ADHD Impulse Buying

How ADHD Impulse Buying Can Harm Our Financial State

Do you often find yourself buying things just because you want to? Worse, you sometimes buy them even though you don’t need them and maybe don’t even have the money for them! Impulsive buying is commonly associated with ADHD. How can you manage it effectively?

Published on
Updated on
estimated reading time

Reviewed by


The mini Adhd coach
In this Article
Could it be ADHD? The Self-Assessment Workbook by The Mini ADHD Coach.
Start your ADHD diagnosis journey!

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

Learn more

ADHD & Impulsive Buying: Why It’s Troublesome

What is the most expensive thing you bought because you were nearly obsessed with having it? If you can’t answer that, what about this question: how do you spend your money? Is it for something useful? Or do you buy based on wants?

If you have ADHD and believe you’re buying based on wants, please don’t feel bad. 😉 You see, reports say there’s an association between ADHD and low dopamine - one of the “happy hormones.” Now, several activities can boost your dopamine levels. One of those activities is shopping. 🛍️ 

Hence, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can urge us to fill our dopamine levels. This is possibly why many ADHD individuals love shopping around the mall and finding something they want or something that makes their eyes sparkle. When we buy things we want, we might experience a “dopamine surge.”

People with ADHD can struggle with impulse buying for many reasons...

An impulsive mind is typically characteristic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder because the condition affects the brain's executive function. The executive function is an integral part of the brain that allows us to get things done, plan, and help control our behavior. It also plays a role in our decision-making process, which is critical in planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to details, and controlling impulses.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms Is More Than Just Impulsive Buying

The “spur of the moment” purchases you sometimes (or often) make are usually a sign of impulsive behavior. Please keep in mind that they don’t happen because you need to get what you want, when you want it. You make these purchases largely because your ADHD brain urges you to. Think of it as a symptom - one that you may have little to no control over from time to time. 

Having impulsivity as an ADHD Trait can significantly impact the people around you and your relationship with them. 😔 Take me for example. There are times when I blurt out answers in class without waiting for my professor to call me. Sometimes, I even interrupt other people in between sentences when they're talking. These ADHD traits can lead to misunderstandings and may be taken negatively by others.

Trying new hobbies and learning new interests can also be a struggle for many people with ADHD. The life cycle of these newfound interests is often short-lived and disregarded once the person's impulsiveness wears out.

ADHD Trait & Impulsivity can truly go together, but please remember that impulsive buying - or impulsivity, in general - is just a part of the more prominent ADHD symptom you may experience.

Impulse Buying Can Take You To The Cleaners

A person with ADHD sometimes does not have spending limits. When you have an ADHD brain, thinking and planning in a predefined manner can cause us extreme stress and anxiety

In other words, we might have an aversion to any activity that requires careful planning. Hence, we might have the mindset that making an overall budget is just a waste of time. Tracking expenses and setting spending limits can be a problem, too. Sometimes we aren't just interested in doing them. In other times, the aversion stamps from “number anxiety,” also known as Dyscalculia, 😵 which we might be experiencing together with our ADHD.

Sometimes we justify our impulse buying by telling ourselves that we deserve to get something expensive or exciting for our hard work. Here’s the catch, though: we may feel happy and excited about our purchase initially, but the novelty might wear off quickly. Soon, the newly bought item may lie somewhere we might not even remember and collect dust. 

our impulsivity can make us buy something because it seems awesome... even if we don't really need it...

Few days in and we might find another item more interesting. Forgetfulness may also come into the picture. We use the item, store it somewhere, then forget where we store it. Either way, we might end up buying a new interesting item or replacing the one we just purchased.  

I admit, I might have an unreasonable amount spent on my own impulses. There was one time I became so interested in learning piano.🎹 I researched about it, hyperfocused on studying how to play, and found tempting deals on the internet with almost half off the price. Still, it was way out of my budget, and I knew it. But I was so tempted by the idea that I spent nearly my entire monthly salary on buying a keyboard piano. But, a few piano lessons later, I gave up. I no longer like piano because I find it difficult to learn. 

And that was just one of my impulsive purchases! Imagine the amount of money I could have saved if only I had contained my impulse buying behavior.

we can forget that we already own something very similar...
Visualize your ADHD traits!

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


Compulsive Buying Disorder: When Things Get Out of Hand

If you cannot control your impulsive buying tendency and it reaches the point where it greatly affects your daily life, you might develop a Compulsive Buying Disorder or CBD

CBD, a recognized mental condition, means that you make excessive and repetitive purchases that already cause you social, mental, occupation, financial, and even legal problems.

People with this disorder rarely set a reasonable spending limit, and it greatly affects their daily lives.😭 Often, the amount they earn is just enough to keep them afloat every month. But, if they find something they want, no matter how expensive or unnecessary it is, they might buy it anyway. This can cause financial problems and imbalances, further causing problems with loans and interests.

our difficulties with making quick choices can lead us to buy stuff just to avoid choice paralysis...

Psychiatry research found out that people with this disorder may often be secretive about what they buy because they often buy “pointless” items they don't need. They also tend to spend most of their time at stores checking out things that other people can consider unnecessary. People with CBD also tend to purchase stuff they want when no one else is around or when they have limited cash in hand.

Controlling the Impulsive ADHD Symptoms: How To Take A Deep Breath and Mitigate Purchases

When things have gotten worse and you can no longer control your impulse buying behavior, remember that there are still some things you can do to mitigate the situation. Hence, even if you are already in the deep with your adult compulsive buying, you can still do things that can lessen its effect on your life and help you recover.💪

These suggestions, which are based only on my experience, might help you manage your finances. However, individual differences and experiences can still make these methods fail. It is still best to consult a mental health specialist if your compulsive buying disorder has become more than just a symptom and you cannot deal with it anymore. Better be safe than sorry, right? 👌

Here are some pointers to help you manage your Impulse Buying:

  • Set Spending Limits or Budget When Going Out.

If you struggle to have a budget prepared, make a purchasing plan. These lists 📝 can come in handy if you plan to do groceries or go shopping to reward yourself. Before entering the shop, you should know how much you are willing to spend and buy only what you need on these occasions.

  • Set Appropriate Limits of Spending with the Category Envelopes System

Category envelopes are envelopes that contain money meant for specific purposes. ✉️ This means that the amount of money in the envelope depends on your budget for a particular expenditure. For instance, you can create three categories for these envelopes and label them as "Bills & Obligations," "Savings & Emergency Funds," and "Miscellaneous Expenses." With category envelopes, you are more likely to realize that if you take this money for an unnecessary purchase, then you won’t have the budget for some expenses. 

  • The Art of Sleeping, Breathing, and Meditation

Even if you have the budget for some of your impulse purchases, remember that you don't have to purchase them right away. Set a waiting time before checking it out. Before purchasing, why not spend some time relaxing? The amount you spend on sleeping or meditation 🧘 might help you gain the impulse control you may lack. If a day or 30 days have passed already and you still want to buy that Playstation 5, then go ahead (as long as you have the budget for it!)

  • Don't Go Grocery Shopping When You Are Hungry

Did you know that there's psychiatric research about grocery shopping when hungry? It states that if you are "hangry" or hungry and angry, there is this tendency for you to purchase more food, especially the ones on the shelves. So next time you go grocery shopping, 🏬 take a quick bite outside and clear your mind.

  • Automate and Take Advantage of the Technology

There are many apps you can utilize today to help manage your budget. These applications can quickly assist you in tracking your budget by knowing where the money went, how much you save on a particular purchase, or if your utilities are increasing or decreasing. Seeing these purchases easily can also help you feel “guilty” of excess spending and think twice about “wasting” your money.

  • Try Online Window Shopping

You might control your purchasing decisions better when you do online shopping. 👩‍💻 After all, there are no sales pitches thrown at you by the salesperson, reducing the risk of Analysis Paralysis, and you can easily check product reviews and feedback on your impulsive spending. Sometimes, adding to a cart without having to check them out is therapeutic enough for some adults.

  • Reward Yourself From Time-to-Time

Finally, buy something for yourself from time to time. If a small item or trinket can take a huge weight off of your shoulders, then why not? Also, getting rewards regularly can make you feel less deprived. However, make sure to stay within your budget. Creating a weekly or monthly plan for your spending intended for rewards might also help. ❤️ 

and we can even buy something because we feel overwhelmed in a shop

Yes, I know that there are individual differences regarding the impulsive buying tendency. But keep in mind the concept of "Delayed Gratification." This is a term coined by the Stanford Research psychologist Walter Mischel in 1972, which means "to wait for a later but preferred reward or outcome." 😘 If you just hold off buying that new computer, you can have an additional budget for your dream vacation!

My advice: Try online shopping!
ADHD & Impulse Buying

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: