You’re standing in line at the grocery store, your shopping cart full of necessities for the upcoming week. While waiting, you scan the shelves. That magazine story looks interesting; that bottle of specialty water would certainly quench your thirst; that sparkling ornament would look great on the Christmas tree. You drop the items into your cart.

Your grocery bill has just increased and marketing gurus can chalk up another victory.

Impulse buying has been defined as the act of purchasing something you weren’t planning to buy after feeling a sudden urge to do so. Isolated incidents of buying on impulse can have a relatively small impact on your budget. But left unchecked, the practice takes a toll. Consider the doodads you have stashed in your attic or that are gathering dust in your garage or are tucked away in a storage unit. You may have made the purchases on a whim. But how much of your hard-earned cash is tied up in items you never use?

Advertisers are experts at creating the urge to buy. They sow the dream and make you believe you’ll be happier if you purchase a particular new car, or you’ll look more attractive using a certain expensive brand of cosmetics, or you’ll be a carbon copy of the model with the washboard abs in no time at all when you buy exercise equipment.

Your job as a consumer is to think before you buy. Letting emotions rule is a sure way to break the budget, max out your credit cards, and stuff your home with unnecessary clutter.

Fortunately, a few simple rules can help you restrain impulse buying.

  • Make a list. Then stick to it.
  • Know thyself. The ancient philosophers said it, and the advice still holds. If you’re prone to make impulse purchases every time you darken the door of a shopping mall, consider staying home. That sage counsel also applies to browsing online retail and auction sites.
  • Study the tricks of the trade. Car dealers are eager to keep you at the dealership, smelling the leather upholstery and admiring the shine on new vehicles. Why? Statistics show you’re less likely to buy the car if you leave the lot. Knowing the tactics of advertisers and salespeople can help you make more informed and less impulsive purchasing decisions.