purchases I really don’t need and probably can’t even afford. Converting these urges into a methodical spreadsheet is never something I’d thought of before but may be help in organizing (and hopefully eliminating) as many as I can. In particular, I find the idea of allowing these desires to sit for a while while seeking approval from others, refreshing and ingenious. Sometimes time alters our opinions and others have a better idea of what makes sense within our budget then we ourselves do.

  • Mickey says:

    Came to this page after Goolging “how to control your wants”.

    This article is exactly what I was after, and the tool is absolutely fantastic. Thanks G.

  • JennyK says:

    I completely agree that we should assess our needs vs. wants. I never grew up with much money and now I don’t know what to do when I have it.

    When I’m in a store and see something I like, I use my Amazon app that lets you scan to see if you can get that item for a better price. Usually you can online or at another store. I find that if I know this and walk out of that store, I often don’t follow up with buying that item.

    I also search Craigslist or ebay while I”m in the store to see if I can find the item used. Gotta love (free) phone apps!

  • Steve says:

    I don’t disagree with what you wrote, but I think it may be a bit extreme. Let’s say you have some extra money lying around, absolutely nothing to do, and you see an advertisement for an affordable play you didn’t realize was in town, have been wanting to see, and won’t be there in 30 days. Since it wasn’t planned, should you be bored and save your money? Pretty much all entertainment is a “want”, not a “need”, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend money on it, at least occasionally…

    Also, while fitness equipment and gym memberships aren’t technically needs, you could make a good argument they actually save you money. Statistically, physically fit people get sick far less than others, saving money on doctor’s visits, medicine, time out of the office, etc. I’m not saying everyone needs a state-of-the-art gym in their own home, but a reasonable gym membership, assuming it’s used correctly, could be well worth it from a financial standpoint, not even counting the health benefits.

    All that being said, I think it’s a good article for the most part. I just don’t think we need to plan out every single non-critical expenditure 30 days in advance as long as, for the most part, we’re good with money.

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