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my money coachAre you an impulse shopper? Part II

by Tim St. Vincent

This article is a continuation of the June 16th edition.

Impulse shopping can be as easy and dangerous as that four-dollar cup of coffee or that 50 per cent BOGO offer. Just like that, the money we have worked so hard to save and budget can vanish on us. If it’s that easy for things to get out of control, how can we hope to keep our money safe from ourselves and our impulse buying ways? Well, there are a few ways, let’s chat about a couple of them.

I, just like everyone else in the right circumstances, can be an impulse shopper. The key is to understand when you’re most likely to be an impulse shopper. For me it can be an electronics store (I love my gadgets!) or when I go for groceries (the smell of the bakery is irresistible). Easiest solution is to avoid these places, but that isn’t always practical, so instead I have to limit myself. If I am going to the electronics store, I call in advance to find out the total purchase price, with tax. Then (gasp) I leave my credit and bank cards at home! Yes, it can be done! I bring just enough cash for the purchase and nothing else. When I go for groceries I only bring cash; I bring exactly what my budget says I am to spend and not a penny more. As I shop, I add up my purchases and when the money runs out, the money runs out! I am forcing myself to stay within my budget.

Another approach is called the “freeze your assets” method. It is quite simple; you take your bank cards, debit cards, credit cards and put them in a sealable sandwich bag. You fill the bag with water. Seal it. Then put it in the freezer! You literally freeze your assets. It sounds corny (and fun) and it works. If you want to get your hands on your cards to satisfy your impulse craving, you have to take that block of ice out of your freezer, plop it on the counter and think hot nasty thoughts at it and wait for it to melt! This will give you a chance to think. Think about why you want to make your purchase. Is it worth it? Is it in your budget? Do you need it or just want it? This can be a very effective method to control impulse shopping.

Generally speaking, there are five main triggers for impulse shopping, summarized by the word T.E.M.P.O. This stands for Time, Environment, Mood, Place and Occasion. If you can identify your impulse triggers, you can find a way to manage the trigger.

Time – is there a time of day when your energy is low? That is not a good time to shop, as you’re less focused and more prone to give in to impulse. Shop when your energy levels are higher and you’re more focused.

Environment – Are there certain environments that cause you to want to spend or make you feel obligated to spend? For example, fairs, home shows, malls, electronics stores? If this is one of your triggers, bring with you only enough cash to meet the expenses planned in your budget. Don’t bring credit or debit cards.

Moods – Some people shop because they’re happy. Some people shop because they’re sad. Certain moods and emotional states drain your energy and can make you more likely to impulse shop. Other moods can impact your shopping, where everything looks like a great deal. Remember last month’s BOGO example? Identify the moods that affect your spending behaviour: happy, sad, hungry, tired – and don’t shop during those moods.

Place – Is there a certain store that is your weakness? Do you like to shop for craft supplies at a favourite store? Do you like to wander the aisles in the home improvement store for hours? Maybe you find yourself impulse shopping when you visit a certain store. Can you avoid that store?

Occasion – Is there a specific holiday or tradition that causes you to impulse shop? Does shopping with a certain friend cause unplanned spending? Do you spend impulsively when you know that you’ll be getting a lump sum of money but you haven’t got it yet? – a bonus at work or a tax refund? Occasion spending can be controlled by having a budget that allows for seasonal and irregular expenses.

Now that you have identified your T.E.M.P.O. triggers, you need to know how to counter them. We suggest you fill out the chart below to specify your exact triggers, and a strategy to overcome them.

Good luck in overcoming your impulse buy. With a little thought and planning you can beat it!

Possible Triggers I want to spend impulsively when... Instead, I can...

Tim St Vincent is a retired CFP and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance with the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. If you wish to contact the Society for further information, assistance or to attend a webinar, please call 1-888-527-8999 or visit or

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