How to Keep Your Budget in Check When You Just. Can’t. Resist. Shopping.
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I’m one of those people who craves routine, structure, schedules, charts, lists and any other form of organization that makes my life more predictable. (The world is unpredictable enough on its own, amiright?)
The one place impulsivity does shine through in my life, though?
In my shopping habits.
Or at least it used to.
I consider myself a (mostly) reformed impulse shopper. But in the past, I was pretty bad about swiping my card whenever I encountered a good sale — or even just something that caught my eye that day.
During my (prolonged) stint as an impulse shopper, though, I figured out a few tricks to recoup my financial losses whenever my bank account needed a little TLC.
If you’ll forever be enticed by a good sale, here’s how you can make or save a little money every time you hear the siren song of a big red 50%-off flyer.
Here’s How to Be a Savvy(er) Impulse Shopper
If you just can’t resist when you see a good sale, here’s how to stay on top of your finances — without compromising your favorite guilty pleasure (shopping, obvi).
1. Round up Your Transactions to Save More With Acorns
Acorns is a simple savings and investment app that rounds your credit or debit card purchases up to the nearest dollar and invests the digital change.
You can connect the app to your credit or debit card and let it automatically round up all your transactions, or manually round up only the ones you choose — a good strategy to make your impulse purchases work for you.
Contributor CJ Reid does the latter, accepting roundups of less than $0.50, such as her $3.60 cup of coffee.
“Rounding up 40 cents here and 25 cents there moves me swiftly enough to $5 so that I can begin investing without putting myself into the red,” she says.
Once your round ups reach $5, that amount will be transferred from your bank to your Acorns account, and invested into the portfolio of your choosing.
“Acorns makes it easy to invest by removing the responsibility of choosing individual investments or worrying about trades,” Reid explains. “You don’t need any previous investment knowledge or history.”
Once you get the process automated, the digital change from those pesky impulse buys can start to grow without you even having to think about it.
“With a conservative portfolio,” Reid says, “I turned $15 into $19 within a few weeks.”
You can sign up and download the app here.
2. Stop Deleting Your Emails
It turns out deleting your emails could be costing you serious money. Intrigued?
One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It's free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get money back for what you paid for shipping.
3. Track Your Shopping — and Spending — With Trim
One incredibly important step when managing your money (especially if you’re feeling a little spendy) is budgeting.
I know — no one loves sticking to a budget, right? But it's important to take a good look at what you're spending and understand where you can cut back — and where it’s OK to splurge a little when you come across a must-have item.
An easy way to automate this process is to use Trim, a little bot that'll keep track of all your transactions.
Simply connect your checking account, credit card and savings account for a big-picture look at your spending habits. Then, take a closer look by checking out each of your transactions (but don’t worry — Trim won’t tell anyone you’ve already hit up Target four times this week).
You can also set alerts that'll let you know when bills are due, when you've hit a spending cap or when you've (hopefully not) overdrafted.
The best part? It's free to sign up.
4. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card
Using a rewards credit card on your clothing purchases can be a way to earn a little of those expenses back.
You just have to be sure you don’t get too carried away with those purchases — and that the card is paid off at the end of each billing period.
Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, new spring wardrobe), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.
There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)
Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.
*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.
5. Get Cash Back for Your Purchases With Ibotta
Ibotta is an easy-to-use cash-back app that’s partnered with more than 50 retailers — just about anywhere you’d do any kind of shopping (like, say, for clothes).
With a list of brands like Asos and Gap and even sites like Poshmark offering cash back on qualifying purchases, Ibotta is a no-brainer for those times when the sale is just too good.
For most cash-back-on-clothing deals featured on Ibotta, you have to do your shopping through the app. After you make an account, head to the “Clothing” category under the “Find Offers” tab. There, you can see the entire list of retailers and choose your shopping experience.
Once you choose an offer, you’ll be taken to that retailer’s site within the Ibotta app (or moved over to the retailer’s app if you have it downloaded on your device) — but you’ll have to make sure you’re maintaining the link between Ibotta and your shopping experience the entire time.
This means if you leave the app or web experience you’re browsing on for any reason (like to check a text message), you’ll have to go back through the offer process in Ibotta before you make a purchase in order for the deal to work.
Once you successfully complete your transaction, you’ll be greeted with a “Welcome Back” screen.
Ibotta is free to download — plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus.
If you’re going to be doing a little late-night browsing anyway, you might as well free up some extra room in your just-for-fun budget while you’re at it! For more details, here's our Ibotta 101.
6. Sell Clothes You Don’t Wear Anymore
If your closet is full to overflowing with your latest impulse purchases, you can make extra room in your wardrobe and your budget by selling the pieces you don’t wear anymore.
To find the best platform for selling your clothes online, check out this list to see which sites will give you the biggest return — and which sites require the most (and least!) work on the seller’s end.
Once you figure out the tricks to selling on various resale platforms, you’ll be able to sit back and watch your shopping budget grow while also watching your unmanageable wardrobe shrink.
7. Trick Yourself Into Saving Money
A little fun-money shopping here and there isn’t necessarily a problem.
But if your impulse buys are sending you into a financial tailspin, it might be time to rein in the urge to spend.
Freezing your cards can slow your spending habits, but only for so long.
But if you’re motivated by mind games, you might want to try these other methods for tricking yourself into saving money.
One of the methods even includes a fun arts and crafts project: Vision boards for the win!
8. Check Your (Spending) Before You Wreck Your (Budget)
Sometimes, curbing an impulsive spending habit is as simple as following a flow chart.
If you’re staring down a killer sale — but you just can’t shake that little voice of reason inside your head — our “Should I Buy This” decision tree can help you determine whether the purchase will be worth it in the long run.
And hey, if you make it to the end of the flow chart and all signs point to yes, you can drop the guilty feelings and know you’re making a well-thought-out purchase.
9. Become a Mystery Shopper
You know that saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?”
If you’re one of those people who just loves the thrill of the hunt, consider becoming a mystery shopper. That way, you’ll at least be making a little extra money to add to your shopping budget when the urge to splurge comes knocking.
And with “missions” including everything from test-driving cars to catching an afternoon movie, there’s pretty much a mystery shopping gig for everyone out there.
But be careful! There are a handful of mystery shopping scams on the market, and the last thing you want is to find out that you got swindled out of the cash you were trying to earn — or worse.
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.