5 ways to avoid panic buying

Panic buying, compulsive shopping — they’re both irrational, impulsive behaviors that may be making your life worse.

But you can take back control.

1. Address the fear

For the most part, panic buying or compulsive shopping is a result of scary stimuli. Whether it’s the pandemic, troubles at work, or even looming credit card debt, the various triggers for panic buying can be numerous and deceptively compelling.

A hallmark of impulsive spending is that it’s usually against the best interests of the spender, and while they know better than to buy 10 rolls of toilet paper or a bracelet from QVC, they end up doing so anyway. By attempting to recognize the fear beneath the surface, you might be able to target the cause of your spending.

Perhaps you’re trying to gain a sense of being in control or attempting to quell anxiety with a fleeting moment of contentment. Whatever the reason, a licensed mental health professional might be able to help you figure out the root causes of your frequent compulsive choices.

2. Fight the FOMO

A 2020 study on panic buying in Frontiers in Public Health notes that 75% of panic buying is prompted by increased demand for the item. It’s basic economics: If the general public believes that an item is going to fly off the shelves, they’re going to make a run to pick it up. In your case, that might be an item you already have at home or one that can be easily restocked, like food, toiletries, or even clothes.

Rather than following the herd and dashing to the store every time you feel the slightest bit of panic, have a contingency plan in your household as to how you’ll handle the stressors of our modern times, such as pandemic surges, floods, or fires. If you’re always ready in case of an emergency, you’ll never need to irrationally purchase items that others seem to obsess over, like bread or milk.

3. Take 24

The 24-hour rule alleviates more than just panic buying and compulsive shopping — it’s helpful for any impulsive behavior. If you usually react impulsively to emotional stress and are thinking about making a rash decision, just sit on it for 24 hours. Eat, sleep, work, and spend time with your family. Run your decision by partners and friends and get their input. Then come back to your intial choice and see if it’s really for you.

The most beneficial part of the 24-hour rule isn’t just asking for input from others, it’s sleeping. To really be in the best decision-making state, your brain needs time and sleep before your pull the trigger. Sleep is a natural way for the body to heal, synapses to degrade and recover, and for cognitive functions to improve. 

4. Stick to a budget

Everyone has (or should have) a budget for their finances, but having a budget for your time can be just as beneficial to keep yourself from impulse buys. If you only allow yourself time to shop at a certain time per week with a spending limit in mind, you won’t mindlessly stop at the store on the way home or shop online from your desk at work.

This trick can also work for impulsivity in general, as it elongates the 24-hour rule by a few days. If you make a rash decision but don’t act on it because you’re on a schedule for when you’re permitted to make moves you once considered impulsive, you have more time to think about whether you’re making the right choice.

5. Find another outlet

Your compulsivity might provide a bit of fun, but it’s not doing you any favors in the long run. You could be putting your relationships, finances, and career at stake if you frequently participate in irrational, impulsive behavior.

There are plenty of hobbies that require the same thrills of quick-thinking and risk-taking that you get compulsively shopping. You could channel your feelings into a sport, a card game, or video game, or even a new business venture. Just don’t let your impulsivity take over.