How a waiting period can encourage smarter spending choices

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iStock_000048253200_SmallSince moving across the country, I’ve had to make a few purchases. However, I’m being pickier about the things I buy because I don’t want to end up with a home full of things that I don’t care about. As a result, while some items are definitely “must-buys,” other things have been on a “wait list” while I evaluate whether or not they are necessary to our home.

Instituting a waiting period

One of the best things you can do for your finances is to institute a waiting period for the things you plan to buy. According to a survey from, about 75 percent of Americans make impulse purchases. Some of the biggest reasons we make impulse purchases?

  • Excited (49 percent)
  • Bored (30 percent)
  • Sad (22 percent)

I know that when I was excited about outfitting my home, I was more likely to purchase something I hadn’t planned for. There were some great deals on items like a dining table and a couch, and I went ahead and bought — even though my priority was on buying a bed for my son. (My son did get his bed within the allotted time.)

However, even my impulse purchases were planned purchases. I had meant to buy them in a few weeks, but I moved up the timetable because I became excited about the bargains, as well as the idea of having the home furnished all at once.

Other purchases, though, are still on the waiting list. This is because, for non-essential items, I’ve instituted a two-week waiting period. Too often, we buy things when we are excited, bored or sad, without thinking about whether or not we really need — or even want — the items. Instituting a waiting period can reduce the impulsivity of our decisions, and force us to reflect on purchases. After two weeks, there is a good chance that you won’t want something.

A waiting period works well for services as well. We didn’t sign up for satellite TV or for cable when we moved in. I signed up for Internet because I need it for work, but we held off on the other entertainment options. It’s been three weeks now, and we haven’t missed the “traditional” TV at all. We have subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu and those are meeting our needs.

Deciding to buy after the waiting period

During your waiting period, pay attention to how your life progresses without the item or service. Chances are, you aren’t even thinking about it. I often come to a realization that a waiting period is over at some point two or three weeks after the end of the period.

On the other hand, if you’ve constantly returned to thoughts of the item during the waiting period, you might want to go ahead and make the purchase. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to buy another, bigger skillet because my small family seems to be fine. However, over the course of the last two weeks, there have been four different times that a large skillet would have been more convenient while making dinner. I didn’t realize how much I use that size of pan until I didn’t have it anymore. I’ve finally bought what I want on Amazon, and I’m looking forward to receiving it.

Think about why you want to make the purchase. Will you use it enough to justify the cost? Will it improve your life by providing convenience or some other benefit? Or do you want it because you think it seems like a good idea or you think it would be cool?

New gadgets and items bought because they are “cute” today often lose their luster. After a couple of months, the purchases no longer create excitement, and you are stuck looking for something else to fill the void. And you realize that you have a home full of things you don’t want or need.

My waiting period is two weeks, but I know people who institute a four-week period, or even require longer waiting periods before making non-essential purchases. The reality is that many of us buy without thinking about the purchases we make. Before you add something to your shopping cart, stop and look at it. Is it absolutely essential that you buy it right now? If the honest answer is no, put it back and institute a waiting period. This will give you time to reflect on your priorities and whether or not the item actually fits into your goals.

Thinking about your purchases helps you make better choices about how you spend your money and a waiting period is a perfect way to ensure that you fully understand the implications of your spending choices before you part with your hard earned cash.

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Miranda is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in financial topics. Her work has appeared in numerous media, online and offline. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds.