What Triggers Your Impulse Buying?

Quick reactions are a survival trait. When we began the long trek from our point of origin on Earth responding to threats, like lions, and opportunities, like deer, meant the difference between life and death. We owe our existence today to the quick reactions of our forebears.

Those hunters reactions survive in us today. They make us good drivers or excellent at games like table-tennis. They make us adept and alert, able to spot targets instantaneously and react with lightning speed. They can also fill our cupboards with stuff we neither need or really want. Quick reactions aren’t a survival requirement on a shopping trip.

Are you an impulse shopper?

impulse shopping
Are you an impulse shopper?

Being aware of the wiring that makes us impulse buy can help us bring it under control. Shopping with the hunter’s mindset feels rewarding if we’ve camped on the pavement at the start of the sales but isn’t as rewarding if every target has been stunned before we arrive. That rush of tension which we feel when we spot something desirable comes from the same place as the impulse to freeze when our prey is spotted. For a second or two we hold our breath. And then we pounce. It’s over in seconds. That hunter’s instinct is satisfied. We’ve bagged another trophy.

On the plains of Africa hunters could wander for days before finding something lunch-worthy. In a shopping center it’s hard to wander for a minute without going “Oooooo, I wonder how much that is?”

As hunters ourselves we should consider this. Have we wandered into someone else’s trap? Retail outlets today are designed like wonderful mazes with a delightful surprise around every corner. It’s almost like they know we’re coming.

Impulse buying is unsatisfying because we put so little into it. There’s a cost, of course, but if we’re hammering plastic that cost is deferred. It can even lead to omniomania, or a shopping addiction. The real downside is that feeling of doubt. Outside on the pavement, loaded down with bags it starts to creep in. It carries on when we get home and survey our spoils. Do we really need this stuff? Some of us go so far as to squirrel away recent purchases, hoping that partners or loved ones won’t spot them. Bags are folded away neatly and stuffed in the garbage. It’s almost like nothing has happened. But of course something has happened. We’ve hammered the plastic and there’s a bill coming soon.

Even if we’ve shopped carefully, that bill is going to be unpleasant because unless it’s settled immediately all of the supposed savings are going to be wiped out by interest. Borrowing to “save” money is a truly terrible strategy but it’s what we do when we impulse buy a ‘bargain’. To hunt effectively we need to be light on our feet, not weighed down by debt. If price tags in store were able to show us the real cost perhaps we could check that hunter’s instinct for a second or two and think carefully before bagging another trophy.

Photo credit: Annie Mole

By High Yield Savings Accounts

The founder and editor of with a passion for personal finance and experience in the financial industry.