What is Dopamine-Induced Impulsive Purchasing (DIIP)?


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I bet if you looked around your house you can find at least one thing you wish you hadn’t bought.

This isn’t uncommon. Many of us make impulse purchases on items we don’t need or want. But did you ever stop to think of why? The answer actually lies in our brains.


Dopamine is a chemical produced by our brain that can have some different effects on our behavior. One of them being impulsive purchases.

Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system. The mere idea of receiving a discount on something immediately ignites a rush of dopamine into our brains.

In the split second that dopamine releases, we begin to feel a sense of excitement and happiness. So regardless of what we’re buying, the flood of dopamine is causing us to feel excited about buying it.

It works in the opposite way, too. When we’re no longer surprised or excited about something our dopamine levels dwindle down.

Marketers know this. It’s how they plan on getting us to keep buying their products. They know that if we keep seeing the same sales, we will become numb to it.

That’s why companies like Groupon and RetailMeNot flood your inbox with “new” and “exclusive” offers daily. They have to keep the perceived excitement levels up (and equally your dopamine levels up) in order for you to want to buy their product or service.

There are other factors that affect our levels of dopamine, too. One major one is stress. Why do you think you’re more likely to spend money on takeout after a stressful day at work?

When you do something like buy takeout after a stressful day, you feel no guilt. The stress has caused an overload of dopamine to enter your brain, and it’s now affecting the way you make financial decisions.

Imagine the long-term impact this little chemical can have on our finances! I’m going to coin this phenomenon dopamine-induced impulse purchasing, or DIIP.

How to avoid DIIP

So what you do you? No, you can’t cut off your brain’s supply of dopamine.

You wouldn’t want to either. It’s responsible for us feeling joy in other things – not just purchases. Like listening to music.

Here are 4 ways you can avoid DIIP:

1. Unsubscribe to all ‘deals’ websites and emails

This might be hard for you, I get it. Sometimes sites like Groupon have killer deals.

But you have to consider whether it’s a killer deal on something you would have bought anyway or not. You also have to consider if it’s adding to your quality of life.

Once you unsubscribe, only look for coupons when you are about to buy something you need. Make sure you’ve thought about it and it adds to your quality of life.

Here are some resources to help you:

  • Unroll.me. This is a great resource for mass-unsubscribing and condensing all other emails you want into one daily email.
  • Honey. This little guy will pop up when you’re about to buy something and see if there are any coupon codes. It’s a great browser add-on.

2. Never fall into the time trap

One of the biggest marketing tricks is to put a time limit on how long something is for sale. Stores put products on sale because they want to sell it – not because they want to do you a favor.

Do you think they won’t, at some point, offer the same price on the product again? Sure, there are cases when it is a “once in a lifetime” deal, but that then begs the question why you waited until it was on sale to want to buy it. Do you need it?

The reason there are so many “deals” and “sales” in today’s culture is because there is an over-supply and an under-demand. There is too much “stuff” for us to buy, and not enough of us want it. So marketers try to undercut one another by making you think you’re getting a great deal.

Forget about time-sensitive sales. It’s just a trick to push you to buy something faster.

Instead, force yourself to wait at least another day. Step away from the computer. Get out of the store. Get as far away from the sale as possible.

After waiting, see if the product is still on sale, and if you even still want it. Yeah, you might miss out on the sale, but that just gives you more time to look for a more cost-effective product anyway.

3. Never shop when you’re tired, hungry, or stressed out

These things all affect one another. And they can all trigger a huge rush of dopamine to your brain. Your body might misread these cues and trick your brain into excitement-mode over something you don’t find exciting.

Think of the last time you went shopping when you were hungry. I guarantee you bought at least one or two items that you wouldn’t otherwise buy.

I know I do this all the time. That’s why I always try to eat before I go grocery shopping.

Now think about going shopping for clothes when you’re tired. You will probably pick out an outfit you’ll never wear.

Here’s an embarrassing story for you. I was in a rush to buy some clothes for FinCon this year and went to Banana Republic.

I was exhausted from working all week but needed to get a few things for my trip. I ended up walking out with these horribly ugly skinny suede pants.

Yikes. For those of you that I hung out with at FinCon, just be thankful you didn’t see those bad boys. I never wore them, and in turn have wasted money.

Lastly, think about one of America’s favorite pastimes – Black Friday. You don’t think those people are stressed out?

They’re waiting in line at midnight and pushing each other over for something stupid like an off-brand TV. Damn you, DIIP.

4. Watch your competitive spirit

Even if you’re not a Wantling, you still have the natural human tendency to want to compare yourself to others. This sometimes leaks into in our buying habits.

A rush of excitement or competitiveness may increase your dopamine levels. This can cause you to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t, just to compare yourself to someone else. This happens whether we know it or not.

I recently was in the market for a new computer because the one we own is having some serious issues. The keyboard didn’t work and the screen would constantly go out.

Pressured by societal norms, I came close to pulling the trigger on a new Macbook Pro. When I walked into the Apple store, I saw a bunch of people who looked like they were on spring break.

My competitive nature made me want that too. Luckily I forced myself out of the store to discuss it with my wife.

After a few days the sense came back to me and I realized what a waste of money that would be for someone expecting their first child.

I ended up finding the most cost-effective laptop I could for the money. I then waited until it dropped $100 in price before I bought it.

So the next time you want to be like someone else, have something that other people have, or just compare yourself to others, think again. I’d also suggest checking your intentions the next time you buy something to be sure it’s not for the wrong reasons.


As you can see, dopamine can pretty much wreak havoc on our brains and buying habits if we don’t recognize and control it. Remember, dopamine is good – it’s responsible for nearly everything that brings you joy. But we all know that too much of a good thing can be bad.

Make sure you’re in the right mood and frame of mind before you buy anything. Believe it or not, our brain is forcing us to make stupid buying decisions.

Next Steps

I have one challenge for you. The next time there is something you really want, don’t buy it right away.

Instead, sit down and write out all the pros and cons you can think of in buying it. The write down the reason it adds to your quality of life.

If you can’t get through that task, don’t even think about buying the item. If you can, then read through everything you wrote down and see if it makes sense.

If there are more cons than pros, re-consider buying it. If it doesn’t add to your quality of life, re-consider buying.

But if it makes sense, and you’re checking to make sure you’re not buying it because of DIIP, then go for it. And I want to hear all about it.


22 thoughts on “What is Dopamine-Induced Impulsive Purchasing (DIIP)?”

  1. Great post, Chris. I’m taking your number 1 recommendation to heart and unsaving my password from my Amazon account. That will make me stop and think, the next time I want buy something.

    I’m curious, if you don’t mind saying, what kind of laptop did you get? We need a new one for Mrs Groovy’s last year of employment. We’re looking at a few HP Pavillions under $500.

    1. Mr Groovy,

      I would be cautious about buying from HP (or Acer). They perennially compete for last place in reliability rankings. This is especially important when you’re looking at budget machines, because manufacturers often cut corners/use substandard parts that will just barely outlast the warranty.

      Apple always scores well (but the various MacBooks are all overpriced). Lenovo and ASUS usually score well, Toshiba often does fairly well, and Dell has been improving in recent years.

      Here’s the source I use most often: http://www.rescuecom.com/blog/index.php/rescuecom/rescuecom-releases-2015-computer-reliability-report/
      They issue a report every year, so you can check the results of previous years to see if there’s a pattern for a certain manufacturer.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Great advice Chris! I think just the mere act of waiting (even 24 hours) to purchase something really improves your chances of avoiding buyer’s remorse.

    While I don’t have suede pants, I’ve got plenty of other unused clothes collecting dust. (Come to think of it, a handful of those came from deal sites… arghhhhh!)

    1. Haha yeah the suede pants are pretty embarrassing. I think waiting 24 hours is a good guideline, too. Deal sites are seriously emptying the pockets of consumers and it’s like we don’t even realize it! As always thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Very thorough and insightful post I must say.

    I have long been aware of the dopamine effect. Heck, most women are. The excitement of the mall, especially during the holidays, is unmistakable. But it often leads to buyer remorse. Is it okay to love the mall but not overspend?

    I think your tip on holding off on purchases is helpful, as is the suggestion to unsubscribe from deals websites. Good stuff.

    Laura Beth

  4. It is amazing that our brains, responsible for so much intelligent thought and creativity, can also cause us to do so many silly things for all the wrong reasons. We can’t stop the chemical reaction (and as you said, we wouldn’t want to) but it is up to us to educate ourselves about it and take steps like these to counteract some of the effects.

  5. I always wait 24 hours before I buy something… I don’t even do the pro/con thing, I just wait. If I even remember the purchase, then I’ll consider the pros and cons. So many times once you wait, you forget. If you forget, it’s not that important!

    I also don’t believe anything online is truly a deal. A deal is when you chance upon a good price because there’s one last thing of something or one individual just wants to get rid of it. It’s not a good deal when Groupon is selling 15,000 vouchers, there’s often some other way to get the same pricing without the hoops.

    It’s like a sale at Macy’s… there’s ALWAYS a sale at Macy’s. You’re the sucker if you buy something the one day there isn’t one.

    1. What a great tip, Jim. First way 24 hours, THEN look at the pros/cons. I’ll have to remember that. I totally agree with online “sales” not really being deals. It’s usually just companies with a super high profit margin marking it down to just a good profit margin. Like Bed Bath & Beyond… how many of those 20% off coupons do you have??

      1. Funny story, this one time we go into a Bed Bath & Beyond and we don’t have a coupon. My wife asks them if they have any extra and they say “they don’t” but they pull out a 3-ring binder of barcodes and scan “competitor’s coupon” and still give us the 20% off. They will give you 20% off even if you don’t have their coupons!

  6. Thanks for replying to Mr. Groovy about the Asus…with Thanksgiving around the corner I can’t help thinking this post could be about food. Except DIIP might stand for dopamine-induced impulsive pigout! Seriously, when the food (especially sugar) craving strikes, if you resist for at least 30 minutes there’s a good chance you won’t succumb. Remove it from the house, make it harder to access, and you find something else to eat. Hard to do on Thanksgiving when it’s all in front of you. But I find it interesting how these desires stem from similar brain activity, and our childish inner voice says ” ME WANT NOW!”

  7. Great post and way to break down all the science.

    It’s amazing how your body is just hardwired for stuff. I’m happy my competitive edge is outlined with a different value system.

    I am all gunho about being unique. So if everyone else is doing it my competitiveness comes out as I try not to be like everyone else. I am always challenging myself to be the one in the group who hangs out on the least traveled path.

    It works in my favor most times.

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