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How to Overcome Impulse Buying and Save While in College
Campus Money Diaries

How to Overcome Impulse Buying and Save While in College

Imagine this scenario: It’s late afternoon, and you’ve just wrapped up your college classes for the day. You are rushing down the street, eager to catch a bus or matatu home before the peak-hour chaos begins. Suddenly, your eyes lock onto a pair of stylish shoes at an incredibly reasonable price or perhaps some enticing phone covers flaunting irresistible discounts. Your heart races, you are looking at the item and an indescribable urge takes hold of you - you must have the item! It wasn’t on your shopping list, and you hadn’t planned to buy it when you left your house, but somehow, it ended up finding its way into your bag. 

The allure of impulse buying can be difficult to resist, especially when you’re navigating the challenges of college life. Whatever the unplanned purchase is, giving in to impulse buying often leads to overspending, leaving you with less money in your bank account and a persistent habit that can haunt you for years to come. However, learning to conquer this habit can not only save you money but also foster healthier financial habits that will serve you well beyond your college years.

In today’s article, we will explore the art of overcoming impulse buying while in college and provide you with practical strategies to save money without sacrificing your enjoyment. From understanding the psychology behind impulse buying to adopting smart shopping habits, we will equip you with the tools you need to regain control over your spending and build a foundation for a financially secure future. 

So, whether you are a first-year excitedly embarking on your college journey or a seasoned senior looking to revamp your spending habits, keep reading to embark on a transformative journey toward financial discipline. 

Let’s dive in:

What is Impulse Buying?

Impulse buying is that sudden urge to buy something you hadn’t planned for, driven by the allure of immediate gratification. It can happen quickly and resisting the urge without a plan can be truly challenging. 

Impulse buying can be triggered by various factors like stress, boredom, or simply spotting something desirable and feeling an immediate need to possess it. 

While occasional spontaneous purchases are harmless, impulse buying can turn into a problem when it begins to affect your finances or hinder your ability to achieve your financial goals.

Read Also: Want to Tame Bad Spending Habots? Try the 30-Day Rule

Examples of Impulse Buying

Impulse buying can be as small as buying a soda or convenience food from your campus canteen or as big as walking into a supermarket “just to window shop” and walking out with an electric kettle or an iron box. 

Here are more examples of impulse buying among college students in Kenya:

  1. Clothing and shoes (we have all been there)
  2. Electronics and gadgets ( that urge to have a new phone that has new features)
  3. Snacks and fast food especially when faced with hunger or cravings
  4. Personal care and beauty products (ladies this is typically an entire store of impulse buys, am I right)
  5. Video games (yes, even video games)
  6. Entertainment and events (this includes spontaneously joining an event or even your friends going out without proper planning)
  7. Treat yourself buys
  8. Extra stationery and books (just in case)
  9. Convenience food and snacks
  10. Hostel or your house improvement purchases such as extra mats, decorations, etc

Impulse Vs. Compulsive Shopping

Impulse shopping and compulsive shopping are two closely related yet different shopping habits. While impulse buying is often triggered by situational factors and external influences, compulsive shopping tends to be habitual and internally driven by the need to control negative emotions, alleviate stress, or momentarily satisfy oneself. 

For individuals struggling with compulsive shopping, it doesn’t matter if there is a sale or discount or if they already have multiple variations of an item- the act of shopping itself serves as a means of self-soothing.

Read Also: 10 Tricks to Stop Impulse Buying this Year 

Even though impulse buying and compulsive shopping may differ in their triggers, they exist on a continuum. If you’re impulse shopping every day, you definitely want to explore if you’re a compulsive shopper. Here are some common characteristics that may help identify compulsive shoppers:

  1. Continued spending despite being in debt.
  2. Strained relationships due to excessive spending.
  3. Shopping during designated study or work hours.
  4. Accumulating so many belongings that they begin to overwhelm living spaces.
  5. Failing to utilize or wear the items purchased.
  6. Hiding or lying about your spending habits.

It is worth noting that both behaviors can impact a person’s financial well-being and psychological state, but compulsive shopping tends to be more severe and compulsive in nature. If you are concerned you are a compulsive shopper seek professional support.

The Psychology Behind Impulse Buying

Have you ever stopped and wondered why impulse buying has such a strong hold on you, and why it’s so difficult to exercise self-control? Understanding the psychology behind impulse buying can shed light on this phenomenon. Several factors contribute to impulse buying including: Emotions, past experiences, the appeal of a good deal, and even our love for shopping itself. 

  • Emotions

Emotions play a huge role in our purchasing decisions. After all, our personal finances are deeply connected with our personal lives. It’s only natural that when we experience certain emotions, they manifest in our money habits as well.

Consider those rough days at school when you find yourself seeking solace in a little treat. Maybe it’s a simple act like grabbing a beer or indulging in your favorite chocolate. You convince yourself that it’s not a big deal, that you deserve something nice to lift your spirits. 

But hold on!

Allowing pure emotion to drive your decision-making is a recipe for impulse buying to take control.

Read Also: How to Curb Emotional Spending

  • Past Experience

If you find yourself struggling with impulse buying and overspending, it is possible that you were never taught effective money management skills. The way money was handled in your childhood household and learned behaviors from that time can significantly contribute to your inclination towards impulse buying. For example, if you grew up in an environment where shopping was used as a way to reward or comfort you, it can become deeply ingrained in your habits and money mindset. Reflecting on how money was managed during your childhood can provide valuable insights into the foundation of your beliefs about money. 

Additionally, positive experiences associated with previous impulse purchases can contribute to the perpetuation of this behavior. The anticipation and excitement linked to previous impulse-buying episodes can create a psychological pull, making you more vulnerable to repeating the behavior. These experiences create the notion that impulse buying leads to 

momentary gratification or a sense of fulfillment. 

  • The appeal of a good deal

We totally get it. Who doesn't love a great discount? We are naturally drawn to discounts, special offers, limited-time deals, and sales events like Jumia Black Friday. The fear of missing out on a great deal can override our rational thinking and compel us to make impulsive purchases, even if we don’t necessarily need or truly want the item. Retailers know this and they strategically employ pricing tactics and create a sense of urgency to encourage impulse buying behavior. 

  • Our love for shopping itself

The love for shopping can be a powerful trigger for impulsive buying, driven by psychological factors. For some people, the act of shopping itself is an enjoyable experience, providing a sense of pleasure and excitement. Whether it's browsing through stores, trying new clothes, or stumbling upon unique items, the process can trigger the release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in our brains. This feeling reinforces impulsive shopping behavior and makes us more likely to keep doing it. 

Read Also: 5 Principles of Spending You Need to Know

6 Easy Strategies to Prevent Impulse Buying

Okay, so now that we have a clear understanding of what impulse buying is and how psychological tendencies can make us susceptible to this shopping habit, let’s explore effective strategies to keep it under control.

1. Make a budget and stick to it

The first step is to create a budget and commit to sticking to it. If you haven’t already done so, take a moment to create one. A budget not only helps you to remember to purchase necessary items but also encourages you to be more deliberate and less impulsive with your spending. Remember, if a particular item is not on your list, it doesn’t mean you can’t buy it tomorrow- it simply means you won’t buy it today. It is as simple and as hard as that.

However, the key lies in following through with your budget. A budget is not a magical solution that automatically manages your money. You are in control of allocating and managing your money each month. Thus it is essential to stay committed to the plan. 

2. Identify your impulse-buying triggers

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for effectively managing impulse buying triggers. It involves being fully present and aware of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations when faced with potential triggers. By developing this mindful awareness, you can identify the triggers before they lead you down the path of impulsive purchases. 

Plus when you know what triggers you to be impulsive, you can take steps to manage and curb these impulses. For example, if you feel the urge to go shopping or engage in any impulsive spending you can reflect your attention to your financial goals. Something as simple as transferring a set amount of money like Ksh500 to your savings account can refocus your attention and deter you from making unnecessary purchases, thus aligning your actions with your long-term objectives.

Similarly, if you notice that certain people or social situations contribute to your impulsive spending, it is essential to establish clearer boundaries during such interactions. 

Read Also: 7 Ways Shopping Online is Making You Poor

3. Bring someone with you when you shop

Bringing a sibling or a friend when you go shopping can be an effective way to prevent impulse buying and overspending. Their presence provides accountability, as they can remind you of your financial goals and help you stick to your budget. Tell them what you intend to buy so that they can offer a second opinion, allowing you to consider their perspective and evaluate the necessity of a purchase. Additionally, having emotional support from a companion can help deter impulsive urges driven by stress or boredom. 

4. Practice the 24-Hour Rule

Next time you feel the urge to impulse buy, take a step back and wait it out for a solid 24 hours before making the purchase. Treat it as a mental checklist, allowing yourself to assess whether the item you desire is truly a necessity or if it may result in more harm than good. If after 24 hours you still want the item then you can go ahead and buy it. 

By implementing this rule, you can safeguard yourself against impulsive buying decisions that might lead to future regrets. This strategy is particularly effective for online shoppers, who have the convenience of adding items to their virtual carts with a simple click.

Read Also: How to Figure Out if Something is Worth Spending On

5. Track your spending

Tracking your spending goes hand in hand with creating a budget and adhering to it, as well as identifying your impulse triggers. It entails conscientiously keeping tabs on your expenditures, as well as understanding the times and reasons behind your tendency to overspend. 

For example, if you have noticed a pattern of impulsive purchases occurring on a specific street, you can simply avoid using it. Similarly, if late-night Instagram ads have been tempting you, setting up restrictions on your phone to limit access to the app after a certain hour might be helpful. 

By tracking your spending, you not only align your purchases with your budget but also gain a reality check by comparing your expenses against your financial goals. If you find that your impulsive purchases are misaligned with your budgetary limits, it serves as a gentle reminder to reassess your choices and make more informed decisions.

To monitor your spending habits and identify areas of overspending, you can utilize visual aids like graphs or charts, spreadsheets, apps, or even maintain a spending journal. These resources enable you to see the data in a clear and eye-opening manner. 

6. Seek professional help if necessary

If you have exhausted multiple methods without success, it might be worth considering professional assistance. This is available in many forms. If your impulse buying is more about your habits, then consulting a financial advisor to provide guidance may be helpful. 

Conversely, if your spending patterns are rooted in a deeper psychological compulsion rather than impulsive behavior, it is advisable to talk to a therapist or a psychologist. 

It’s important to recognize that many people’s spending habits are linked to their emotions. And that it is completely normal to require assistance in reframing our relationship with money, especially considering that financial education is often lacking in our society. 

Above all, show yourself love and compassion in this transformative journey- and know your worth. 

You are not your bank account; you are not your debt. That’s how you are, not who you are.

Final thoughts on how to overcome impulse buying and save while in college

Overcoming impulse buying and saving money while in college can be a challenging task, but with the right mindset, tools, and resources, it is definitely achievable. Creating and sticking to a budget, identifying triggers, shopping with a companion, practicing the 24-Hour Rule, seeking professional help if needed, and tracking your spending are all effective ways to gain control over impulsive purchases. However, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so feel free to refer back to these tips and adapt them to different situations. 

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Karuana Mwai is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Nairobi Kenya with a passion for telling business, health, and social justice stories. Find here on LinkedIn

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