Kids & Money

Impulse buys can destroy your best savings plans

Your twenty-something daughter is quite the penny pincher when it comes to sticking to the grocery list and using coupons at the supermarket.

But she can’t seem to drive by a boutique shop without stopping and dropping $40 on an impulse.

Forty bucks may not sound like much. But when you’re young and trying to watch your money, a shopping distraction here and there can quickly cut a few hundred dollars from your checking account.

We’ve probably all been there at one time or another. There’s even a body of research on impulse shopping.

Consider these numbers from a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education in suburban Denver.

Last fall, the nonprofit group surveyed more than 2,000 people age 18 and up on impulse buying. The data found that nearly 70 percent of the respondents had bought something big or small on impulse in the previous month. Most of the purchases were for themselves, their children or other family members.

The research also found that more than 70 percent of those impulse buyers said they later regretted spending the money.

It takes discipline and basic money smarts to avoid the unanticipated stops, the store distractions, the impulse spending sprees.

To help the young adult or teenager in your family curb impulse buying, here are some pointers:

• Track your money. Whether it’s a spending plan (aka budget) or monitoring ATM receipts, know what’s going out and coming in.

• Shop with a focus. Make a list of what’s needed before going to the grocery store or the mall and stick to it. Also, avoid the supermarket on an empty stomach — you’re more likely to add unplanned items to your cart.

• Shop smart with smartphones. If you have a smartphone, check for store coupons and other specials, especially if you can snag a discount on a spur-of-the moment visit.

• Avoid hitting the mall on payday. You’re flush with cash, it’s your first full-time job and life is good. Here’s another thought: Challenge yourself to avoid all that front-loaded spending for a few days, at least until you’ve first paid your bills.

• Watch why you’re shopping. If you spend time shopping with friends as a form of socializing, it may be time to avoid those occasions. Likewise, avoid shopping as a form of therapy.

• Leave credit cards at home when shopping. Research shows that shoppers tend to spend more when they use plastic than when paying with cash. Most people make better decisions when using cash.

The final piece of advice is something I’ve said many times before. But it bears repeating. When in doubt, wait it out.

In other words, if there’s something you really want but it’s a financial stretch, walk away for 24 hours. You may decide you can live without it.