How many times have you left the house with a list of items in mind (or in hand) but ended up buying extra stuff just because? You grab gum, candy and a drink when all you came out for was bread. Any spending outside of a budget or a prior plan is impulsive.
I’ve been there; you’ve been there. And even if it’s easy to think of this as some far away concept, all that really separates my impulse spending from yours is the frequency of purchases and the potential damage to our finances. But, yes, we have all sinned.
Reasons Nigerians gave for impulse spending
Recently, I spoke to several Nigerians about their spending habits and the results were interesting.
1. The illusion of affordability
This is the biggest financial trick of all. You think you can buy it because it’s cheap. Zainab*, 26, says her most common impulse purchase is food. After doing a breakdown, she realised that she had spent over ₦45,000 on snacks and treats over the last three months. This might not seem like a lot but knowing that her monthly salary is ₦100,000 puts things in perspective.
2. Instant gratification
“I spend on things that make me feel good. If I perish, I perish,” says Enohor*, 37, who admits to sometimes regretting her purchases, even though the feeling is usually short-lived. The idea for many is to spend now and deal with the consequences later. When I spoke to 21-year-old student, Diana*, she had just spent ₦35,000 on shoes. Her monthly allowance is ₦30,000.
“I left my house to buy a Lakers’ jersey — ₦1,800 was the budget — but I ended up getting a pair of Chelsea boots I saw,” she said. She later confessed to not wearing most of the shoes and clothing items she buys.
3. Fear of missing out
Sell an item for ₦20,000 and people will complain about the price. Put out the same item for the same amount but with a discount tag and watch them rush. The fear of missing out on a “good deal” has Nigerians spending more on things they don’t need. Vendors have cracked that offering discounts is a sure way of getting patronised. Daniel*, 27, says he once spent ₦12,000 on a discount coffee maker. “I don’t even drink coffee, but I figured if I ever start, at least I have a machine for that.”
4. External influence
Having someone we respect endorse a product can facilitate an impulsive purchase. 26-year-old Peter* purchased a keyboard worth over half a million because of a YouTube video. “I was watching a music tutor unbox a one-of-a-kind keyboard. The features were incredible so I placed an order for one. It cost me over ₦600,000, but it was completely worth it.”
Most impulse spenders use what is left after necessities are sorted. The real problem begins when the lines between necessity and impulse start to blur. Spenders may find themselves dipping into savings to fund impulse buys. Or worse: having no savings at all because of impulse purchases.
Practical ways Nigerians have tried to stop impulse spending
We asked Nigerians how they stop themselves from impulse spending and here are some of the best responses.
1. Special Impulse budget
Onyeyibo*, a 24-year-old pasta lover, says she’s addicted to buying pasta and cheese. “When I enter a store, I immediately go to the pasta and cheese section. It’s my favourite dish.” Onyeyibo claims to have spent at least ₦16,000 on just pasta and cheese in a single month. “Earlier in the year, I realised I was always short on cash for things I planned for and it traced back to my pasta purchases. I decided to create a monthly budget (outside food) for just pasta and cheese.”
Creating a separate budget creates a limit for spending.
2. Accountability partner
In an ideal situation, getting an account manager works best, but it’s hard to find someone who is interested in your finances without having a stake in it. 28-year-old Michael spent ₦300,000 on body modifications in just eight months. “In the past, I would randomly stop by the tattoo parlour and get a small tattoo for ₦30k. Now, I have an agreement with my tattoo artist. No unannounced visits and all tattoos must be communicated two weeks in advance.” It’s quite unorthodox, but it works for Michael.
By creating this agreement, he has cut down on his impulse spending. Finding an accountability partner will save you thousands.
3. Setting targets
Setting goals for ourselves can force us to trim our spending to create allowance. Zainab, who impulsively spends on food, recently started cutting back because she has a professional certification she’s saving for. Sometimes, the fear of losing out on an opportunity forces us to rethink our spending habits.
4. Cutting off access to funds
Out of sight, out of mind. Some Nigerians have claimed that having access to their funds makes it easier for them to spend. “If it’s in my wallet or bank, I’ll spend it,” says Diana*, 21. “I had to get a kolo and even then, I still used a knife to get the money out.”
In other cases, some Nigerians like David*, 24, rely on the strict saving features of online platforms, like PiggyVest (shameless plug, so download on Android and iPhone), to restrict their spending. “I safelock my money so I know I can’t touch it,” says David. “Even when I try to withdraw from my savings, the penalty fees make me think twice.”
As with all bad habits, it can be hard to stop impulse spending. You need some level of self-discipline. When you catch yourself making that impulse purchase, stop and think of the financial implications.