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Beware of impulse spending

(Special) - Just as emotions can affect our investment decisions, they also can play a huge role in our spending and buying habits, often causing us to over-spend to buy things we don't really need and putting ourselves needlessly into debt.

(Special) - Just as emotions can affect our investment decisions, they also can play a huge role in our spending and buying habits, often causing us to over-spend to buy things we don't really need and putting ourselves needlessly into debt.

Impulse spending is a costly habit. Canadians, for example, spend an average of $3,720 each year on items they want but don't need, with men spending twice as much as women on unnecessary goods.

A report on impulse spending by BMO Bank of Montreal has found that 59 per cent of Canadians make impulse purchases and the majority of them end up regretting it after the fact. Forty-three per cent sometimes spend more in a month than they earn.

The majority of Canadians shop to improve their mood and cheer themselves up and buy something that they may not need because it's on sale, while 42 per cent buy things they actually never us.

The most common impulsive purchases are clothing followed by dining out, shoes, book and magazines, music and movies and consumer technology products.

"Financial anxiety is commonly triggered by larger, one-time expenses, but spending on a daily basis can be the most disruptive when it comes to keep your financial house in order over the long term," says BMO Vice President Lily Capriotti. "In most cases, impulse spending is an emotional transaction. Setting parameters and tracking your daily spending can help curb behaviours that negatively affect the larger picture."

On average, Canadians spend about $310 a month on things they want but don't need and believe they could save more than two-thirds of this amount if they made an effort to limit their spending.

"The data shows that Canadians recognize they have the opportunity to save hundreds of dollars per month and thousands per year by cutting back on non-essential items," Capriotti says. "However, the report shows that only one in five people review non-essential purchases at the end of each month, which implies that some may be avoiding the reality of how much of their money is being put toward things they do not need."

About one third of Canadians borrow money or take out a loan to pay for non-essential items, with 23 per cent being unable to buy something they needed because of their spending on items they wanted.

These habits are more common among younger Canadians (under 30) but even high-income earners over-spend on non-essentials, with 19 per cent of those in households earning at least $100,000 being unable to afford something they needed because of non-essential purchases.

There are a few tips that people can use to help them reduce their urge to impulse buy.

Ask yourself a few questions. When does a want become a need? What is it that motivates you to buy - is it advertising, friends or trendy styles? Does the urge to buy wane or die the next day? Do your purchases make you happier? And what can you live without?

To help reduce impulse buying, avoid trips to stores, shopping malls and online buying sites. Pay for purchases with cash or cheques, reduce your credit card limit and leave your credit cards at home. If you want something, sleep on it and see if you still want it the next day and cut costs by increments.

"There are a few practices Canadians can put in place to track and control impulse spending, including setting aside savings on a regular basis, putting off impulse purchases for an hour, using online tools to track daily spending and set limits, and leveraging a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) or a high-interest savings account to help maximize these savings," Capriotti says.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

Copyright 2013 Talbot Boggs