What NOT to Do: Give in to Impulse

February 27, 2012

What Not to Do is a series based on the numerous mistakes that I have made in my life. I am not a financial adviser, I can’t tell you want to do but I can tell you what NOT to do. I hope you will use this series of posts to help educate those you love about the dangers of debt and how they can affect your life. Use the trouble that I have gotten into as a springboard for your own discussions, please.


Lessons in What Not to Do with your FinancesImpulse control is a huge issue for me!

I am an adult with ADHD. I was a child with ADHD. And I was a 20-something with tons of credit and ADHD.

It is no secret that the majority of my debt is due to impulse control. As a college student, my girl friends and I would often hit the mall for fun. We would purchase clothes and brag about who had more credit cards.

As a college graduate, credit cards fed my emotions when I was alone or bored. They helped make ends meet as a young teacher living beyond her means. Credit cards were there for me when I wanted to go out or just hit the mall out of boredom.

As a new mother, credit cards were for used when we lost a second income but continues to live like we hadn’t. I suffered from the need to make myself happy with things. I shopped to feed my emotions while I was in a failing marriage.

Post-divorce, credit cards were used to have fun. I was so happy to be out of an less than satisfying marriage that I had a lot of fun at the expense of my finances.

During all of this time, I knew I shouldn’t be using my credit cards. I knew that I was not able to pay more than the minimum payment due. I knew each time that I handed over my card that it should be my last purchase. Yet, I never could say ‘no’ to myself.

I had absolutely no ability to stop myself.

Or so it seemed at the time.

In actuality, I did have the ability to control myself, it would just take more work than I was willing to exert. At that time, I was lazy and very uneducated about the effects of debt.

If you experience regular lapse in impulse control, I want you to know there are things you can do to help you. Whether you need an extra step in your life to avoid using credit cards or whether a professional might be a better assistance, I thought of a few tips for you to try.

  1. Freeze your credit cards…literally. Wrap it in plastic, stick it in a bowl of water and freeze that sucker. When the urge to shop hits, think about why you want to shop as you chip away at that block of ice. Remember, heat could ruin that magnetic strip so don’t so sticking it into the microwave or pouring hot water on it.
  2. Put a sticky note on them. For each card you  have, place a sticky note on them with a financial goal written on it. When you take out that Visa and it says “Save $1,000 for Emergency Fund” maybe you’ll be more inclined to ignore the impulse.
  3. Don’t take them with you! If you are heading out to run errands or shopping, leave your credit cards at home. Take cash and stick to the budget that you have set for yourself. I don’t care if there is a great sale and you may bump into it, leave them at home!
  4. Make an agreement. Whether it is with your spouse or your best friend, make an agreement to talk to them before spending a certain amount of money. If you are about to check out at Target, call up your husband and talk about what is in your cart and see if there is anything that should be put back.

Evaluate the psychology behind why you are spending money. Think about why controlling your impulses is so difficult. Could you have depression or another mental health issue? Is it possible that you have ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder)? After you have thought about this consider doing one of the following:

  1. Seek out a Debtors Anonymous or similar shopping addicts support group and attend meetings with others who are like you.
  2. Consider individualized therapy. This really helped me and I know it can help you if you feel that your situation needs something more severe than a sticky note.
  3. Is medication an option? If you do suffer from a disorder that involves impulse control issues, medication may help you. I know that it helped me tremendously.

This lesson isn’t one just for you to consider either. Be sure you are talking to your children as well. If you notice your children wanting to spend their money as soon as they get it or if they are buying small items instead of saving for a larger item that they really want, consider talking to them about what you are seeing.

Remember, I write these and share my mistakes with you in the hopes that you will talk to those you love, especially your children and help them avoid going down the path that I went down.

I also blog at A Five Star Life. I write about anything that comes to mind but try to focus on finding the good in daily life.

95 Responses to What NOT to Do: Give in to Impulse

  1. Tiffany on February 27, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I have the best luck when I stay away from stores like Target, Michaels, etc that are built for impulse shopping. Groceries = list. Anything else I try to order from Amazon or get in quick trips. Otherwise I end up paying the $40 Target cover charge just for walking in the door. :-\


    • Julie on March 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      Tiffany, I love your comment. It is similar to what I was thinking… avoid avoid avoid! It’s similar to every part of life, if you don’t drink(or are trying to stop)… you wouldn’t want to put yourself in a situation where you may feel pressured to drink.

      For me, if you LOVE to shop and have a hard time controlling the impulse buys, avoid avoid avoid the places that try to get you to do exactly that.


  2. Bethy on February 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I have problems with impulsively buying, too. For me, it happens when I walk home from work. I live in downtown SF, and I always pass by some of my favorite stores. So, I redirect my paths or call someone on the phone while I’m walking to distract myself from the enticing store fronts. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Kelley on March 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Yet another reason why I am thankful to be living in Europe. Credit cards are very widely used here or I would be in the same kind of trouble.


  4. Angie Nelson
    on March 1, 2012 at 7:44 am

    If I recognize the impulse, I am usually able to stop it. If I give myself 5 minutes to think about if I really need it/what else I could use that money for, I can usually walk away. Usually. ;)
    Angie Nelson recently posted..Easy Search Traffic In Even the Most Saturated Niche


  5. Making Our Life Matter
    on March 1, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Great advice. We have been majorly chipping away at our credit card debt. I don’t even carry one anymore, so that helps a lot. I take an “allowance” out each week, and if I spend it, I am out of luck.

    Have a terrific week!
    Making Our Life Matter recently posted..What My Blog Is About


  6. Deedra on March 1, 2012 at 7:58 am

    I was very impulsive in college, but learned my lesson the hard way. Now I have to get my hubby in the same zone…he’s awful about impulsive spending. Thank you for sharing!
    Deedra recently posted..Start Running!


  7. Rahul kuntala
    on March 1, 2012 at 8:04 am

    What a crazy and interesting name your blog have.

    The best tip above is (in my opinion) to not take the credit cards with you. But, when we are young we don’t do all these thinkings while spending money.
    After knowing the value of money, we will go deeper into debts!! Financial awareness is more important than any other.
    Rahul kuntala recently posted..


  8. Glenda Cates on March 1, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Wonderful post and I do not use credit cards because if I did I am sure I would be in debt. But I do need to talk to my son as you suggested and even though I only use cash I did notice I do a lot of this with it such as buying things I do not need so from now on before I check out I am going to call my husband and I am going to have him do the same thing.


  9. Lyndsy on March 1, 2012 at 8:44 am


    I find if I put a big goal in front of me, say a large vacation or I need to meet a certain number in my savings account, it is easier to stop the impulse purchases. I change the goal each year to keep it fresh.

    I also stopped buying cheap. I can’t stand it anymore. If it is not good quality, I won’t buy it, which means less impulse purchases.

    Thanks for sharing!


  10. Shannon Schulte on March 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Great advice! We have struggled with credit cards in the past, especially after our big cross-country move. We need to put our cards “on ice”.
    Shannon Schulte recently posted..Emerald Nuts Underdog Bracket Instant Win Game


  11. Jollyjillys on March 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

    What great ideas and so important in this day and age


  12. Kerry on March 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I find that when I get bored or am feeling down that I love to just run to the store for something to do. Bad idea!! I now have a list of things that I would like to do around the house (some are craft things, fixing up things, changing rooms around, etc When I am feeling the boredom blues hitting, I find the list and see what I can do around the house with what I have in the house! It has saved my pocketbook several times…


  13. cooking lady on March 1, 2012 at 9:27 am

    When I was young, I had those same problems. Now, I don’t have any credit cards and I’m glad because I would be doing the same thing all over again. I believe that you have to ask yourself, do you really need it and be strong enough to walk away.


  14. Just Jaime on March 1, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Thanks for sharing your story and for the tips. In March, I’m concentrating on budgeting so this post is timely for me.


  15. Sarah @ Ropeknits on March 1, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I like the sticky note idea! My husband and I have moved to cash “allowances” for each of us. We each get a certain amount of money to spend (or save toward) each month on whatever we want, no justification needed. Over that, we need to talk to each other. Saves us from feeling too constrained but puts a reasonable break on spending.


  16. Britni @ Our Eventual Homestead on March 1, 2012 at 10:10 am

    We have been really good at controlling impulse. We follow the advice of Dave Ramsey and have paid off over $50K in 3 years. I recommend everyone check him out, very inspiring!
    Britni @ Our Eventual Homestead recently posted..Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day – Success!


  17. Stephanie
    on March 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

    These are some great ideas. I, too, had an impulse problem after my divorce. 6 years later I am still paying for it. I wish I had seen this post then. Thank you for posting. I think we all need a reminder every now and then.


  18. Eleni Poulakou on March 1, 2012 at 10:21 am

    The advice about Freezing Your Credit Cards was awesome! I’m still laughing! :) )
    I never owned a credit card myself, I never wanted to — and I avoid like h*** buying on credit, instalments, etc. Either I have the cash, or I don’t. If this means I don’t get things, so be it…
    I sincerely hope you never fall into that trap again.
    Eleni Poulakou recently posted..Parthenon wasn’t built in a day


  19. Mommy's Organics on March 1, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Such great tips. I really like how your brave enough to share your own mistakes with us. We use cash and the envelope system. Although it’s not fancy at least we now where our money is going. Thank you for sharing.


  20. Katie on March 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I have been failing at avoiding impulse buys lately. I go in a store with my list of what I need to buy and then almost always end up grabbing something silly in the check out aisle to add to my purchase. I have no idea why I do it either! I think I should leave the credit cards at home and only bring enough cash for what is on the list – like you recommend. Maybe that will help.


  21. Julie on March 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Another thing you could do is start putting small amounts of money in a jar, envelope, separate account, or somewhere else and use it instead of your credit cards. When the money is gone, no purchase until replinished.


  22. Anjanette
    on March 1, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thanks for honestly sharing your story. My mom went through a similar phase after her divorce b/c she didn’t want things to have to be different. She’s still struggling and my siblings and I are all grown. It is definitely important to do something to change habits instead of ignoring them – as overwhelming as they are!

    I have a wonderfully frugal husband who is also gentle and understanding – he’s done wonders for my self-control. lol. Mostly, I just don’t shop. If we don’t need something – I don’t go. And if we do need something (food), I stick to my list. Calling someone for a second opinion is a great idea. I had to do that a lot when we were newlyweds.


  23. D on March 1, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Thank you for being so vulnerable with your habits and motivations for spending. That was very brave.


  24. Layne Lanpher
    on March 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I love the freeze your credit cards idea! I have had some problems with credit cards and now I do not use any. I have my 2 debit cards and that is it, and even with those sometimes it is very hard to not spend. Right now I am saving every penny I can for a trip to Vegas next week, so I have to tell myself every time I take out that debit card, :You can’t spend money now or you won’t have any in Vegas.”


  25. Corinne Rodrigues
    on March 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

    What an inspiring person you are to turn your mistakes around as learning experiences for a lot of people. I was in to impulse buying and paid the price for it too – no more.


  26. Eschelle
    on March 1, 2012 at 11:33 am

    ugh i hear ya on the credit thing!! I messed mine up right away so I still don’t use them!


  27. Wendy
    on March 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Great guidelines! We are debt free except our house and pay cash for everything even our brand new cars! It’s worth it. If we want to break the cycle we have to teach our kids how to be wise with money. My kids don’t even know what a credit card is….we taught them about debit cards (they are still young though). The little plastic credit card that comes with kid cash register toys is a debit card for our kids. Hey, it’s good to start some where!

    Around My Family Table
    Wendy recently posted..Samoa Cupcakes


  28. Carrie on March 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Excellent tips!

    This was a very honest blog post. I think there are so many people out there who do exactly the same thing, not realizing how much damage they are doing until it is too late. Several years ago, we canceled all our cards and paid off remaining debt. Now we have one card each, for vacation convenience (we don’t like to carry cash) or for emergencies. We find that adding to a savings account (even a small amount) with each paycheck is a great way to avoid having to use the credit card even for emergencies.

    Thanks for sharing! I liked your Facebook page as well, so I can keep following!


  29. Lisa on March 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I LOVE the sticky note idea! I am going to try that!

    As a parent and teacher I have seen the positive affects of medication to control impulses! I used to be staunchly against medicating for ADHD but not anymore!

    Lisa recently posted..Why Would I Hire a Professional Organizer?


  30. Michelle Keraus
    on March 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Amen Sister. Credit cards are great for emergencies…but they cause nothing but guilt when I use them for anything else. Ugh.
    Michelle Keraus recently posted..Playground Blues


  31. [email protected] on March 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I have been in the same situations. I read a great book about willpower that helps explain why we give in to things. It’s called Willpower:Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Baumeister and Tierney.
    I find that by clearing your email of all the sale notifications etc, it keeps from tempting you. If you need something you will look for a sale and coupon, you don’t need and email in your box every few days tempting you. Hit the unsubscribe option.


  32. Nikki on March 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    My ex totally tanked my credit and I had to go bankrupt, so now I can’t even get a credit card. That’s for the best anyway, when I’m spending cash I think twice before I buy. Thanks for the tips!
    Nikki recently posted..Prophecy of the Flame Book Tour: Win a Kindle!


  33. Mariah on March 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    This is excellent advice and something I need to try and follow. I am not horribly impulsive but I do have my moments! The credit card thing is definitely something I need to do!
    Mariah recently posted..For Bloggers: Upcoming Events for Bloggers


  34. Tiffany on March 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    So so true! I have to leave mine at home so I am not even tempted to touch them. It’s super easy to buy impulsively.


  35. Katie on March 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I used to use credit cards on impulse when I was younger but now I’ve got them paid off and I don’t carry them with me. Only use them for online purchases.
    Katie recently posted..Personal Finance Showdown:Dave Ramsey Vs. Ramit Sethi


  36. Erin O'Riordan
    on March 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    All very good ideas – and if you have a spouse or a partner, you also have to keep that person informed and make mutual decisions so that you’re always on the same page.


  37. Krystle on March 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Great tips for those hefty spenders! I am one of those people that only use my credit cards like cash. I only use them if I have or will have the money to pay off the entire bill. It has worked well for me so far. I do sometimes do the no interest promotions stores run but I always pay them off before the promotion ends.
    Krystle recently posted..Blog Launch Giveaway


  38. Jacqui Gonzales on March 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I got to a point where I had to put my credit card in my purse I only use when I’m going out of town. While I know it’s there, I really have to think if I want to go unbury it to use it. For awhile, my husband held onto my credit card so I couldn’t use it without discussing it with him.

    The thing I’m finding really frustrating is that I’m passing my bad habits onto my daughter. She had ADD (they think I do too) so she struggles a lot when she gets money for her birthday or something. We make her put it straight in her piggy bank and really think about it if she wants to spend it. If she had it readily available, it would be gone at the first store we walked into. I hate that I passed this onto her and I’m working on teaching her better habits than I have.
    Jacqui Gonzales recently posted..


  39. Khairy on March 1, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Wonderful advice! I hate that I’ve ever had a credit card. Thank God, I have reimbursed all of them and closed them as well. I mostly use cash now and find it’s helped me curve my spending wayyyyy down. Love it!


  40. Kri on March 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I think so many people can relate to your situations with the credit card. Especially the loss of an income but continuing to live like you hadn’t. I’ve been there and done that!


  41. Mary @ The Mommy Job
    on March 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Your post talks about something so important- self control! Your honesty is to be commended! Saying no to buying non essential items can be so hard and the stores don’t make it easy. I’ve made it a point to NOT go to stores unless there is something i need. Thank you!
    Mary @ The Mommy Job recently posted..


  42. marye~ on March 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Um, well then….
    That was really had to read. Maybe we’re twins separated at birth, but yikes that hit home!
    We don’t use our credit cards at all now, but that’s because we’re trying to pay them off from years of misuse. I especially like the idea of calling your spouse before checking out. That would certainly keep a lot of items out of my cart. Thanks, I am so glad I’m not the only one in this boat.
    marye~ recently posted..My Fitness Journey


  43. Amanda Maupin on March 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I definitely avoid stores because I know I’ll have a hard time controlling myself! My husband and I recently paid off our credit cards (we each only have one, but the limits are way higher than we can afford to pay off each month) and it was SO liberating to pay them off! I did just purchase a plane ticket with it, but the fares were reasonable and with my husband being in the military, visiting family isn’t an opportunity that comes around often and most of my family has never met my 10 month old son. We should be able to pay the balance off in a month or two, which is reasonable to me! You definitely shared some useful tips though! Thank you :)
    Amanda Maupin recently posted..


  44. Erin @ My Mommy World on March 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    What a great idea to freeze your credit cards into a big block of ice! By the time I got the credit card out of there, I’m sure my impulse would subside. Or, better yet, I would think about the fact that it is in a block of ice and not even want to bother trying to get it out :)
    Erin @ My Mommy World recently posted..


  45. Samantha on March 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    omg – tiffany’s comment made me laugh out loud! i love the “$40 cover charge” comment – lol!!!! too hilarious AND true!

    i am a lllll about shopping with a list. it keeps me motivated to stay on track and not fork over more of our hard earned money. also, it helps if you bring all 3 of your young children with you. that is sure to get you moving through a store quickly! :-) haha!


  46. andrea
    on March 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    i could relate SO well to this – but you can do it!
    andrea recently posted..Q-tips Coupon


  47. life just saying on March 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Great post. Thanks for being so open and honest about a very real problem that plagues so many people these days. Credit cards…another way to medicate and avoid pain.


  48. Allison on March 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    This is a great post!! I love that you are willing to share your mistakes to help prevent others from making them. Our family has a cash only rule. We only buy what we have the cash to pay for. It’s hard a first bu the payoff is well worth it.


  49. Shelley on March 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Good points! Sometimes it’s just best to stay away from the stores!! But that’s really hard when you love shopping! Good luck on keeping to your goals!!


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