Pay Cash: Numerous studies have shown that when people pay in cash rather than using a credit card, they tend to spend less, in part because psychologically it's harder for us to part with cold hard cash. A Bankrate.com study showed that people who use charge cards at fast-food restaurants spend on average 50 percent more than people who pay with cash. That's bad for not only your wallet but also your waistline, too.
Avoid the Web of Temptation: Shopping over the Internet has taken impulse buying to a whole new level. According to a study by the research and consulting firm User Interface Engineering, impulse purchases account for almost 40 percent of all the money spent on e-commerce sites. Here's a simple tip from the same study to help you avoid impulse buys when you shop online: When you're searching for an item you know you want to buy on an e-commerce site, don't search by category (e.g., "electronics"); instead, search for the specific item (e.g., "DVD player"). "The study showed that shoppers who searched by category were three times more likely to get sidetracked and buy something in addition to what they set out to buy.
Declutter Before You Buy: Force yourself to throw away — or better yet give away — one item you already own before you allow yourself to buy something new. Not only will this help you declutter your life, but you'll probably find that when you have to part with a possession first, it will remind you how much you already own.
Shop Less Often: Sounds simple enough. The more often you shop, and the more time you spend shopping, the more likely you are to impulse-buy. For example, the average American family shops for groceries three to four times every week. The cheapskates I surveyed for my latest book, The Cheapskate Next Door, shop for groceries no more than once a week — and sometimes as infrequently as once a month. On average, the cheapskates spent nearly 40 percent less on groceries than typical Americans. Go figure.
If You Slip, Save the Slip: If you buy something you didn't plan to buy, make sure you hang on to your sales receipts. Often, impulse purchases lead to buyer's remorse. More and more retailers have adopted a "no questions asked" policy when it comes to customers returning or exchanging purchases within a specified period. They want to keep you happy, and keep you as a future customer. But don't overdo the returns or use an item before you bring it back to the store. Many stores now use a computerized database to crack down on so-called serial returners, people who grossly abuse the system and sometimes even commit fraud by returning used or substituted items instead.
Rediscover Layaway: Good old-fashioned layaway plans are making a comeback at many retailers. For a small deposit (sometimes refundable, sometimes not), the store sets aside an item until you return with the balance of the payment. It gives you a cooling-off period to make sure you really want an item, and — hopefully — forces you save up the cash for the remainder due, rather than putting it on a charge card. As my great aunt always said, "I'd rather put it on layaway than lay awake at night worrying about how I'm going to pay it off on a credit card." A good point, even if not grammatically correct!
Appoint a Designated Cheapskate: "If you're going to shop with friends, please shop responsibly and always appoint a designated cheapskate." That's the motto for my new Cheapskates Against Impulse Buying campaign. Seriously, impulse buying is fueled by a mob mentality when you go shopping as a group, so ask a member of your shopping party to refrain from spending and to challenge those foolish purchases. You know, the Designated Cheapskate can drop subtle hints such as asking, "Did you pay off your credit cards last month?" or "So, how's your 401(k) looking these days?"
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.
Updated October 2012