Control Yourself!

Dear Dr. Per Cap,

Just shoot me now! I’m always buying things on impulse. It happens while waiting in line at the grocery store, while surfing the web, or even walking through a store on my way to the food court for lunch. I usually feel bad afterwards, but my budget feels even worse. What can I do?


Dear Grabby,

Welcome to the club! You are not alone in your impulsive habit of buying things you really don’t need or even want. Lots of people do it. And it is so much easier nowadays when you can just swipe your credit card.

But there are ways to trick yourself out of that nasty habit and save your budget some anguish. It still requires some disciplined self-control, but there’s hope.

One of the simplest tricks is to “take a pause.” If you see something you think you want or need, promise yourself you’ll think about it for two or three days – or weeks – before actually buying it. (It’s usually better if you take longer.) In many cases the impulse will be long gone after your pause, and you’ll decide you don’t want it.  If you still strongly feel the need to have it after your waiting period, then you can buy it with a clear conscience.

Another trick is to write out a list of the things you need and/or want.  Keep it with you. When you feel an urge to buy, check your list.  If the item isn’t on it, that’s your cue to forget it and walk away, especially if the purchase would delay buying of something already on your list. If the item is on your list and it’s a good deal, feel free to purchase it.  You’ve already given it the appropriate amount of thought.

Another gimmick is to stay out of stores (including Internet stores) unless and until you really need to buy something, and then stay focused on buying only what you went there for. Killing time by wandering around retail stores isn’t helpful; you’ll probably see something that you think you need but really don’t. Why subject yourself to needless temptation?

Another trick that you should try is this – freeze your credit cards in a block of ice. Really. It will give you time to think about whether you really want or need to buy something. If you do, then go ahead and thaw it out and fire it up.

As for sales and clearances, you really have to exercise some self-control. Just because something is on sale does NOT mean you should buy it … unless you really need it. This is another good time to pull out your list.  If you see something on sale or clearance that is on your list, you are good to go.  If it’s not on the list, then again, that’s your cue to walk away.

Try some of these simple techniques to help you control the urge to splurge. Your bank account will thank you!

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. This content does not constitute professional and/or financial advice, and Dr. Per Cap is not a licensed investment advisor. To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email