Personal Finance

This Is the No. 1 Impulse Purchase Americans Are Making

A woman looking at jars of food in an empty grocery store.

Image source: Getty Images

The most common impulse buy may come as a big surprise.

Key points

  • Impulse purchases can break your budget, and some impulse buys are more common than others.
  • Food is actually the most common impulse buy. 
  • You can avoid this by not going food shopping while you’re hungry or stressed, committing to shopping only with a list, and considering grocery pick-up/delivery. 

If you have made a budget, impulse purchases could undo all your hard work. Budgeting means setting limits and determining where you want your hard-earned money to go. If you make an unplanned buy, it’s harder to stick with your plans and you could end up reaching for the credit cards or taking too much out of your bank account and leaving your balance too low. 

There are lots of different kinds of unexpected purchases people make, but recent research from Ramsey Solutions has identified the No. 1 impulse buy people are giving into. 

Can you guess what the most common impulse purchase is?  

According to a study conducted by Ramsey Solutions, the most common impulse buy that people make is actually food that they come across while they are doing in-store shopping for other things.

Many people are falling victim to these random consumable purchases. In total, more than a third of Americans said they’d bought some type of unexpected item at least one time over the past three months with in-store food purchases accounting for the majority of these surprise buys. 

This probably isn’t a huge shock for anyone who has ever been to a grocery store, or even been to a department or big-box store that sells tasty treats. These stores are set up to convince you to throw a new food item or two into your cart, with colorful and attractive sweets and snacks often right at the entrance or on aisle end caps where you can’t miss them.

Unfortunately, many people who give into their impulses end up wishing they hadn’t done that. Around 60% of people responding to the Ramsey Solutions survey admitted to feelings of guilt after an unexpected purchase and 53% regretted buying things they hadn’t planned to purchase before heading to the store.

How can you avoid unplanned impulse buys?

It can be really hard not to throw items into your cart when shopping, but there are ways around it.

One solution is to make sure you don’t go shopping when you’re hungry or stressed. Being stressed is more likely to lead to unexpected spending, with 64% of survey respondents indicating they were more likely to impulse buy when feeling this emotion. And, obviously, if you’re hungry in the store, all the attractive food items are going to be impossible to resist. 

You can also commit to making a list and sticking to it and to budgeting carefully for groceries, since 85% of people who keep a budget said doing so helped them stop impulse spending.

If you still have trouble with adding random items to your grocery cart, you may also want to see if grocery pick-up is available to you. Many stores will actually do the shopping for you now if you place an order online and then you can just have the bags brought to your car. If you never actually have to go into the store to buy your groceries, you can’t fall victim to impulse purchases once you’re inside. Plus you can see how much you’re spending as you add items to your cart. 

Whatever approach works for you, be sure you’re aware of how common buying food items on impulse is. Knowing these items are such a temptation can be half the battle in your fight to avoid unplanned expenditures. 

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