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5 steps to avoid impulse buys

red shoes

What’s really behind your spending—and what can you do about it?

Mindfulness isn’t something most of us can just turn on like a light switch. It takes commitment, practice and lots of baby steps.

But guess what? We know you can be more mindful about your spending and that your life will be happier if you are. So go to it!

Step 1: Send yourself an SOS. Hey, we’re no experts, but the folks at Psychology Today are and they recommend this technique when you feel the stress building and the urge to spend growing.

First, Step back and clear your thoughts. Take some deep breaths and leave your worries behind.

Next, Orient yourself. This means thinking about your values and how your spending affects them. Sure, we’ve all felt that hit of pleasure as we watch the clerk bag up that cute purse or such-a-good-deal sweater. But are a few minutes of bargain joy worth not being able to put money into the things that really matter to you? Whether it’s saving for retirement, funding your kids’ college account or taking a great vacation?

And, last, Self check. Using a 10 (stressed-out mess) to 1 (completely calm and relaxed) point scale, ask yourself how anxious you are and whether you’re focused on your values (10) or completely going on impulse (1). And do an SOS when you’re not stressed too so you have something to compare your stressed SOS against.

Step 2: Hit the pause button. Tempted to buy something you know you can’t afford or don’t really need? Wait. Leave the store (whether it’s online or the real deal) empty handed. Give yourself 24 hours to think about whether you really need or want whatever it is.

Step 3: Recognize your triggers and eliminate temptation. Where and when are you most likely to buy something you later regret? Shopping online? When you’re out having a “girls’ day”? If online buys tend to be the problem, avoid hitting your computer or phone when you’re feeling stressed, sad or bored. Take a walk, read a few pages of a book or call a friend just to say “hi.” And make it harder to buy online. Borrow these tricks from Forbes: remove your one-click checkout option at Amazon, don’t store your credit card information (if it’s more of a pain to buy, it might slow you down) and set a limit to your time online.

Although shopping with friends can be fun, this survey proved it’s a great way to spend more than you planned. Find other ways to spend quality time with your friends—or only hang out with friends who are frugal and would never buy something unless they’d paid off their credit cards and made a contribution to their 401(k). You can also set a budget before you leave home to keep you from spending more than you should.

Step 4: Only shop at places that take returns. Many businesses will accept returns if you have the original receipt and haven’t used the item. When you buy something new that wasn’t in the budget, don’t use or wear it for a couple days. With any luck, you’ll recognize you’re better off returning the item—even if you have to deal with the hassle factor. And over time, you’ll be able to avoid buying and get to skip returns altogether!

Step 5: Indulge—sometimes. Everything in life can’t be calculated or planned and sometimes that fancy coffee or fun pair of socks just has to happen! But when you do indulge, savor mindfully and really enjoy it (hey, you’re owning this!).