Nov 18

Psychoanalysing: Rational Spending vs. Impulse Buying

by With Tiwa Ogunlesi (@tiwalowla)


We love an impulse buy just as much as the next girl, but with Christmas around the corner and the amount of returned clothing in landfill increasing, maybe it’s time to reconsider the fine line between what we need and what is simply an impulse purchase we will later throw away.

But here’s where it gets interesting…have you ever wondered about the psychology behind rational and impulse spending in relation to our self-confidence? In this article, we talk to Tiwalola Ogunlesi, confidence coach and founder for @confidentandkillingit, about how our self-esteem plays a part in our decision to make impulse purchases, as we evaluate what actually brings us joy and what is simply a waste of money (sorry, we had to say it).

Define the difference between impulse and rational spending?

Impulse spending is essentially buying in the moment, you don’t really think about it much. You’re there and it’s an emotional need, you buy from an emotional place. Whereas rational purchases are more thought through, from the rational part of your brain. Impulse buying comes from the back of your brain called the amygdala, that’s where you make emotional decisions to satisfy a need based on emotions. Rational spending comes from the prefrontal cortex, the rational side of your brain.

Is there space for impulse spending in a sustainable future? How might impulse purchases be considered bad for the environment?


The big downside to impulse spending is the waste that comes with it. When you shop impulsively you’re not thinking ‘Do I actually need this?’ or ‘What value is this going to bring my life in the long term?’. The issue with impulse spending is that a lot of people shop based on their emotions and they keep accumulating things that they never use.

If you think about it, life is an emotional roller coaster, so if you shop every time you’re feeling down or every time you’re stressed, it will lead to overconsumption. When you’re over consuming it’s more of a demand on the environment. But no one’s perfect right? So I won’t say there’s no room for impulse spending because sometimes an impulse buy can be a really good deal because you were just shopping and you find exactly what you have been looking for and decide to buy it, so I wouldn’t say there is no space for impulse buying whatsoever, we just have to make sure we are not over consuming. If you know you are an impulse buyer then think of the full life cycle of what you are buying. Let’s say you buy a dress impulsively, think how you can use the dress. Whether you lend it to a friend, or rent it on an app, or resell it. Consider other options rather than throwing it away.

“We need to be aware not everything we have been told is true. We need to have a mindset to question what society tells us and be able to make our own decisions.” - Tiwa Ogunlesi

How does capitalism influence our relationship with impulse spending?

Capitalism thrives on overconsumption because overconsumption makes more money, but it is really bad for the environment. We see so many ads like ‘you deserve it’, and that’s one of the ways ads trigger impulse spending. You tell yourself ‘I deserve this’ or ‘Oh I’m stressed I need this item to make myself feel better’, but material things cannot satisfy underlying human needs. When ads say buy this lipstick and you’ll feel more confident, a lipstick is not going to make you feel confident if you don’t already have that confidence inside of you. It’s really understanding that if you want to feel less stressed and manage your emotions, buying material things isn’t going to get you there, that requires deep work that you invest in yourself and in your personal growth. We just have to be aware of the messages they teach us in marketing and ads that material things will solve our issues. Material can only solve superficial needs, they are not going to solve our deep human desires to be seen and be heard and know what we matter. We need to be aware not everything we have been told is true. We need to have a mindset to question what society tells us and be able to make our own decisions.

“Your worth isn’t tied to your material possessions. You matter simply because you exist” — Tiwa Ogunlesi

How can low self-esteem impact impulse spending?

When you’re in your feelings, you’re not thinking rationally, and so when you feel down about yourself the message society has said is to buy things to validate yourself. So we end up buying things for validation, but its only a short time high. Once it wears off you’re thinking ‘What can I buy to get the high again?’ and it becomes addictive. Your worth isn’t tied to your material possessions. You matter simply because you exist, it’s about understanding you are good enough just as you are. The make up and the clothes only add to what is there, they aren’t giving you a sense of validation. Society has so many messages about material things will solve your problems, so you have to be aware to know what to believe and what to reject.

How does the concept of ‘self-care’ impact impulse spending?

It goes back to the whole ‘treat yourself’ marketing. Luxury lifestyles are a big trend as well, so it encourages people to be like ‘I deserve to celebrate myself’, ‘I deserve good things’ and don’t get me wrong we do deserve good things and we do deserve to celebrate ourselves, but it doesn’t have to mean buying things.


For example, why don’t you reflect on your accomplishments and write them down in your journal? Why don’t you meditate and just sit and think about how proud you are of yourself and really feel those feelings of pride. There are so many ways to celebrate yourself that don’t require spending money or buying a ‘treat’ for yourself’. Celebrate yourself by being kind to yourself, speaking to yourself nicely with compassion, and carving out time to go off social media and calm your mind a little bit by resting. By catching up on a good book or a good movie, or having a coffee with a friend. If you always treat yourself when you’ve done something good you will be really mean to yourself when you’re feeling down. It just becomes a toxic relationship where you overconsume when you feel good and deprive yourself when you feel bad. You want to find a balance where you only really shop when you need to and you don’t make decisions based on your emotions. About once a month I will buy myself some flowers because I love flowers and I love how they make me feel. That’s where mindfulness comes in. We need to think about why we are buying things, is it to keep up with appearances, or do I genuinely like how this makes me feel?

It’s super important to be aware that impulse buying is a dangerous habit to get into. If you always treat yourself when you do something good you will start to set goals for the wrong reasons. You should want to do well in life for your personal growth, not to give yourself a reason to get a new dress or expensive make-up. As Tiwa highlights, the ‘treat yourself’ concept is amazing, but it can be toxic when we rely on it too much to bring us inner happiness.

“We have to find the balance between being worthy of good things (which we all are) and over-consuming in the name of self-care. ” — Tiwa Ogunlesi

Is it possible that self-care could have a negative impact on our self-esteem when pitched to us in the wrong way by advertisers?

It is important to be aware of the messages you are consuming as a society. If you don’t want to buy things then don’t follow brands on social media. I try not to follow brands on social media so their content doesn’t constantly pop up on my feed so I don’t feel like I need this and that. Set yourself up for success and cleanse your feed of all the things that will make you impulse buy. Practice mindfulness, count down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and come back to the present moment and live within your means. When you catch yourself slipping over, be aware, don’t live your life on autopilot. Maybe you want to stop using your credit card or delete the Klarna app (no shade to Klarna, the app is only dangerous when you don’t have the money… if you know you have the funds but you want to spread it out it’s fine). Create a new routine for yourself that doesn’t require shopping and impulse spending, to make it easy for yourself to become a rational spender. Know what your triggers are and learn how to avoid them. My triggers are brands posting on Instagram, as I see their posts and feel like I need their products but I didn’t feel like I needed it before I went on Instagram. So the way I set myself up for success is I just don’t follow these brands.

“Invest in yourself and work on your mindset. Be disciplined and don’t run into debt is also self care, not just bubble baths and chocolate and wine. ” — Tiwa Ogunlesi

As Tiwa mentions, the idea of setting ourselves up for success is so important. Being in touch with our emotions and our needs enables us to align our priorities. Investing in our future is an act of self-care as demonstrates we believe our future self is worthy of happiness and progression. Crazy that all of this self introspection stems from impulse purchases right?

How can rational purchases make us more confident by making a positive impact on our lives?

Rational purchases stop us from feeling guilty. I don’t know about you but sometimes the guilt and the regret that you feel are not worth the rush from the impulse purchase. Confidence is about an in-depth belief in yourself and your abilities, so remember that irrational spending has consequences on the environment and your financial future. When you make rational purchases you will feel more confident because you are in control of your life. When you shop impulsively your emotions are controlling you and you feel helpless, at the mercy of your emotions. When you shop rationally you feel confident and disciplined, in charge of your emotions. We need more confidence to make better decisions and to be able to trust ourselves.If you make bad decisions you aren’t going to be able to trust yourself and you’ll start a narrative in your mind about how you’re really bad at saving or you really lack discipline, and then that becomes your reality. Being a rational spender allows you to look at yourself in a positive light and have more confidence.

Thanks to Tiwa’s professional insight we’ve all learned something about how impulse spendings impact the environment and our mentality. But how can we actually stop making impulse buys?

Tiwa’s Tips on How To Stop Impulse Buying

  1. Bring yourself into the present. Impulse buying happens when you’re on autopilot, you’re not really in the present moment. So the first thing to do is to bring yourself back to the present moment to be rational. Counting backward from 5 is scientifically proven to bring your thinking and awareness from your emotions to the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. So if you know you are making a decision based on emotion just count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and come back into the present moment, be aware of what you are actually doing.
  2. Give yourself time to think. If you see something you really want, don’t buy it in the moment, always say ‘let me think about it I’ll come back to it’ or ‘if I still need it in a week I will get it’. Don’t jump into purchases immediately, think about it and know why you are buying something. Material things aren’t going to solve deep human needs so when you buy something don’t just think of ‘oh I want it’ in the moment, think of the long-term use for the item. Let’s say you see a dress in a window and you’re like ‘Omg I really like it, I need it’, but you don’t have anywhere to wear it but you’re just like ‘I deserve this I have worked so hard this week’. Don’t just stop at the ‘I deserve it’, play it out in your head: Do I have anything to wear this to? How many times have I bought a dress like this and never worn it? What am I going to do with it if I still haven’t worn it in a few months? How is this purchase going to impact my finances? What is the effect on the environment if I buy this? Play out the full movie. Think about what happens after the purchase.
  3. Don’t shop when you’re upset or in your feelings. It’s the same thing as using food for comfort which similarly doesn’t solve your emotions. Journalising and processing your emotions will actually help you. As I say we are human, a bit of retail therapy is sometimes is needed, I’ll be the first to admit. At the moment everything is grey and dark, so I bought a new jumper because I knew it would make me happy. But I actually needed a jumper because I haven’t bought a new one in 2 or 3 years. Be kind to yourself, it’s okay to make the occasional impulse buy, just don’t make it a habit.
  4. Have a budget. I use apps like Monzo that categorise everything so I can budget how much I want to spend on shopping per month. For me, I only shop twice a year, usually in spring and maybe in December time. Things like that stop me from impulse buying because I know I only shop at those two times of the year. Impulse buying and apps like Klarna or buying things on credit can run you into a serious financial crisis. Credit is almost like free money. Not having to pay anything in that moment makes you want to make impulse purchases more, but all the money will keep stacking up and stacking up and you will have a £1000 shopping bill. Be strict with yourself and use apps like Monzo to budget and put money aside throughout the year to shop.
  5. Only shopping twice a year? Tiwa is exhibiting the balance between self control and treating yourself that we all need to try and adopt, for the sake of our planet and our attitude towards our selves.

    We will never shop the same way again after realising our relationship with shopping is intertwined with our mentality towards ourselves. Thank you to Tiwa for showing us what it means to truly care for ourselves and reminding us to trust our own judgement of what will fulfil our needs. Follow Tiwa and her confidence-focused community on Instagram for more inspiration and guidance on how to live your best life as a confident and positive individual. ✨ Join the conversation with us @whering__ and tell us your thought on impulse and rational purchases!