Are You Falling Captive to Impulse Purchases?

Have you ever gone into a store expecting to buy only items on your list or simply just to look around but come out with an expected item or two…or three?  While I am a junior finance major, I can still definitely relate. As this is something that we all fall susceptible to at one point or another, it is important to identify our needs and wants as well as understand how these “good deals” or impulse buys, buying of goods without planning to do so in advance, may not be the best use for our financial health. This is a pertinent topic for college students because we are discovering our new responsibility to manage our money on our own, which means it is very likely that we will find ourselves in the situation addressed above during our college years.

​​Wants and needs seem straightforward—until you set yourself loose in a store. Cookie dough ice cream? It is a food, so mark it as a need. That t-shirt that fits you perfectly? Well, you need more shirts, so why should it not count as a need, too. These might seem light ridiculous examples, but it is quite easy to mix up wants and needs in the moment. Needs include basic items like food, water, shelter, basic health care, hygiene products, and clothing. A want is something that people desire to have but could live without. It is important to balance your needs and your wants so that you are able to live within your current means; and only you can determine which trade-offs you are willing to make to live within your means.
If impulse buying starts to get the best of you, purchases in the want category can start to add up. There are a few human tendencies that may cause these unnecessary purchases of which you should be aware.

  1. The simplest explanation is that some people gain an enormous amount of satisfaction from acquiring something new. The act of buying is an act of empowerment that may not be felt often in other aspects of life.
  2. Another factor is discounts that we are told, or we assume will not last forever. In this situation our focus switches to the fear that we will miss out on the deal.
  3. Bulk buys and “free” extras give us the impression that the item must be a good value, and we go with this feeling rather than researching any further. Buying bulk can save an individual money, but one must double check before purchasing as well as consider whether he or she will use all of the item if purchasing in bulk.
  4. Another characteristic that many of us have is an innate desire to save. Retailers and manufacturers play on this by telling us how much money we could save by buying and using their product. We find it hard to resist the idea that we will be saving money or time.
  5. The last factor that may cause impulse buying is the fact that rather than looking back and reflecting on our past actions, we look to the future with an idealized view of what it might be like. For example, rather than acknowledge the fact that we have not done a lick of exercise in the past five years, we like the idea that buying the new Bowflex will turn us into someone who does have the motivation to do 200 crunches a day.

When you find things that you want to buy or do that you currently cannot afford, it becomes all too easy to focus on those things to the point of overlooking the negative consequences as well as all the many possessions that you do have. Do not trick yourself into feeling deprived when you are not. Take time to reflect on all the ways that you have been blessed by God. Decide what is important to you and come up with a plan or budget and act on it. Even if it takes you a long time, just working toward a goal is empowering.