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It's almost inevitable.  You go to the store and you walk out dropping a bunch of money on stuff you had no intention of purchasing.  Some people are worse than others at this.  Some purchases have more of an impact than others.  For example, an unexpected pack of gum probably isn't going to set you back as much as a 50″ Plasma TV.

I use three ways to curb our impulse spending.

  1. Identify your ‘problem areas' – If you sit down and think about it, you'll probably find that there are certain areas in which you typically are prone to impulse buying.  For some, it's clothing stores.  For others, it's at the grocery store.  Identify what you would consider your top problem spots.  For me, I've discovered that my biggest pinch points are at Costco and at home improvement stores.
  2. Make a list before you go shopping at these stores – Most of the time when we impulse shop, it's because we don't have clear direction on what we want to spend.  If you set limits by creating a list, chances are you will stick to this list or at least curb your impulse spending dramatically.  Now, whenever I venture out to Costco, we prepare a list beforehand, and same with the home improvement store.  Though we occasionally find something that gets added, having a list has probably cut 90% of impulse shopping in these stores.
  3. Estimate prices on the list – If possible, expand your list to also create a spending estimate by item.  This obviously requires that you have an idea of what things are going to cost, which is probably a pretty good idea anyways.  This worked great at Costco, because in addition to having a list, I was able to add up the estimated cost per item and generate a number of what I expected to spend.  Once I had that number in my head, I found that I was going to work even harder to achieve that spending limit.
  4. (Today's a BONUS day, so you get an extra step at no cost!) Once you've conquered your top spots, see if there are other types of stores you want to apply this to.  You may only have one or two types of stores which this is a problem.  Just be sure that you don't start making a list for every single trip you make out.  That can have the opposite effect because you'll inevitably feel overwhelmed and give up altogether.  Creating a balance here is key. For example, I don't normally create a list when I go shopping for clothes, because I typically buy too few clothes rather than too many (says Mrs. Beagle).

Follow these easy steps and I can practically guarantee that you will cut back on a good deal of your impulse spending, and that's just money that you can then stash away for more productive things like debt payment, retirement savings, or that always important emergency fund.