Check Your Vibes: 8 Emotional Reasons Behind Our Impulse Buys

Welcome to Check Your Vibes, a new column that explores tiny ways to make life happier, healthier and easier!

The first few weeks of spring are a grand and confusing time for personal style. We get to shed our coats to experience fresh air on our skin for the first time in months, but we also find ourselves stumped on how to dress for moody transitional weather, finding holes in the old spring clothes we packed away last October, and suddenly facing a new season’s weird seasonal trends that we’re just barely FOMO-abiding enough to buy into. In other words, spring is prime impulse purchase season. Nobody is immune to the nightmare that is the cruddy $5 nail polish at the register, or worse, the designer bag that costs a hefty chunk of your paycheck but is “worth it” because it’s on sale. There are countless surface-level reasons for impulse buying — clever marketing, fear of losing out on a good deal — but what about the emotional stuff that makes us susceptible to that trickery in the first place? As we head into warmer days of excess $5 H&M dresses, be on the lookout for some of these deeper factors that may be triggering our impulse buys.

1. You’re buying for a hypothetical version of yourself. One of the biggest reasons most of us shop is a drive to become some mythical “best self” that can only be attained by owning a certain quota of $90 sweaters, or whatever else it is you’re lusting after that week. Most of us know on some level that marketers set us up to perpetually chase after the person we could be, if only we had this or that object to get us there. It’s so easy to, say, flip through a J.Crew catalog and convince yourself that if you dressed like those models, you’d instantly be the put-together girl who is early for work each day and crushing it in every meeting. There are plenty of cliches about “dressing for the part” or “surrounding yourself with things that inspire you” to back up this breed of destructive shopping. I think those cliches do have a small nugget of truth to them, but unfortunately that bit of truth becomes an irrational force when you’re trying to convince yourself that another $100 on your credit card is totally necessary. The only way to be the cool/successful/together person that you want your clothes to project is to actually put in the work to build good habits in your life, which is way less sexy than just stopping by the boutique on your way home from work. Bummer, right?

2. You love the high of buying something new. A certain rush can come along with new clothes that’s hard to come by anywhere else. This is doubly true when you find a fantastic deal, but as we’ve all learned the hard way at some point, buying something just because it’s insanely marked down is a fast track to regret. I love thrifting, but one of its biggest traps is coming across something by a coveted brand that’s magically dirt cheap. All you can focus on is the fact that anyone would kill to get their hands on [insert on-trend clothing item] at all, let alone for such a deal, rather than considering whether you actually like the thing. Days later when it’s in your closet, you remember that you have always hated peplum tops or leather leggings or whatever it is you bought, and wonder where the hell your mind was when you made that purchase. Try to remember that awful regret as you shop to keep your feet on the ground, and remember that the high of buying something only lasts for about ten minutes, but the tangible burden of stuff you don’t want will last as long as you put off getting rid of it, which can be years. As someone who is currently in the process of moving, I have never regretting buying so much crap I hate more than I do right now. I feel trapped by my own junk, because until I go through the process of packing or tossing each and every stupid top and pair of jeans, I can’t move all my stuff out of my old place!

3. You’ve been dealing with your winter clothes for so long that you forget what your spring wardrobe even looks like. Being unsure of what you do and don’t have provides a perfectly unhealthy excuse to buy everything brand new. Prevent this by leaving your off-season clothes in your closet year-round or by planning out a steady routine for packing and storing your summer clothes each fall. If you do it the same way every year, you’ll know exactly where to find each clothing item you pack up and can easily take inventory at any time.

4. You’re going through a rough patch in life. Stress zaps your willpower, and it’s easy to think, “It’s been a hard week/month/year, I deserve this,” but what you really deserve is to save your money for something you’ll actually use. Buying something can feel like a tiny slice of control or empowerment when everything else in life is going to shit, but that’s usually just a big illusion. Lots of objects we own only serve the purpose of making us happy for the few minutes right after we buy them and then become a waste of space the second we get them home. No thanks. Avoid this trap by unsubscribing from your favorite brand’s special offer emails that conveniently show up at your most vulnerable moments.

5. You’re not sure what you want or like, clothing-wise. Not knowing what you like means you’ll buy a little bit of everything, which is fine in itself, but not so fine when you’re in an overflowing H&M and every single thing you pick up looks appealing to you. Everyone’s personal style is, well, personal, but make some kind of rough plan of what you want your wardrobe to look like for each season, mostly choosing items that are timeless enough to make it through never-ending trend cycles. This way, what you buy will actually match the other clothes you own and will actually be worn more than once! What a novel concept! Obviously, nobody will have to know about this little clothing plan but you, so if you get tired of sticking with it, nobody’s going to stop you! It’s meant to make your wardrobe fuller even though on the surface it seems like it’s about paring down.

6. You have no clue where your life is headed. A big reason we make less than wise financial decision is the idea that our current selves and future selves are different people. Yes, that lady who will be paying bills ten and twenty years from now is still you, and her life will probably suck a little bit, because play money will not magically appear to pay back all the debt that Present You acquires. This is especially easy to get caught up in at times in life when we’re not sure what we want out of our future. When longterm goals are at the forefront of your mind (and trust, just about any goal will require money in some form), you’re more likely to stash away your cash to make your future dreams come true instead of squandering it now on those paint-splattered Urban Outfitters short-alls. If you don’t have many longterm plans right now — sometimes we just have to get through things one day at a time, after all — get yourself in a future-oriented frame of mind by listing all the things you could do with a chunk of cash, like buying plane tickets or upgrading something in your home. Would you rather have 50 crappy H&M tank tops or one of those things on your list?

7. You lack healthy coping mechanisms. Seriously, who doesn’t have at least one or two subpar ways of managing stress? Channeling pressure in a healthy way is something most of us were not taught as kids, and it only gets tougher as we get older and our lives become more complicated. Finding more productive methods of handling stress, whatever that may be for you, will make you less likely to throw your money into crap you don’t want.

8. You’re a product of the fast fashion cycle. It’s hard to avoid! Fast fashion stores like H&M, Forever 21, and other culprits are not only destroying the earth and endangering factory workers, but they’re warping the way we look at clothes. The stores’ high-speed turnover rates condition us to expect to own more, more, more and to keep up with an endless circulation of half-baked trends. Fast fashion is so pervasive that it’s easy to be lulled into a state of denial, not only about the damage these stores are doing to our world, but over how much we’re spending over time. Replacing a cheap top five times because it keeps falling apart costs a whole lot more than buying a pricier, well-made top just once. It’s hard to make thoughtful, pre-planned purchases at stores like these because their inventory changes by the day. When you see something you do like, there’s a pressure to snatch it up without weighing whether you really want to invest in it, because it could be out of stock by tomorrow. This is bad news for your wallet!


[Pscyhology Today]