One of the best ways to control your spending is to force yourself to use a mandatory waiting period before making any unnecessary purchases. Tell yourself that you will buy nothing until that waiting period is up. A waiting period gives you time to cool off, get away from the temptation, review your finances, and decide if you really, really want and can afford this thing that has you so captivated in the store. A waiting period can save you a lot of money (or time on the return lane when you decide to return the thing because you really didn’t want it anyway).
The first thing to do is to decide how long your waiting period will be. I like to use two weeks because I find that two weeks is usually enough time for me to make a rational decision. Use your waiting period to review your finances, compare prices, think about how you’ll use or store the item, inventory your existing possessions and look for duplicates or very similar items, look for used, free, or rental alternatives, and look up product reviews and specifications to make certain this is something you’ll like and use. Some people only need a week, others need a waiting period of a month. You know how you think, so set a waiting period that will give you enough time to decide whether this item is something you want to own.
At the end of your waiting period, one of four things will happen:
1. You’ll decide you want the item, you can afford it, are willing to pay the price, and you’ll go get it.
2. You’ll decide you want the item but you’re willing (or need) to wait for a sale or until you have a gift card to reduce the price.
3. You’ll decide you don’t want the item at all.
4. You’ll forget about the thing entirely.
In my experience it’s usually one of the last two that happens. At the end of my two week waiting period I’ve usually forgotten about the item. Once I get out of the store, life moves on, I get busy, and I don’t even remember what it was I wanted so badly. This tells me that it’s a good thing I didn’t buy it because if it didn’t make a lasting impression, it would have ended up collecting dust in the house. Even if I do remember the item, most of the time I decide I don’t want it. It’s either too much hassle to store (more junk in the house), I’d rather use the money for something else, or I just don’t have the time right now to deal with it (this happens a lot with books and DVD’s since I always have some unread and unwatched items on my shelves that I force myself to deal with first). On the rare occasion when I do decide I have to have something I can buy with confidence because I know this is something I want.
I do make one exception to the waiting period rule, however. If the item is currently on sale and I’m really captivated, I will sometimes go ahead and buy it because by the time the waiting period is over the item is either off sale or out of stock. I do this with two conditions in place. The first is that the store must have a return policy that will allow me to return the item for the price I paid (not the going clearance price) if I go through the waiting period and decide I don’t want it. The second is that I do not open or use the item until the waiting period is up. I take it home, put it away, and go through the waiting period. (I will tack the receipt to the door so I remember to return it if that’s what I decide. I don’t want to forget about the item so much that I forget to take it back.) If, after the waiting period is over, I still want it, I open it and use it. Otherwise it goes back. Even once I’ve gotten stuff home I still find that the waiting period diminishes my desire for it.
A mandatory waiting period gives you control over your spending. When you buy things after going through a waiting period it’s because you know you really want the items, not because you lost control in the store and gave in to the shiny boxes and bright lights. You end up with less clutter and more savings. No more buyers remorse. No more looking at stuff in your house and asking yourself, “What was I thinking?” No more yard sales to get rid of the junk that somehow wandered home with you. You’ll probably even find that you feel better about yourself because you know that you acted responsibly rather than impulsively. That’s well worth a couple of weeks of waiting, if you ask me.