Have you ever purchased something and then wondered a couple of days later what you were thinking? Do you toss a candy bar and a soft drink in your cart without even thinking while checking out at the grocery store? You went shopping just to “look around” and came home with far more than you intended?
Well if so, you aren’t alone. I would imagine almost everyone has fallen prey to an impulsive purchase at one time or another. The problem comes if you find that impulsiveness becomes a way of life. This is a sure-fire path to debt and financial hardship.
There was a character in the Old Testament that had some issues with impulsiveness. I think we can learn something from his story.
The full story can be found in Genesis 25:27.34. In summary, Esau was the first-born and by rights should have been the primary heir of his father Isaac. One day he came in from hunting. He was very hungry and when he smelled the stew his younger brother Jacob was cooking, he was so insistent on having some that he was willing to give up his rights as the first-born in return for a bowl of soup. I think that would qualify as being just a tad impulsive.
So what can we learn from impulsive Esau?
Impulsive purchasers aren’t concerned about price
When we make an impulse purchase more often than not price doesn’t enter into the equation.
When we walk into the electronics store and walk out with the new 47″ HDTV because the picture just looked so awesome, or we see that perfect sweater at our favorite clothing store and it is just to cute to pass up, chances are we haven’t done much in the way of price comparison.
This is what happened to Esau. Verse 30 tells us he told his brother “Quick let me have some of that red stew. I’m famished!” Esau wasn’t thinking about the cost. He was only thinking about his hunger and his desire.
When our impulses rule our actions, we tend to make irrational decisions that we wouldn’t make if we stopped to think about it.
Impulsiveness hits us when we are in a position of weakness
Verse 30 says Esau was famished. All he could think about was his hunger. (There is probably a good Snickers commercial in here somewhere.) They always say you should never go grocery shopping when you are hungry. Perhaps Esau should have taken that advice.
Are there certain stores where you know you’ll have a hard time telling yourself no? This is where we need to be wise as consumers. If there are certain places where a little “window shopping” generally costs you $100, then maybe you need to avoid those stores unless you have a very specific need.
Impulse buys rarely satisfy
The problem with an impulse purchase is when the adrenaline of the purchase wears off we are often left with a sense of guilt or at least dissatisfaction. Additionally, all too often there is another “thing” just around the corner that we have to have, and the last impulse purchase is soon forgotten.
Verse 34 says that Esau grew to hate his birthright. I think there is a great deal of regret mixed into that statement. He had come to understand what that impulsive need to satisfy a desire had really cost him.
Impulse buys cause us to sacrifice long-term happiness.
Which leads to our fourth item. Just as Esau gave away his long-term legacy for a bowl of soup, our impulsive decisions may give us a brief boost, but to get that brief shot of happiness we are often sacrificing our long-term good.
Many people say I’d love to be saving for retirement, or have an emergency fund, or be tithing to my church, but I just don’t have enough money. Many times though the money really is there. But we fritter it away with a purchase here or there.
This is one of the great dangers of credit cards. All too often people wake up one day thousands of dollars in debt and they have no idea what they even bought.
How do you keep from selling your future for a bowl of stew?
So what do you do if you know you are too impulsive? Here are some suggestions.
If you really want something, leave the store. Go home. Sleep on it. If you wake up the next morning and you still want it, and it fits in your budget, then go back and buy it.
It is difficult to overspend when you use cash. When the cash is gone, it’s gone. Period. Plus paying cash hurts more than using credit.
Budget for it and use the envelope system
This is one of the beauties of the budget. If you have planned for the expense and the money is available there is no need for guilt. Combining the budget with the envelope system gives you the added bonus of using cash!
Talk it over with someone
If you are married, don’t make a significant purchase without discussing it first with your spouse. If you are single, find a friend or relative who will hold you accountable and can help you make sure you are spending wisely.
Consider the opportunity cost.
All of us have limited income. Some have more than others, but everyone has a limit. Opportunity cost says that you only get the opportunity to spend each one of those limited dollars once. Make sure you are spending them on what matters most to you.
Know your weaknesses
There may be certain stores you need to avoid or certain people you need to avoid going shopping with. Know your weaknesses and be careful when you find yourselves in those circumstances.
Don’t be Esau
Esau was the first-born of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. By rights he is the one that should have been the father of the nation of Israel, but he threw away his future to satisfy a momentary desire.
Please don’t trade your future well-being to satisfy a momentary impulse.
What was the last purely impulsive purchase you made? Was it a blessing? Did it provide lasting happiness or regret?
Photo credit: hardworkinghippy (creative commons)