4 signs impulse buying is putting you in a debt trap

By Miranda Marquit

Reviewed by Natasha Pearce

Sep 18, 2023

Read time: 2 min

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When things are hectic and stressful, a little retail therapy can go a long way. 

The problem is that while an occasional treat probably won’t break the budget, a pattern of impulse buying can put you in a debt hole. 

Here are four signs you could be in trouble—and what to do about it.

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Warning sign 1: Maxed-out credit cards

Maxed-out credit cards are a red flag that impulse spending may be leading you into debt. This high-interest debt can cause stress, which can lead to more impulse buying—and the cycle continues. If your cards are constantly maxed out and you’re always trying to free up just a bit more money to cover expenses, it could be a sign of impulse spending.

What to do: Just having a plan can go a long way toward helping you feel better and take positive action. Create a plan to pay more than the minimum on your credit cards. Use a debt snowball or debt consolidation to tackle the debt and start bringing it down. Make a shopping list before you go to the store, and practice sticking to it.

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Warning sign 2: You turn to shopping for a mood boost

Retail therapy is a real thing. If you notice that you’re frustrated and you feel instantly better after shopping, it could be a sign that impulse buying is starting to take a bigger role in your life—and a bigger toll on your wallet. Going to the store to seek relief can be a sign that you need some self-care.

What to do: Look for non-shopping ways to give yourself a mental boost. It’s a great idea to include movement, such as a walk outside, because moving can create endorphins that make you feel good. You could also get cozy with a good book, or soak in a hot shower or bath. It can take time, but the idea is to shift away from using shopping as stress relief. Experiment with other ways to improve your mood while you research how to handle financial hardship

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Warning sign 3: You feel buyer’s remorse after you spend

Do you ever make a purchase—and regret it before the end of the day? This is a major sign of impulse spending because it means that you’re buying without considering whether you actually need or even want the item. Buying seems like a good idea in the moment, but once you get that thing home, or as soon as you realize you have no use for it, you regret spending the money.

What to do: Pause before you buy something new. I find it useful to ask myself the following questions before I add something to my cart:

  • Do I need this? 

  • What purpose will this serve in my home?

  • Will this put more financial stress on me?

  • What will make me happier: this thing or having the money in my bank account?

You can also give yourself a waiting period before buying. Just don’t buy anything until your waiting period passes. A day, two days, a week. Whatever works. Once you start thinking about your purchases, it’s easier to reduce impulse spending. That could give you breathing room to pay off your credit cards or other debt and reduce your money stress.

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Warning sign 4: There’s never money to pay bills

Sometimes impulse purchases take away from the money you’d use to pay bills. Debt might be piling up, making it hard to cover necessary costs like utilities and rent. Being unable to pay bills can be a huge source of stress, which in turn can lead to…you guessed it. More impulse spending. 

What to do: Breaking this cycle can feel hard, but there are ways to make it easier. Create a budget that gives every dollar a job. This is not a punishment. You get to choose how your money will be used. You can even budget in a few treats throughout the month to keep you motivated. Consider using a tool like the MoLO app to help you meet your financial goals.

Flip the script and make financial progress

If you’re sick and tired of debt and you’re ready to be in charge of your money, impulse spending is a great place to start. Recognize the signs that might be putting you in debt, and take action to reduce your buying. 

You don’t have to go it alone. Talk to a professional debt consultant who can help you analyze your debt, choose tools to help you manage it, and create a plan of action to get rid of it. Once you’ve taken a few steps toward financial progress, you might be surprised at how easy it can be to keep going.

Author - Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is an award-winning freelance writer and podcaster who has covered various financial topics since 2006. Her work has appeared in numerous media outlets, and she is frequently asked to host workshops and appear on panels on topics related to financial wellness. She is the co-host of the Money Talks News podcast and a consumer finance advocate and spokesperson for moving hub HireAHelper.

Natasha Pearce - Author

Natasha is Achieve’s Director of Social and Community. For over 10 years, she has built communities across social media and blogs through enriching storytelling that helps brands deepen connections with consumers.

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