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12 Ways to Avoid Impulse Buying

When it seems like a good deal, do yourself and your wallet a favor: Wait before you buy

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"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

That's what my friend Clive Jenkins said as we stood watching his new hot tub being delivered to his house.

"Yep, we went in for some hot dogs, and we came out with a hot tub instead," Clive said, recounting the ill-fated shopping trip to a local membership warehouse store that cost nearly $7,000 more than he and his wife had planned.

"And you know what, Jeff? We even forgot to buy the hot dogs," Clive said. "I told my wife, we can't afford to go back there to get them."

Of course, Clive isn't the only person to buy something he hadn't planned on, only to regret it later. As Clive discovered, when shopping at so-called big-box stores, you run the added risk of supersizing your impulse purchases. But even at regular grocery stores, nearly 60 percent of all purchases are unplanned, impulse purchases, according to a joint study by faculty at the University of California and the University of Wisconsin.

Here are 12 ways to take control of your spending and limited impulse purchases:

Follow a Mandatory Waiting Period: In addition to the Golden Rule — always make a shopping list before you head out to the store and stick to it — try establishing a "mandatory waiting period." Wait at least a week after you see an item in the store. In an informal experiment I've been conducting with my cheapskate friends, most people who try this say that more than half of the time they never go back to buy the item after the weeklong cooling-off period, and even when they do return to the store with the intention of buying it, when they see the item again they often decide they no longer want it.

Edit Your Junk Mail: There's a good reason why we all get so much junk mail every day: namely, because so many people buy things as a result of receiving it. Almost by definition, items purchased as a result of receiving junk mail are impulse purchases, since the advertisements arrive unsolicited, not as a result of us asking for them. The nonprofit organization can help you get your name off junk mailing lists. (By the way, 41 pounds is the average amount of junk mail every American adult receives every year!)

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Clean Something: "Whenever one of my kids [young adults] wants to buy something new, I tell them to first go and clean something they already own." That's the advice of one of my Miser Advisers, who says that when you take the time to spruce up something you already own — a pair of shoes, an old fishing rod, that bicycle in the garage, even your car — you develop a new appreciation for all the stuff you already have.

Only Fools Rush In: Particularly when it comes to buying the latest high-tech gadgets, you're smart to remember the lyrics to that popular Elvis Presley tune and hold off on rushing out to the store. Most new technology generally decreases in price after it is initially released and demand increases. Plus, later versions are likely to have fewer bugs and better capabilities.

Make a "What the Heck Was I Thinking?" List: Check out this article on doing a once-a-year "What the heck was I thinking?" audit of your discretionary spending. Use the "audit" to pull together a list of items you bought on an impulse and later regretted. Learn from your mistakes and carry the list with you as a painful reminder whenever you go shopping.

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