Impulse Spending: How to Help a Family Member Beat This Habit

Q: Last week, I found out my wife has spent more than $10,000 in the last year buying “just stuff.” She charged all of the items on her credit card and has only been making minimum payments so I wouldn’t find out. I feel angry and hurt that she’s been doing this and not telling me about it.

A: What you’re describing is called impulse spending, which is making unplanned purchases you probably don’t need. Many people will buy items impulsively when they’re happy, feeling down or as a reward.

This cycle of spending can be very hard on a relationship and family. To improve your situation, you and your wife need to be open and honest about your feelings and the status of your finances. Take stock of what you owe, your actual monthly expenses and your income. Look for solutions to deal with your “new” and existing debt. I would also encourage you to review your finances together on a weekly basis so you both remain on track together.

To help someone change their impulse spending habits, consider discussing these statements:
“I spend money when I feel…”
“I impulse spend because…”
“While I’m spending money, I think about…”
“After I have spent money, I’ve noticed that I feel…”
“I believe when I’m spending money, I can pay for it by…”

Another strategy is to keep your money safe from yourself. This means limiting debit card access to bank accounts; lowering limits to reasonable amounts on debit as well as credit cards; making direct deposits into a savings account that you don’t have easy access to; and paying for purchases with cash until you are back on track.

Impulse spending can undermine your financial future. Have a plan to change your spending habits and you will beat the cycle.