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If you're serious about staying out of debt, step away from the chocolate-covered walnuts.

3 minute read

A few days ago, I almost plucked an impulsive purchase while shopping at Sprouts, the “farmer’s market” store with so many enticing items that when I stop in to browse, I leave the cash and plastic in the car for my first look around.

That’s because I’ll add an additional $30 to my grocery bill if I give into temptations like balsamic soy sauce, chocolate-covered walnuts, and bulk-bin coffee beans and snacks. If I go into Sprouts or any other “fun” grocery store with a plastic card, I’m always going to spend too much.

That’s why I always read Sprouts’ weekly sales circular I get in the mail before stepping through the door. When I spot good sales, I take just enough cash for specific items. The other day, though, I didn’t have cash with me, so I grabbed my debit card to buy a $2.98 bag of oranges and a $1 head of cauliflower. Easy, right? Well, not quite.

I selected the sale items and then foolishly rolled my cart into the essential oils, lotions, and health and beauty products aisle. I’d always wanted an essential oil diffuser to make my house smell good, and there I found four of them, ranging from $29 to $50.

I knew I could find a less expensive diffuser elsewhere, but these were right in front of me —so sleek, so pretty. I had enough money in my checking account, even if I did have other plans for it. Obviously, I needed a professional opinion.

“Is this bamboo diffuser really worth $50?” I asked a salesperson.

“Oh, definitely,” she told me. “It makes your entire house smell great.”

Well, there you go.

I stood there for 10 minutes, picturing the exotic diffuser atop my fireplace mantle, dispersing fine, airborne particles of lavender, lemon, and cedar wood into my wet-winter-dog indoor air. “Splurge,” the devil on my shoulder urged. “Save money for emergencies,” the angel on the other shoulder advised.

Eventually, I decided that if I still wanted the diffuser the next day, I’d come back and buy it. I set the item back on the shelf and left the store with only a $4 debit on my card. Then I went home and looked up the same product on Amazon, where it was listed for $38, with free shipping. I also found it on another website for $41.

If you’re an impulse buyer, you’re not the only one making purchases on a whim. Five out of six people polled for a survey admitted that they buy on impulse, with 54 percent spending $100 or more on an impulse buy at least once. Around 79 percent made their impulse purchases in a store.

You don’t have to be a slave to impulse buying, though. Here are 4 tips for waiting to possess that shiny object until cooler heads prevail…

1. Wait a day

If you wait a few days before making that purchase, even better. You may find the item cheaper elsewhere or even realize that you don’t really want or need it once you’re out of the store. Walk away and think about it. You can always come back later.

2. Make a list

Write down what you want before you go into a store — and stick to the list. If something catches your eye that you must have, leave it on the shelf and think about it for 15 minutes while you shop.

3. Count snack item calories

My friend Allie, who recently turned me onto online price matching, avoids impulsive food purchases 90 percent of the time by calculating the “per serving” calories and fat in any bag of snacks calling her name at the checkout lane. Allie knows she’ll never eat just one serving, so she thinks about the 5,000 calories she’d be adding to her body over the next few days —and puts the bag back.

4. Shop with cash

Credit and debit cards are painless, at least for the moment. When all you have is currency in your wallet, you feel it (and see it disappearing) when you spend it.

Once I got home and browsed online, inspired by my living room’s scent of winter dog and Febreze, I found a few similar, less expensive essential oil diffusers. By the time I choose one, I’ll end up spending around $20 to $30 less than I’d have spent impulsively. That’s a savings I can use on essential oils to clear my mind, not my bank account.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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