Before we begin our discussion on impulse buying, I have to return to a subject that sometimes just makes me shake my head. It’s those gasoline prices. I know that regular readers may say that we get it, always be on the lookout for good prices in your area, and over time you can save some money, but really. The last time I purchased gasoline at BJ’s Henrietta, it was $2.59 a gallon. On the same day, it was $2.85 a gallon at the nearest Speedway to my house. That’s almost $4 on my little-over-15-gallon fill-up.

The first time I can remember giving advice about the dangers of impulse buying was in 2005, when I was writing for the NextStep (college prep) Magazine, and I was also working with some Nazareth College students to develop A Realistic College Budget That You Can Stick To handout for the Care Program. They pointed out that, even then, college students were doing a lot of impulse buying on the internet.

CBS News recently did a piece on the subject of impulse buying that got my attention when they said that 90% of Americans make impulse purchases, and that men make them more than women. The report listed those sales, clever displays, and product placements that retailers use to encourage us to splurge a little.

Here are three things the report suggested to help cut down on impulse buying. First, have a cooling off period of one or two days before you buy “it,” so you can think about if you really need to buy it, and whether there is something better you can do with that money. Second, create a “fun money” budget item, so you can limit your impulse buying, but still enjoy it sometimes. Third, leave your credit cards at home more, and just carry cash. It will limit the amount that you can spend, and it will make you more conscious of what you are spending (yes, cash is king). in setting out five things that drive impulse buying, and what you can do about it, states, “your unconscious mind is often driving your behavior as a consumer, under the influence of basic evolutionary drives and the tactics of retailers, so it is easy to feel compelled to buy something that later doesn’t find a place in your life.”

Here are the things they suggest you think about the next time you go shopping. It may result in you not purchasing just one thing that won’t collect dust and clutter your home.

1. The love of shopping. Some people just derive an enormous amount of pleasure from acquiring something new, which can, for some, also be an act of empowerment, that they might not otherwise regularly experience in their lives, or provide the feeling of being rewarded.

2. The loss aversion switch. Loss aversion is our innate concern to avoid feeling bad in the future. Sales and discounts, which we think won’t last forever, make us fear that we will lose out on a great deal, even if we weren’t looking for the item or need it.

3. Twisted heuristics. These are unconsciously held rules of thumb that help us make quick decisions that we have learned generally work out well. Doing extensive comparative shopping can be difficult and time-consuming, so we take shortcuts. Retailers know this, as bulk buys or with “free extras,” so we believe that we are getting that good deal, and don’t have to do any more research. This is the time to discuss savings goals — short-term, intermediate, and long-term.

4. The desire that many of us have to simply save time and money. Retailers and manufacturers know this and market to those consumers accordingly.

5. Many of us really do live in a world of rose-colored glasses, and we are not always realistic and objective about the future. We haven’t exercised in years, but we are sure that new Ab Toner will give us that six-pack.

On a final subject, a volunteer colleague at Wild Wings, and a former school principal, suggested that I include a discussion on helping teenagers who are getting their first job this summer learn to manage their money, so here are some ideas for parents, who are no longer 24-hour ATMs, from, as well as some of my ideas.

1. In addition to a savings account, which they should already have, consider a checking account with no ATM or check fees, and low minimum balance requirements. Often credit unions will offer these. If their employer will direct deposit their wages, do that. Teach them how to use checks and balance their account. These skills are not dead yet!

2. Agree that you will work with them to create a realistic budget that will include some defined spending categories, like clothes, entertainment, food, etc., but also a fixed
percentage savings component, off the top, that will go into their savings account. Suggest that they have a discussion with you before they withdraw money from their savings.

3. Some families may want to discuss having a charitable component in their budget, and some may even want to think about setting up a Roth IRA, possibly providing a match, in order to encourage them to think early about saving for the long term.

4. It’s time to teach them about taxes. There are numerous websites, including, that can provide parents with the details and options they will need to consider, depending on the anticipated employment earnings.

5. Since they are no doubt tech savvy, work with them to find some free apps that they can download. They can help them with these lessons, for example, by tracking their spending.

6. Agree that you will periodically review and update their budget with them as things change, and will review their bank statements and spending choices with them.

What a great opportunity this can be to help them with money management in a way that will make a real difference in their future!

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at