How to stop buying on impulse

Women with shopping bags Stopping to think before you buy can save you money

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Treating yourself to a new item of clothing or shiny gadget on the spur of the moment can be a lot of fun - but that fun soon wears off if you find you've spent a lot of money on something you don't use.

We all use retail therapy from time to time, but shopping on impulse can be a dangerous business.

The National Employment Savings Trust's survey found that people in Britain spend more than £1 billion a year on impulse buys, with five per cent of those who admitted to spending on unnecessary purchases wasting more than £500.

Results from the BBC's Big Money Test show that people often splash out like this because it makes them feel happy.

If you're one of these impulse buyers, you could avoid potential money problems by taking emotions out of the equation.

It may take some of the fun out of your shopping sprees, but if you stick to a set of guidelines, you could make enough of a saving to indulge yourself when you really want to.

Analyse your spending habits

Before you think about shopping, make a note of your outgoings to establish your spending habits.

Are you sticking to your budget? How much of a problem is impulse buying? How much money could you save if you went without some of your random purchases?

Make a 'what the heck was I thinking?' list of items you've bought on impulse and later regretted. This may be the reality check you need.

Be organised and make decisions before you start shopping

Irrational decisions which result in you spending unwisely often happen on the spur of the moment.

Buying an outfit that you'll never wear again the day before a wedding or even buying food when you're hungry can make you panic buy.

Consumer psychologist Dr James Intriligator from Bangor University says it's important to be in the right frame of mind when you go shopping.

"Your ability to resist and make rational choices is diminished when your glucose levels are down," he says.

"When you get irrational, you fall back on trusted brands which often leads you to spend more money.

"Know in which aisle or department you tend to impulse buy and go there first to get it out of the way. Later in the shop you're more tired and less likely to resist."

"Retailers have clever ways of manipulating customers to spend more but if you stick to your plans you can avoid being affected by their tactics."

Be realistic and know yourself

Sometimes being too strict can be counterproductive and hating yourself for buying something unnecessary could ultimately mean you spend even more to cheer yourself up.

Give yourself a break and accept there will be times when you come home with something extra.

"It's in our nature to reward ourselves, perhaps for hard work or a special achievement," says Dr Intriligator. "Acknowledge that you're likely to buy yourself a small treat. Add 'impulse purchase' to your shopping list, but make sure you set a budget for it.

Research an item before you purchase

Always do your homework before making a big purchase such as a TV, computer or expensive sporting item.

Will you use all the features on the top spec model? Does the most expensive option actually perform better or would a cheaper one meet your needs?

It's also a good idea to check reviews before you buy to avoid nasty surprises. The most expensive or the cheapest item isn't always the wisest option.

You can also save money by checking whether the product you want is cheaper elsewhere, either by searching the web or using a barcode scanner app.

Only buy what you need

Buying in bulk can often mean better value, but it's not always the case. If you go for multi-buy deals you can end up with more than you need.

Only take advantage of these deals if you were going to buy that much of the product anyway, or you know that you'll use it all.

Switching to a different brand from the one you usually buy to take advantage of an offer can sometimes be sensible, but work out how much you're saving.

It's good to try different products but be aware that it may be false economy to buy a lot of it the first time you use it in case it turns out not to be to your taste.

Don't spend more money to get something 'Free'

Have you ever been ordering a product online and noticed that you only need to spend a little more to get 'free' postage? Spending more money to get something for nothing can be counterproductive.

You can take advantage of these deals by waiting until you need to buy a few items together, rather than buying them separately, or by buying your items from the same online retailer instead of different sources.

Cool off: wait 24 hours or more before committing to a purchase

If you see a shiny new product on TV, online or in a shop, and you think you just can't live without it - wait. Try giving yourself a little time to work out whether you really need it.

Simply putting it off for a day or two can help you get over the impulse to buy desirable products. It's a good idea to reflect on whether you'll get your money's worth.

Shopping online is particularly dangerous because it can be so quick and easy. You don't have the walk to the checkout to talk yourself out of anything.

Slowing down the shopping experience is a good idea. One way of doing this is to stop storing your credit card (or PayPal) data. By the time you've filled in your details you may decide that you don't strictly need the item.

Recognise that impulse buying is not all bad

You may actually come across the deal of the century or just find something at a certain time in a certain place that you may never see again. If you can afford it, buy it!

Dr Intriligator says you should always keep an open mind. "The flip side of any advice is to be aware that a deal may actually be a good deal. Just think it through," he says.

"If you like corn and you can buy six cans of it for the price of three, what's the problem?"

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