12 Tips for Curbing Impulsive Shopping

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The holiday shopping season is almost here and for some, that means you will spend much more than you have or can afford. Impulsive shopping is often at it’s worse during this season; first you are at the mall or online shopping much more often than during other times of the year and second, you feel less guilty about overspending if you are shopping for gifts – after all you are doing it for others, not just buying unneeded items for yourself.


    But even during the rest of the year, many adults with ADHD struggle with impulsive spending. Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., author of ADD and Your Money: A Guide to Personal Finance, in an interview with Edge Foundation, said, “People with ADHD have more impulsive spending than people without ADHD…” [1]

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    The following are tips to help you manage and curb your impulsive spending:


    Talk with your doctor about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Studies have shown that those with ADHD have a higher rate of OCD and impulsive spending may be one sign of this. Talk with your doctor about other signs of OCD to find out if this might be contributing to your impulsive spending.


    Accept that you have a problem with impulsive spending. Acknowledging a problem is always the first step to controlling it and impulsive spending is no exception to that rule. Once you acknowledge that your shopping habits are causing problems for you and your family, you can look for solutions.


    Never go shopping without a list. You have heard it many times but before heading out the door, whether grocery shopping or gift shopping, make a list first. Once at the store, buy only what is on your list.


    Use cash instead of credit or debit cards. It is often more convenient to pull out a card to pay for your items, but that convenience can contribute to impulsive spending. You may think twice about a purchase when you have to watch your cash disappear.


    Only take enough cash to cover your expected purchases. Use the list you wrote to estimate how much cash you will need and take only that amount with you. Leave your checks, credit card and debit cards at home. Any additional purchases are going to take the effort of going home, getting your debit card, going to the ATM and then back to the store. This whole process will give you time to think about whether you really want to make the purchase.


    Think about whether impulsive shopping is worse when you are alone or with others. For some, social shopping, with the “oohs” and “aahs” of friends over a lovely piece of jewelry or an expensive sweater will drive you to buy the item, even if you can’t afford it. For others, having someone along gives you a partner to help curb your impulsive shopping. Decide which happens to you and then do the opposite.


    Agree to wait 24 hours before making any purchases over a certain amount. This might be $50.00 or $100.00, depending on your situation. Just stick to giving some thought to whether or not you really want to buy something that is over a certain amount. If you have a partner, you might want to make a rule that neither of you can make a purchase over this amount without talking it over first.


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    Keep items in original packaging or keep the tags on clothes purchases for a few days. This gives you time to decide if you really want to keep it. You can return anything that you don’t want.


    Understand your impulsive shopping. Are there certain stores or websites that you just can’t resist buying something? Are there certain times that you are more prone to impulsively shop, such as when you are feeling down? The more you understand about what triggers your impulsive shopping the better you can make plans to avoid these situations.


    Make a list of low-cost or free activities you enjoy. When you feel the urge to shop, take out your list, call a friend and head out to have fun without shopping.


    Track all your purchases. Write down everything you buy or use software such as Quicken or Quickbooks to keep track of every purchase. You will probably be surprised to see how much you spend on useless or unnecessary items. You can use this information to create a budget.


    Work on a monthly budget. Once you complete your budget, you should be able to see how much “fun” money you have each month. Give yourself a weekly or monthly allowance to use to shop. Once that money is gone, you need to wait until next week or next month for any additional purchases.


    If, no matter what you do, you continue to impulsively spend and squander your family’s money, think about getting professional help. You might want to talk with a therapist or work with an ADHD coach to help you get a handle on your spending.




    “ADHD and Your Money: An Interview with Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D.” 2010, Oct 11, Edge Foundation

Published On: October 29, 2012