ADHD Impulse Buying

Mastering Spontaneous Shopping: Control Your Impulse Purchases & Save Money

Impulse buying is often driven by psychological factors, emotional states, and external influences. Key causes include a search for instant gratification, mood swings, and environmental triggers like persuasive advertising or store layouts. Additionally, certain mental health conditions, such as ADHD, can amplify these tendencies. Recognizing these triggers is the first step towards managing impulsive shopping habits effectively.

Published on
19/9/2022
Updated on
8/11/2023
estimated reading time
minutes

Written by

Alice

The mini Adhd coach

Reviewed by

In this Article

Reviewed by

A word from our expert

Why We Buy Things We Don’t Need (Or Even Really Want)

Have you ever received a package and struggled to remember why or when you placed the order? 😕If you're an impulsive spender, this is likely a frequent habit. But why do we make impulse purchases, and what drives this spontaneous behavior?

In this article, we'll discuss:

  • Common Triggers and Influences on Impulse Purchases: How external factors like advertising and social media contribute to impulse buying habits.

  • The Psychology of Impulse Buying The internal triggers of impulsive purchases and how our emotional state can impact our shopping behavior.

  • Risk Factors For Impulse Buyers: The difference between impulse buying and compulsive buying, and the common mental health conditions that make us vulnerable to it.

  • Why People With ADHD Impulse Buy: Which symptoms of ADHD tend to contribute to impulsive buying and issues with spending money.

  • Strategies to Control Impulse Buying and Improve Financial Habits: Practical tips to limit impulsive buying and enhance personal finances.


Ready to unravel the mystery behind those unplanned items in your shopping cart and learn how to master the art of mindful shopping? Let's dive right in. 🥰

Common Triggers and Influences on Impulse Purchases

While we like to think our purchases are deliberate, a deeper dive into impulse buying behavior reveals sophisticated, sneaky strategies designed to ignite our impulse to buy. 🤔These strategies often lead us to purchase things we didn't set out to buy, don't necessarily need, or aren't even sure we want.

Here are just a few of the most common tactics retailers use to do this:

  • Product Placement: Retailers carefully design their store layouts to guide customers through a journey that maximizes exposure to ideal impulse purchase items, particularly near high-traffic areas and the checkout line. This is also referred to as ‘suggestion’ impulse buying, where consumers encounter a product for the first time and quickly convince themselves they need it, despite having no previous intention to purchase it. 😂

  • Captivating Product Displays: Eye-catching displays and product placements, often at eye level or in busy parts of the store, are strategically used to attract attention and encourage us to throw it into our basket without much thought. 👀

  • Limited-Time Offers and Sales: Promotions such as flash sales or limited-time offers create a sense of urgency, prompting customers to make quick purchasing decisions to take advantage of the deal. This is especially true when a store offers ‘exclusive access’ to sales for repeat customers or subscribers to ‘reward’ brand loyalty. 🙄

  • Sensory Marketing: Stores utilize sensory elements like pleasant music, attractive lighting, and inviting scents (like freshly baked bread!) to create a store environment that enhances the likelihood of impulse buying. 🤤

  • Checkout Temptations: The checkout area is full of small, enticing items - whether it’s a candy bar or a magazine, its aim is to capitalize on the customer's last-minute decision-making. This also extends to online shopping, too - many online businesses have algorithms for ‘reminder impulse buying’ to entice you to spend a little more money before you pay - particularly if you need to spend slightly more to get free delivery. 😉

However, external factors alone aren't enough to trigger impulse buying; our personal vulnerabilities also play a crucial role in making us susceptible to these external influences. These vulnerabilities are usually psychological; as our emotions significantly influence decision making, emotionally driven decisions are often not logical - or sensible. 😬

So, what key behavioral influences are behind the impulse to buy? Let's explore the internal mechanisms that contribute to our impulsivity.

  • Dopamine and Instant Gratification: Our brains' craving for dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward, often drives us toward quick, gratifying purchases. 🧠

  • The Influence of Emotions: Emotional states like stress, happiness, or boredom significantly impact our propensity for impulse buying, often leading to spontaneous purchase decisions. 😵‍💫

  • Self-Esteem and Shopping: Research on consumer buying behavior indicates that individuals with lower self-esteem are more prone to impulsive shopping, potentially seeking validation or comfort in their purchases. 🥺

  • Personality Traits and Impulsivity: Consumer behavior research also suggests that certain traits, including neuroticism, lower conscientiousness, and higher extraversion, are associated with a greater tendency towards impulsive shopping behaviors. 😟

Visualize your ADHD traits!

Take our fun online quiz to visualize your ADHD traits and learn more about your brain!

TAKE THE FREE TEST

When Shopping Crosses the Line: Mental Health and Compulsive Buying

While occasional impulse buys and retail therapy sessions can be harmless, for some, this behavior crosses into compulsive buying. It’s important to note that compulsive buying is more intense than pure impulse buying - it’s a persistent, repetitive behavior that often involves excessive, compulsive spending habits that lead to emotional distress or financial problems. 

Compulsive buying has various risk factors, most of which include different mental health conditions.  

These include:

  • Anxiety Disorders: Shopping can become a coping mechanism for managing anxiety, leading to impulsive or compulsive buying behaviors.

  • Binge Eating Disorder: Individuals with binge eating disorder might impulsively buy large quantities of food as a way to cope with stress or negative emotions. This behavior often reflects an attempt to find comfort or distraction by purchasing and consuming food.

  • Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorders: Individuals with these disorders may exhibit impulsive behaviors, including shopping, as a response to emotional swings or a need for validation that is rooted in traumatic past experiences.

  • Behavioral Addictions and Impulse Control Disorders: Compulsive shopping often exists alongside other behavioral addictions, such as gambling, internet addiction, or substance abuse, indicating a broader struggle with impulse control.

  • Bipolar Disorder: Individuals with bipolar disorder, particularly during manic phases, are prone to impulse buying due to heightened impulsivity, leading to extravagant and often regrettable purchases.

  • Hoarding Disorder: Compulsive buying can overlap with hoarding disorder, where sufferers struggle to throw things they no longer need away, often leading to significant clutter. Not all compulsive shoppers hoard, but the behaviors are often interrelated.

  • ADHD: Impulse buying can also be a symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), where difficulties with impulse control and seeking immediate rewards lead to frequent unplanned purchases. 


If you recognize these patterns in yourself or someone you know, seeking professional help is crucial. Mental health professionals can provide support and strategies to manage these behaviors effectively.

The Link Between ADHD and Impulse Buying

While occasional impulse buying is normal, persistent issues with impulse spending, alongside other symptoms like distractibility and restlessness, might be more in line with a diagnosis of ADHD rather than just impulsive spending habits. 

According to research, people with ADHD often face unique challenges in their decision-making processes due to the nature of their symptoms.

These include:

  • Impaired Inhibition Control: A hallmark of ADHD, this symptom makes it challenging to resist the temptation of immediate purchases, often leading to spontaneous buying decisions.

  • Dopamine-Seeking Behavior: Individuals with ADHD may have lower dopamine levels, leading them to seek activities that provide a quick dopamine boost, such as impulse buying.

  • Difficulty with Delayed Gratification: The ADHD brain tends to favor immediate rewards over long-term benefits, making impulse purchases more appealing.

  • Challenges in Planning and Organization: The executive function deficits common in ADHD can result in poor financial planning and impulsive spending without consideration of future consequences.


If you recognize these patterns, it's important to consider a professional evaluation for ADHD. A proper diagnosis can be instrumental in developing strategies to manage impulsive buying and improve financial decision-making. 💕

How To Stop Impulse Buying When You Have ADHD

Navigating impulse buying, especially for those with ADHD, requires mindful strategies and techniques designed to tackle impulsive behavior.

Here are a few key tips that can help manage impulsive shopping.

  • Try Using Cash Only: Where possible, use cash for shopping, only taking what you intend to spend out with you. 
  • Remove Your Saved Card Information: Remove any stored payment information to add a layer to your buying decision-making process. Sometimes, just having to get up and find your credit card can make you rethink the purchase. 😂

  • Avoid Stores That Tempt You: If you know that a grocery store is where you spend the most money on making unplanned purchases, consider swapping to online grocery shopping to help you stick to a shopping list and avoid unnecessary items.

  • Keep The Original Packaging (And Receipt!): After purchasing, keep tags on items for a day or two before deciding to keep them to allow you to reflect on whether the purchase was a sensible one. 🤔

  • Introduce A Waiting Period: Add the item to your basket or take a screenshot to keep track of it. Then, set it aside for at least 24 hours. If the desire to purchase was just a passing impulse, you might completely forget about the item during this period. 





  • Get Approval for Large Purchases: Discuss major purchases with a friend or family member for items over a specific value. This way, you can reduce the risk of impulsive spending by gaining an external perspective, which helps make a more informed and balanced decision.

  • Reduce Temptation: Unsubscribe from retail emails and texts. Avoid shopping as a social activity and learn to say 'no' to unnecessary items.

  • Use Visual Reminders For Saving Goals: Place visual reminders of your saving goals in strategic locations like your phone lock screen, fridge, and car dashboard to maintain focus on long-term financial objectives.

Regardless of whether you have ADHD, these strategies are crucial in curbing impulse buying and supporting mindful spending. They're essential for aligning your financial goals with your personal wellbeing, offering valuable guidance for everyone in managing impulse purchases and instant gratification. 👍

From creating a shopping list to avoiding temptation at the checkout line, these tips help limit impulse buying, encouraging thoughtful spending on each shopping trip and allowing progress towards long-term financial goals. 🥳

Key Takeaways

  • Impulse buying is often triggered by external factors, including: 
  • Strategic store layouts
  • Captivating product displays
  • Limited-time offers
  • Checkout tactics and algorithms
  • Many internal factors make us emotionally vulnerable to impulsive buying. 


These include:

  • Emotions, such as stress, happiness, or boredom
  • Personality traits such as neuroticism, lower conscientiousness, and higher extraversion 
  • The brain's craving for dopamine, which drives quick, gratifying purchases.
  • Compulsive buying, a more intense form of impulse spending, is associated with various mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, binge eating disorder, and bipolar disorder.

  • People with ADHD may struggle with impulse buying due to:
  • Impaired inhibition control
  • Dopamine-seeking behavior
  • Difficulty with delayed gratification
  • Challenges in planning and organization.
  • To combat impulse buying, consider the following tips:
  • Use cash only, and removing all saved card information online
  • Introduce a 24-hour waiting period on purchasing decisions
  • Avoid stores you usually impulse buy from, either by physically not entering or unsubscribing from their marketing 
  • Keep all original packaging and receipts of any unplanned purchase in case you change your mind
  • Keep a savings plan where you can see it to remind you of your goals for the future

Regardless of whether you have ADHD or not, understanding the triggers and influences behind impulse buying can empower you to make more mindful spending decisions. 

t's all about balance: treat yourself, but stay mindful of your budget. By knowing your spending triggers and aiming for your long-term goals, you're taking charge of your finances. Remember, each step towards thoughtful spending is a step closer to financial wellness and joy. 💕

What’s Next?

Want to understand more about how ADHD impacts how we manage money? Check out these related articles. 

Navigating Financial Management with ADHD

Grocery Shopping for Individuals with ADHD

 The Hidden Costs: Understanding the 'ADHD Tax'

Start your ADHD diagnosis journey!

Visualize and assess 25 ADHD traits and understand how they affect your life.

Learn more

ADHD and Impulsive Buying: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can ADHD cause impulsive buying?

Having ADHD cannot cause you to have impulse buying behavior, but it may manifest as a “symptom.” Many people with ADHD experience impulsiveness, where they act without putting so much thought on the action. This impulsiveness can manifest as impulse buying, hence many people with ADHD also have impulse buying problems. Also, many people with ADHD have low levels of dopamine. The thing is, shopping can give us a “dopamine boost.”

What possible problems might arise with impulsive buying?

First and foremost, impulsive buying behavior can be quite expensive. Left unmanaged, it might even turn into compulsive buying disorder where a person repeatedly and excessively makes purchases, significantly affecting many aspects of their life.‍

How can people with ADHD better manage their impulsive buying behavior?

There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to managing impulsive buying. The best way is to try several strategies and see which ones work. Case in point: if you have trouble suppressing your urge to buy lots of food when you’re hungry, better have snacks in your bag each time you go outside. ‍

Share this article on Social Media

Help us raise awareness around ADHD, let's spread ADHD love and support to all that need it.

If you liked this article you are going to like these ones:

Check out more content about similar topics: