Straying from the Path of Intention to Impulse

While whiling away a holiday afternoon at home yesterday, I decided to go buy some ice cream sandwiches. Because, you know, they’re yummy and I wanted some.

Planned purchase amount? $3.49 for a box of 12 ice cream sandwiches.

So I gathered up my purse and told my husband I was going to buy some ice cream sandwiches.

“Could you get me some Häagen-Daz?” he asked.

New planned purchase amount? $6.78.

“And we may be out of popcorn.”

I went to see if we were out of popcorn, but while doing so I poked my head into the fridge as well. We had popcorn, but were out of milk. That brought the planned total to $8.46. So I headed toward the door, but my son stopped me on the way out.

“Where are you going?” he asked. When I told him I was going to buy some ice cream sandwiches, he wanted to know if I could get him some rocky road.

(We’re a big ice cream family, can you tell?)

That brought the new amount to $11.45.

But…by the time I left the store, I’d spent $24.10 — nearly 7 times what I’d originally intended to spend, and more than twice as much as the (revised) amount I’d planned on spending.

What happened? Well, I walked in and saw some cherries, and remembered that I was out of fruit. Then I looked up and saw some lemonade that promised to be fresh-squeezed. It sounded so good that I added a quart. Then on the way to the ice cream section, I noticed that they had the kind of frozen pizzas that my husband likes in stock, so I added a couple of packages of those too.

In other words, I let impulse rule the day — right from the very beginning actually, with my decision to go buy some ice cream sandwiches — but it got worse and worse as time passed.

Once I’d said yes to one impulse, it got harder and harder to say no to the next few impulses. Actually, I didn’t even try to say no, because I knew we had the money, and so it “didn’t matter”. I also let product placement influence my buying decisions. (Although at least Fresh & Easy has fresh foods front and center instead of crap.)

That’s a big change from the days when I would count the number of ramen noodle packages I could afford, and weigh the merits of peanut butter vs. toilet paper. In those days, I wouldn’t even glance at the other things that were available, because there was no point. I had to say no. Heck, I had to say no to a lot of basics as well.

While it’s an excellent thing that I’m no longer in those circumstances, it’s not an excellent thing that the word no seems to have escaped my brain.

Because while we certainly can afford to spend that $24, we can’t afford to let impulses get the better of us too often. I should at least consider the relatives merits of say, a bunch of yummy crap vs. getting our house paid off earlier.

$24 by itself isn’t going to make much difference, but a whole lot slew of 24 dollars will. I want to be sure that what we’re doing matches up with our intentions. It’s a slippery slope when you start straying from the path of intention to impulse.

Of course, you can make a little bit of impulse-buying intentional — and many people do. It’s called fun money; money that you can spend thoughtlessly up to a certain limit. I think planning out impulsive spending helps keep things in balance and and in check.


  • Jackie, the same thing happens to me every so often. You head out for 3 things but realize you need another 5. So instead of spending $10, now I’ve spent $35.

    Impulses…. ah, to be human ;)

  • Jackie, you just described every single grocery trip ever. I don’t consider “forgot milk and bread” as an impulse expense, but I do have the habit of getting way more than just the bananas I left for…

    One time, I went out for bananas ($1.10) and vanilla icecream ($3.00) and chocolate syrup ($1).

    I came home with bananas, icecream, chocolate syrup, peaches, green grapes, kidney beans, tomato sauce, 2 Digiornos, manager’s special steaks, deodorant, 4 12 packs of Dr. Pepper since they were on sale for $10, Velveeta, and three different spices we were out of…it was like $75 or something.

    My husband literally laughed at me for about 10 minutes while helping me put everything up. We needed most of that for the chili, 7 layer dip, and pizzas that we had on the menu that week, but it was not a planned part of my “quick” trip. Oops.

    I also remember when we couldn’t have bought all that at once after college (Digiorno and steak weren’t even in our vocabulary)…wow, the difference a couple of full-time jobs make….

  • I have the worse impulse shopping problem at conventional grocery stores. I swear, it’s just because there is so much crap (and I do mean crap) available from which to choose. The farmers market and Trader Joe’s don’t give me the options. So, yeah. Oy.

    Thank you so much for reminding us about fun money. I’m redoing my budget (car paid off, people! Bad debt almost done!) and need to include a little fun money. Hopefully, I won’t be spending it on crap food!

  • Oone of the main culprits apart from this bad economy for making our financial health miserable is our impulse. Stop carrying credit cards and extra money in th first hand, which would help you to curb impulse shopping.

  • Impulse buying can be the death of frugality!