The 5 Most Common Shopping Triggers And How To Fix Them

How you shop is a habit—or more like a constellation of habits. And, all habits start with a cue aka the thing that kicks everything off. If you want to change how you shop you need to address your shopping habits.  You do that with the habit loop.

this image describes the habit loop and says: cue, craving, response, reward. There's an arrow between each word to illustrate that our habits are a cycle.
The habit loop

The habit loop is comprised of four components: the cue (the prompt), the craving (the motivation for the habit), the response (the action you take), and the reward (often a dopamine hit).   If you want to stop shopping and not even enter the loop the first step is to identify your trigger(s).

Today, I’m addressing the 5 most common types of triggers and providing actionable solutions for each type.

The most common triggers are
  1. time
  2. location
  3. emotions
  4. reactionary
  5. other people


Time sets a lot of habits in motion. Think about it: morning routines, evening routines, school routines, after school routines. There’s a lot we do on impulse or autopilot simply because of the time.

When it comes to shopping there are tons of way we spend money as a result of the time: buying coffee on our way to work, buying lunch at, well, lunchtime. Buying coffee or treats on an afternoon break. Buying dinner on our way home from work.

Depending on your habit, scrolling in bed or on your way home from work can apply here too. A question to ask to clarify is: do you scroll because of the time ex. 9pm or the location ex. your bed. If you weren’t in your bed would you scroll? If yes, it’s a timed habit, if no, it ‘s a location habit.


Environment habits are triggered by your location, yes, but more commonly something being presented to you in a specific location. If you wake up in the morning konwing you have bagels in your freezer do you go make a bagel simply by being in your kitchen? Or, would you eat a bagel if your partner makes one for you and it’s sitting on the table? This is a location habit.

Instagram, Youtube, and Tiktok are digital environments and they’re the equivalent of the bagel on the table. If you weren’t on Youtube or Tiktok would you want to buy those cool new sneakers?

A popular piece of (good) advice is to remove yourself from mailing lists and newsletters. This works because it’s an environment habit.

If you’re not interested in getting off apps completely, you can consider how to tailor your experience.

Imagine your device as your digital kitchen. Who would you want to invite in? Who or what would you like to influence you? If you haven’t taken the time to curate your feed, this is the time to give your following and subscription list a review. Beyond that, you can also curate your home page or discovery page on YouTube as well as what you search for.

Back to reality for a second, all of our daily locations already have habits associated with them. So, with physical locations you’re going to have to re-write new habits and overwrite triggers. Now, the easiest way to create new trigger is with a new environment, but this isn’t always possible with places like your home or work.

Perhaps, you can shift all your online shopping to your desktop or laptop only. No devices for shopping purposes. This would be a new location for shopping if you usually use your phone. You can apply the same principles with your bed, couch, or train if these are regular places you scroll and shop.

Placing physical or digital reminders can help with this as well. As an example, if you love scrolling in bed, you can install a daily reminder to leave your phone in your living room. Or, you can make certain website inaccessible during key scrolling times.

I used to love stopping by the Danish Pasty House, Pilot Coffee, and The Detox Market at Union Station on my way from school. Most days I’d walk buy, I’d buy something and “that something” could be a cup of coffee, a Danish, or eyeshadow palettes depending on how I was feeling that day. When this was a problem, taking another route cut out all of my on my way home spending.

There are plenty of opportunities to change or add new habits for location so take some time brainstorming this one.


This particular habit cue had a stranglehold on me for a while, because emotions are harder to spot, harder to control, and can often be a stress response. Coping mechanisms aka stress responses, are habits, and the most difficult habits to change.

I don’t suggest using emotions as a trigger for a positive habit, but you can certainly be aware of the cue for changing bad habits.

Here’s an example: You had a client complaint at work today, which creates a bad mood. You then buy yourself a treat to make yourself feel better.

On the flip-side they can also look like: you got a glowing client review and your boss mentioned that they’d like to see you promoted. You feel great so you want to buy a treat to celebrate.

Noticing, will-power, and motivation are really tough to use with emotion-driven habits because they’re difficult to care about when you feel crummy. Emotions cloud or judgment.

So, you have a couple options with this one. But, two of these options will require some pre-planning, trial and error, and learning. By that I mean, the solutions are a little more involved and will take a little more time to figure out. Here are three options:

  1. focus on changing your mood in the moment
  2. will-powering yourself not to buy something (very difficult and will only work some of the time and I generally don’t recommend)
  3. focus on finding alternatives to ‘treats’ and/or emotional spending

A blog post is forthcoming about emotional spending with suggestions and more insights.


Reactionary habits are those that are prompted by something else. Ex. you get an IG notification or comment so you open your phone.

These habits are also called prompt habits or “preceding events” because they are a direct result of a previous action.

These kinds of habits are some of our most instinctual or autopilot behaviours because we feel like we “just do them.” My morning cup of coffee is an example of such a habit as it’s triggered by getting out of bed. I “just make it,” usually without thought. We have dozens if not hundreds of these habits each day, and they’re the best for habit stacking because we will do them almost no matter what. So, they’re a reliable way to start a new habit.

In most cases we’re talking about base habits like going to the bathroom, eating, showering, going to bed. There’s a chance that some of your shopping habits fall into this category, and they may be harder to spot or utilize to your advantage that the other categories.

Some examples are:
  • get bored at work, pull up Instagram or Tiktok
  • see a fun product on Youtube, pull out your phone or open up a new tab to check out the details
  • see an email pop-up from a favourite brand, open it to look for a coupon code
  • sit down for a meal, pull out your phone to watch a video

To limit reactions to socials like notifications or boredom scrolling you can disable push notifications on your phone or computer.

Right now on my phone, I do not get any notifications on my home screen unless it’s from a star content. I have to open my phone in order to see what’s going on. I have a history of being hypervigilant with my phone, where I’ll check my phone constantly if I know my notifications are active.

I’ve found since changing my settings I’m WAY more intentional about checking my phone. Bye-bye hypervigilance.

You can also create timers for socials. Both Android and Apple have these features and you can set how much time you’re allowed on social apps each day. I have this set up and my phone will kick me out once the time is done for the day.

If you’re a mindless scroller this is a great habit to implement.

I learned pretty early on that shopping is a hobby for me. When I quit shopping I had a huge void that I needed to fill if I wanted to actually stop shopping. If I didn’t I’d scroll around and touch base with my favourite websites (environment trigger). One of the best things I found was to cultivate new hobbies and I implemented a few that I started by habit stacking.

  1. I limited my “not so good for me content” to the morning or lunch time. I could only watch this content at these specific periods. I usually picked lunch time because I had a short enough period to watch a 20-ish minute video. But, during this time of day my will-power was still pretty high. So, if I came across something I wanted to buy or a video made me feel spendy I’d have the motivation and will-power to say no. Also, nothing shuts down a potential website scroll more than having to get back to work.
  2. Dishwashing and around bedtime activities could not include my “old” aka shoppy content. I’d start listening to a podcast or long form video on a topic that had nothing to do with shopping or something that promoted good shopping habits. My dishwashing would finish but I’d be more than halfway through the episode so I’d be invested in continuing. This technique encourage me to finish up my night with the episode. This is a method of habit stacking I still use today!

Other People

Have you ever been in a situation shopping with friends and they have an attitude of “I’ll just buy it!” They’re so excited about everything they see and they add most of it to their cart. Maybe they have a “treat yourself” attitude. I’ve had friends say “Omg it looks so good on you, you should buy it!” Or “Shawna, you should treat yourself! You deserve it.” Our friends can encourage us to buy things because they are and they don’t want to spend money alone.

Needless to say, other people influence how you shop and how much you buy. This doesn’t just have to be in department stores or at the mall. Our friends can encourage us to get our nails done or eat out together. I once had a friend invite me to get my nails done with them. I didn’t feel like spending $60 so I declined. At first, my friend was upset because she thought it was a nice way to spend time together.  She eventually understood and stopped inviting me to get our nails done and that was such a positive thing for our friendship.

Establishing boundaries with those in your life that encourage you to spend money is going to be crucial for changing your habits. You can try suggesting a lower cost alternative to shopping like going for a coffee or a free alternative like going for a walk. 


Ultimately, each of your relationship’s are unique, and there’s no blanket advice anyone should really give for how to deal with others. What I think is best to remember is that your money is your money. No one can force you to spend it.

In many circumstance with shopping we give our power over to other people. If we spend our money because we’re shopping with others, we are spending our money, not them. If you have particular people in your life that are difficult to shop with or won’t respect your boundaries it may be time to reconsider your boundaries, what you do together, or the relationship. Often, having a talk with a friend or family member asking for their support is a good enough resolution.

2 thoughts on “The 5 Most Common Shopping Triggers And How To Fix Them”

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