A woman passes by a shop. She sees a beautiful gown worn by a mannequin. It’s love at first sight. She wants that, but it is so costly. She opens her purse to check whether she have the credit card or not. Her face lit up. It is there. She enters the shop, lends a final glance at the sexy gown and then proceeds to the cashier counter. That’s impulse purchase.

After making the payment and possessing her latest purchase, she gets back to home. She displays it to her husband. He doesn’t like that. Not worth the fortune she spent. She stares at it. Now she too feels the same. She feels that it isn’t as good as she wanted it to be. There are already a couple of similar gowns in her wardrobe. She is full of guilt. She makes up her mind that she’ll return it.

Once Sold, No Refund

Next day she reaches the store’s customer service desk and says, “I want a refund.” The guy at the counter points to a board hanging above his head. She reads. “GOODS ONCE SOLD CANNOT BE RETURNED OR EXCHANGED.” She’s sad now. She spent on a dress which she doesn’t like anymore. That’s the result of an impulse purchase. Now she has to make payment to the bank for using the credit facility.

Many people are impulsive shoppers. They do their shopping on impulse. More often than before, people are hoarding things they don’t even need. When the moment arises, there is an urge to purchase at 50% discount, buy one free one offer, the second pair 80% off, etc. The consequences? Many people get into credit card debts even though they know that they should buy only those stuff that they need. No use crying over spilt milk. There’s always the next time.

Obviously, there are ways to escape from making an impulse purchase. Some people who had experienced the bitterness of paying off their mountains debt would advise you to cut your credit card. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, physically freezing your credit card may be the smartest action you can do right now. It will give you a bang on the head. Trust me.

Credit Card

After years of using many credit cards myself, I think the best advice you should get is to cultivate the habit of discipline spending. Over the years, I have developed a system that works, and my spending is made primarily with credit cards whenever possible. To control your impulsive behaviour, you need a new habit to replace this destructive habit. Credit cards are just financial tools. It is not dangerous until its users become reckless.

Now, imagine the process of considering a purchase. What’s going on in your mind at that particular moment? You might be thinking:
– The discount is only for this weekend. I don’t want to miss it.
– It is the last piece! The next person who sees it is going to grab it.
– I have never seen such a deep discount before.

Well, all these are the marketing gimmicks of messing your mind with scarcity and urgency so you will not be rational. A person who can’t control will take out his credit card. Even if he doesn’t have a card, he will withdraw cash from the nearest ATM to make that purchase.

Should you suppress your desires when you get an urge to buy? It is common sense, but it doesn’t feel right, does it? You want something, but you suppress your feeling towards it. That’s cruel. Now you know that thought process, let’s just add one new habit into that struggle. If done right, then you shouldn’t feel guilty making a purchase, or disappointed of forgoing the opportunity of a sale.

New Habit

The new habit I am talking about is to always ask yourself this question before buying something:
“Am I going to use it in the next three days?”

The time frame of 3 days can be any period – 24 hours, one week, etc., whatever works for you, but not too long. The process is to get your mind to stop thinking about the discount, the sales or the feeling of owning an item. Instead, you focus on the practicality. If you are not going to use the thing, it is not going to provide value to you. So it is not going to make you happier by owning it now. You can come back later to buy it when you need it. The new habit will let your mind cool down.

Let me share my experience. I love to read, coupled with the RM1000 tax relief of book purchase, I would buy many books when bookstore put up a sale. So each year I would make sure that I use up the maximum tax relief amount plus my wife’s quota. At my reading speed, I can finish only 1-2 books a month. But compare it to the rate of my purchase, I often have dozens of books unread, still wrapped and occupied my limited bookshelf space.

You can imagine that just after a few years, I have close to a hundred books piled up. The trouble comes when I move to a new home. That had happened a few times. So instead of gaining knowledge and pleasure through reading, the books has caused me more hassle. The things I first thought of as assets became liabilities. So I have refrained from this impulsive book hoarding many years back. I will make sure I’ve done reading the books before I get the new ones.

Be practical and make wise and prudent spending decisions. You can always come back after 2-3 days and buy it if you want to. At least that way you’ll be safe from committing mistakes and be drowned in a pool of guilt. Use that time to do some research too if the items you are eyeing on cost a bomb.


Personal finance author and trainer

    14 replies to "How To Not Fall Into The Trap Of Impulse Purchase"

    • Kayson

      Hi, KCLau. I really agree n love what u share bout “impulse purchase”. I’ve been trap in this weakness for many years b4 I read “poor dad & rich dad”. Wat u shared is 100% right. Today, I realise, with a simple word to be ur sharing conclusion. “If u wan to be rich, u must learn to control it desire”. It simple sharing wake me up & motivate me again. Thank you very much.

      • KCLau

        Hi Kayson, I am glad to know that my article rings a bell with you.

    • Elephy

      My method to control this impulsive purchase is when i wan to buy something which will cost me more than RM100, after i aimed that target i will continue to walk to another corner of that shop then come back. By the time i came back and feel still want that item then i will consider buy it. Most of the time when i come back i dont feel want to buy that item anymore

      • KCLau

        Good that you already have a habit of cooling down prior to the purchase

    • Joyce Perera

      Thanks, KC Lau. Wise words, especially in times like this.

    • Nor hisham

      Good Story,Thank you KC

    • CK

      HI KC, I agree on your article, but still hard to control my self from spending every weekend as long as my pocket still got cash. Lol. Will try your suggestion. thanks.

      • KCLau

        Just got to make it a habit.. replace the bad habit with a good one.

    • Kon

      We learn from ur story. Don simply spend money. TQVM.

    • Edy

      I too did the same mistakes you did in impulsive book hoarding. So my plan now is not to attend any Bookfair at all, reduced my visits to bookstore, and less book hunting online. I will always look into my bookshelf if I already have similar book, before I decided to buy a new one.

      Also I will try to gain info from web or youtube.

      Till now, I still have about 30% of unread books, some of them are dated or no longer interested me. Donating them out probably a better option I guess.

      • KCLau

        Thanks for sharing. Now I buy books in Kindle form most of the time.

    • Rene

      hi KC

      This is such a useful write up on impulse purchase. Great work!


    • Ct guang

      Good story.

    • Elan

      It is so true, if one can’t be discipline at using credit cards, like me (guess most of the people as well?), a better option would be cutting it off. It will help to cut down a lot of unnecessary purchases at the same time too.

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