Have you ever been waiting in line at a department store and picked out something on the rack before checking out? Here’s how to avoid that impulsive buy.

Have you ever wandered into a store, bought something that struck your eye, then immediately regretted your impulsive buy?

A few weeks ago I met up with one of my girlfriends for coffee and wedding shower shopping for one of our besties. We aimlessly wandered, more consumed by our conversation than any storefronts—until we found ourselves in Anthropologie.

I don’t spend much time in Anthropologie. For the most part, it’s out of my price range, but I’m always in awe of the display. When I walk through the doors, I feel instantly transported to the end shot of an episode of my favorite HGTV show, Fixer Upper, wanting absolutely everything inside.

Decorative minutiae like coasters and throw pillows suddenly seem like must-haves—even with their outrageous price tags. I have to ground myself back into reality, to avoid walking out with a bag full of buyer’s remorse. And miraculously—I do.

But that wasn’t always the case. It’s taken years to master the art of tempering my wants—even in the face of Anthro-like temptation.

Maybe Anthropologie doesn’t do it for you, but I’m sure you can relate—whether it’s REI or the Apple store or your favorite restaurant—or maybe it’s everything. Whatever it is that threatens to demolish your financial impulse control, know that you can fight back with some of these pre-purchase evaluation techniques.

The 24 Hour Hold

You know that desperation to watch the next episode of a fabulous show when you’re binge watching on Netflix? It’s so strong at that moment, especially when they leave you with a “gotta-know-what-happens-next” cliffhanger. But eventually, you get up, go about your day, and become preoccupied with other priorities.

Remember that sensation the next time you’re tempted to buy something. At the moment, the desire to purchase can be totally overwhelming, but if you give it just another 24 hours, you may find that hold-time puts your purchase into perspective, and you don’t want it so badly after all, therefore avoiding the impulsive buy.

The Thrift Shop Technique

Remember those throw pillows and coasters I was talking about? Outside the confines of an Anthropologie or Pier One (or even Target), I honestly don’t care much for them.

I just have to remind myself of that when I’m in that intoxicating retail environment. Anytime I’m tempted to buy something I don’t really, truly need—be it a new pair of shoes or some inspirational quote art, I try to imagine it in the clearance section of Goodwill or Salvation Army. Then I’ll ask myself, “Do I really want this—or is it just the setting?” It’s a surprisingly powerful tactic. When you remove the seduction of the retail environment from your purchase evaluation, you set yourself up for far more rational decision making.

The Cost versus Labor Assessment

Another sobering reality check when I’m feeling particularly tempted is to consider how much a potential purchase would cost me in man-hours. In other words, I calculate how many hours I would have to work to afford this pair of jeans or this second cocktail.

This was particularly effective when I was survival jobbing at restaurants and tradeshows. At $15 per hour, a $30 dinner out meant working two hours of soul-sucking service, before taxes. With that mindset, it became easy to get into the habit of saying no to myself in the store so I could say yes to myself when it came time to take a day off.

It’s all about trade-offs. Evaluating purchases as a measure of the time it takes to earn the amount on the price tag is a tangible way to realize and be conscious about those trade-offs.

The Goal Method

Ultimately, all these strategies are aimed at making better decisions at the moment—avoiding short-term indulgence at the expense of long-term goals. That’s not to say that in-the-moment indulgences have no place, as long as they’re made mindfully and don’t come at the cost of achieving the things we truly want.

To stay grounded in what we want, we have to define what our wants are—and once we do, we need to keep them top of mind. I’ve always been a fan of incorporating tangible reminders of my long-term goals into my lifestyle. Keeping a picture of my dream home on my computer desktop or a printed photo of my ideal retirement locale wrapped around the credit cards in my wallet. So whether I’m shopping online or in store, I always have a visual reminder of my true goals and priorities, and I can weigh the present purchase against them.

The App Strategy

If all else fails, there’s always the app strategy—downloading an app on your phone that aggregates all your accounts and credit cards to track your spending. I like to think of it like having a scale or calorie counter in my pocket as I’m working to meet a fitness goal. If I’m seriously contemplating a piece of chocolate cake, I’m far less likely to eat it if I step on the scale right before and find I’m already on the edge of falling off my target. Similarly, seeing the reality of your spending in the black and white can ground you in better decision-making in the moment of purchase.

One thing to note about all of these strategies is that none of them call for automatic denial of your wants or needs. These tactics just force you to evaluate each purchase in the context of your budget and your long-term financial goals. This way, you can make decisions that bring you closer to what you truly want, rather than pushing those goals further away for some coaster (or lamp, or jeans) you really don’t care about anyway.

Stefanie O'Connell
Stefanie O’Connell is a Millennial money expert
and author of
 The Broke and Beautiful Life.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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