It can happen so fast. One minute, you’re casually browsing your favorite store online, and the next minute, a “Thank you for your purchase!” email pops into your inbox. It’s not totally your fault: The very nature of internet browsing makes it easy to order anything, anytime — with the click of a button. If only it were also that easy to prevent impulse buys!
We spoke to a few psychology experts about preventing impulse purchases, and it turns out, it actually can be pretty easy!
Of course, the first step to preventing impulse buys online is understanding why it’s so tempting to proceed to checkout without a second thought. Have you ever noticed yourself mindlessly scrolling social media or loading your online cart with stuff when you’re stressed or upset? Psychologist Erika Martinez says these types of impulsive behaviors are common, and they’re frequently a response to a negative emotion: “When people purchase something they like or want, the reward centers of the brain get a hit of dopamine, which alleviates unsettling emotions.”
The bad news is, like any habit-forming behavior, retail therapy has its dark side. “Over time, the person will have to spend more to achieve the same emotional relief,” says Martinez.
The good news? With a little forethought (and tech know-how), impulsive spending is fairly easy to overcome. Here are a few tips for curbing your online impulse buys, one item at a time.
1. Disable one-click spending.
If you find yourself online shopping more often than you or your budget would like, Martinez recommends disconnecting credit cards and bank accounts from one-click purchases on websites you frequent. If your bank account info is saved in your internet browser, you will also need to go into your browser’s settings and delete cookies.
2. Delay the gratification.
Therapist Jessica Couch has another strategy up her sleeve for tricking yourself out of an impulse buy you might regret: Separate yourself from your shopping cart before making the call. “Go ahead and add the items that are calling your name to your cart, but then wait at least six hours to finalize the purchase,” she says. “Often, we get distracted with other parts of life — like work, school, or friends — and we will be less likely to complete the purchase.”
Couch also recommends setting a monthly or weekly online shopping budget, then dedicating one specific checking account (not a credit card) to those purchases. “Transfer your spending allowance to this card, and once the money is gone, you have to wait until your next scheduled ‘allowance’ to spend more,” she says. “Initially you might blow through your loot on day one, but over time, your gratification delay muscles will begin to build!”