Impulse shopping: practice conscious consumption and avoid the pitfalls

We are tempted to make impulse purchases on a daily basis. On Conscious Consumption Day (October 15), we draw attention to the importance of reflecting before shopping in order to avoid unnecessary negative impacts on the environment, society, and our pocket.


The temptation to consume is a growing presence in our everyday lives: seductive window displays, launches of state-of-the-art electronic devices, “unmissable” offers cluttering our inbox or on social media, TV car commercials. Overcome with emotion (not surprisingly!) or as a much-needed distraction, we end up shopping on impulse, purchasing something we don’t need and, more often than not, experiencing guilt and regret later; not to mention the negative impact on the environment and society.

And you would be surprised by how many people fall into this trap. A study published by Brazil’s Credit Protection Service and the National Confederation of Shopkeepers revealed that 37% of consumers admitted to having bought something they didn’t need in the 30 days prior to the interview.

One of the side effects of impulse buying is that you are wasting money that could be spent on things that are useful to you or on services and experiences that bring you pleasure and knowledge. Cutting back on impulse shopping can help you become more financially comfortable – which is healthy for everyone – and free up more of your money to buy something really necessary or save.

Unnecessary purchases have an avoidable negative impact on the environment, which affects our well-being. Try to imagine the product’s supply and production chain, considering the natural and human resources needed for the product to reach you. What natural resources were used? What were the negative impacts of this production on the environment? For example, an average of 10,850L of water go into the production of one pair of jeans, which is equivalent to the average residential water use of one person (bathing, laundry, drinking/cooking etc.) over a period of three months!

Furthermore, a study conducted by a major clothing company showed that 33.4 kg of carbon dioxide – one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming – are produced during the lifecycle of a pair of jeans.

Based on these figures, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the production and maintenance of 23 pairs of jeans is equivalent to driving almost 4,000 km – which is the distance between Porto Alegre and Belém do Pará!

That’s why on Conscious Consumption Day (October 15), Instituto Akatu prepared a list of things you should do to avoid falling into the “traps” that lead to unnecessary expenses and the negative feelings that can come with them. Check out the following tips:



Have you ever bought an item of clothing or pair of shoes that looked wonderful in the store, but revealed themselves to be ridiculously uncomfortable on and ended up at the back of the closet? According to Brazil’s Credit Protection Service and the National Confederation of Shopkeepers, these are the most common impulse purchases, being mentioned by 14% of interviewees. The environmental impact of the production of this type of item is by no means small: according to a lifecycle analysis conducted by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the lifecycle of one shirt is equivalent to the emissions from commuting daily on São Paulo’s metro system for almost two months.

With the rise of fast fashion across the globe, people are buying much more: the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimate that the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer increased by 60 percent between 2000 and 2014, while each garment is kept half as long.

Many of these clothes, shoes and accessories are bought on impulse, especially since they are so “affordable”. The point is that the price of an item is not just that paid by the customer. It’s production usually requires large quantities of water and chemicals and emits a significant amount of GHGs responsible for global warming.
The first step to stop impulse shopping is organizing your closet. This will help you know whether a new item is really necessary and if it goes with your other clothes.

Don’t let yourself get carried away with sales. We can often be seduced by the idea of seizing an “unmissable opportunity”, and That’s why we sometimes end up buying a product we don’t really need.

To avoid regrets, thoroughly check the quality of garments before buying. It’s not cool, neither for you nor the environment, to spend money on clothing or accessories that ruin easily after only a few uses. Think about things like versatility and your style.

For special occasions, in which case the garment might just be used once, consider hiring or borrowing. This way you don’t waste good money and you will avoid feeling bad when you see the little-used item idle, taking up space in your closet.

Take special care when purchasing online. A thorough check of items is not always possible and sizes can vary, so the risk of regret is even greater. Use online retailers that offer a free first exchange and purchase brands that you are already familiar with. Also, be sure to check other customers’ evaluations of the product.

Just because it’s new doesn’t make it better. You don’t always need to buy a new item of clothing for a special occasion. Before you run to the store, take a careful look at the clothes you already have – remember, they have already been tested and so there is less risk of an unpleasant surprise.

Don’t take your frustrations out on the store. Low self-esteem, anxiety or sadness can lead to unnecessary purchases. The danger of drowning your sorrows in shopping bags can have a perverse rebound effect, since guilt can appear with a vengeance later.

Bloggers, models, pop stars, and other opinion leaders recommend products to their fans; but remember, it’s only advertising. So it’s important to cast a critical eye on products endorsed by celebrities, because they might not be so useful for you.



There is no lack of promises when it comes to cosmetics and perfume: fewer wrinkles, silky shiny hair, nail polishes that keep your hands looking youthful. Everyone knows that miracles don’t exist, but often unreal advertising images entice us to buy these magic beauty potions – but they do not always meet expectations.

That’s why the same tips for avoiding impulse clothing purchases apply to cosmetics and perfumes: don’t buy products hoping to boost your self-esteem or just because a famous person that you admire recommendeds it.

When it comes to cosmetics, remember that the effect of the product varies according to hair or skin type. So, if possible, test the product for yourself first. Remember: what’s good for someone else might not be good for you.



Obviously food is on everybody’s must buy list. More than that, food gives us pleasure: and nobody should feel guilty about buying their desired goody now and again without batting an eyelid.

The problem with impulse food purchases is waste. Because they are perishable, these types of food items end up in the trash when there is no plan to eat it. As a result, the water and other resources used to produce it are wasted. For example, it takes 125L of water to produce a single apple, according to the Water Footprint Network. The production process involves machines to cultivate the soil and harvest and transport the fruit, all of which use fossil fuels.

When the apple ends up in the trash these are wastes and the soil ends up suffering the negative impacts of cultivation unnecessarily – not to mention the use of fertilizers and other agrochemicals. Many people worked hard to produce this food, while you were working hard to earn the money to buy it with.

So the first tip is: make a weekly meal plan before going shopping. Check what’s in the store cupboard and think about what you and your family will use throughout the week. Make a shopping list so that you don’t lose your focus when you are in the supermarket.

Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry. There is an array of stimuli in supermarkets and it is more difficult to resist when you are feeling peckish. So go after a meal or take a snack so you don’t slip up.

Look out for the use-by date when deciding what and how much to buy. Remember that a lot of supermarkets make special offers on products close to their use-by date, which can often be a good deal, as long as the food is eaten before it goes bad – there’s no point buying food if you won’t have time to eat it!

Beware of family packs or “2 for 1” offers. This type of offer may seem advantageous, but, before putting the product into your trolley, ask yourself: “do I really need this?”. If it’s something your family eats on a regular basis and you will be able to finish off the items before the use-by date, then go ahead; otherwise, avoid unnecessary spending and buy the product only when you really need it.

Some families don’t have any alternative but to take the children to the supermarket. However, it’s worth considering if it’s possible to leave them somewhere else while you go shopping. In the stimulating environment of supermarkets, children tend to want to touch the products and ask for things not on the list, distracting the parents. Children asking for things and distraction are two factors that significantly influence impulse buying, jeopardizing a rational decision and resulting in unnecessary purchases.

Eating out is often seen as a leisure activity, bringing family and friends together for pleasurable moments. The price on the menu includes the ambience and service, as well as the food, and so ends up being more expensive than eating at home. That being the case, be careful not to let eating out bust your budget.

Check the menu prices before sitting down and ask about portion sizes to avoid wastage. If there are any leftovers, see if it’s worth taking them home to eat later.



Keeping up to date with technology to be productive and modern. With this argument, we are led to think that we constantly need to change our tech devices such as smartphones and laptops. These products bring status and play the role of “best friend” in our daily lives, accompanying us almost everywhere we go. However, it doesn’t make any sense to change your current device for a new one if it still works properly – especially if you consider the impacts of the production of these devices on the environment.

It takes on average 12,760L of water and 18m2 of land to produce a single smartphone, according to the report Mind your step by Trucost commissioned by Friends of the Earth.

Apart from water and land, the manufacturing process requires the so-called rare earth elements, used to produce magnets, batteries, LED lights, circuit boards and the polished glass screens. The extraction of these elements generates waste products such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, fluorides and sulphates, with a ton of ore generating more than 75,000L of acidic waste water and large quantities of toxic gases.

The first step towards avoiding impulse buying of electronic devices is being sure that you actually need the product. What are the really important functions of the product you intend to buy? With this in mind, buy the product that meets your needs.

Read unbiased consumers reviews to find out about the product’s strengths and weaknesses. If you have any doubts about a product use social media to ask questions!

When buying, you need to consider product maintenance and cleaning and where you will keep it. The kitchen cupboards, for example, might not be able to stand another specialty kitchen appliance for making your favorite dish.
Beware of equipment with promises of miracles that magically solve life’s problems. Tech gadgets on their own won’t get you that sculpted body you so desire!

When temperatures begin to drop, stores rush to place heaters in the prime display area for all customers to see. This is an example of a seasonal offer. Be careful not to make a spur-of-the-moment purchase, where the product is hardly used and left lying around the house for the rest of the year.

Commemorative dates such as Christmas and Black Friday also deserve caution, because the offers are not always as unmissable as they are made out to be. And nothing is more expensive than a product you don’t need, no matter how cheap it is.

Did you like this article? Share it!
Help to spread Conscious Consumption amongst your friends.
Read more: