Preventing Impulse Buys With A Waiting Period: Does it Work?


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Delayed gratification:  The art of making yourself wait to purchase something new.  Some people use a self-imposed waiting period to make sure that they really want to part with their hard earned cash.  The thought is, you reassess the want to make a purchase after a designated waiting period.  Many times you’ll decide against the purchase, thus saving yourself from wasting money on impulsive purchase.

But does this practice really work?  I had the opportunity recently to find out.

About a month ago, we decreased our cell phone bill by $150 a month by switching to a no contract plan with our carrier, AT&T.  The reason the bill is so much cheaper is because the price of a phone upgrade is really included in the price of the plan when you sign up for a 2 year contract.  While we were in the store, we happened to ask how much it would cost us per month to upgrade a phone.  For each premium phone upgrade, it would cost us about $25 a month until the new phone was paid off (26 months).  With some quick math, Vonnie determined if she upgraded her iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5s, our monthly bill would still be $125 less than it had been.

She hadn’t been complaining about her phone. It was working well for her, and in my opinion she was just suffering from what a good friend of mine calls the “Oooh, shiny!” effect.  Luckily, I found a way to at least temporarily put the brakes on the phone upgrade, and allow us more time to contemplate if this was the right move.

Between the sales tax that we would have to pay on the phone, plus a fancy new case we’d still be looking at around $100 out of pocket immediately to get her the phone upgrade.  We were getting ready to go on vacation, and were trying to maximize our available cash for the trip.  I suggested she wait until we returned from our trip to upgrade her phone.  She agreed.

We’ve been back from our trip for over two weeks now, and there’s been no mention of upgrading her phone.  Either she’s decided it wasn’t worth upgrading her phone yet, OR she’s just flat out forgotten about it.

Either way, it looks like a waiting period has had exactly the effect I had hoped.

Have you have used a waiting period to ensure a purchase was worth it for you?  How did it work out?

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44 Responses to “Preventing Impulse Buys With A Waiting Period: Does it Work?”

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  1. I really do think this strategy works. Sometimes just getting out of the store makes you realize you didn’t want it that bad to begin with. I’m sure if it was something she *really* wanted, she wouldn’t have forgotten about it!

    • Travis says:

      Exactly, Holly – my wife doesn’t forget about things. I think part of it is, she’s played with an iPhone5s and didn’t really notice much of a difference. What’s the point of buying something if you don’t see an improvement over what you already have! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Absolutely! Usually in those quick, spontaneous moments we throw out sensible logic and turn on our inner Veruca Salt. 🙂 But if I just walk away and breathe, usually I find that I can talk myself out of something.

    • Travis says:

      That conversation with myself seems to go in stages….I see something and instantly tell myself that I shouldn’t buy it. Then I talk myself into it, and put it in the cart. By the time I get to the checkout counter I’ve talked myself back out of it and put it back. Thanks for your comment….now I have the song “Seether” stuck in my head.

  3. I try and avoid the stores all together. That really helps. :). I think it does help. Walking away gives you that 2nd chance to consider whether you truly need an item or not.

    • Travis says:

      I hear ya’, Brian…that’s exactly why I avoid the mall at Christmas time. So many shiny things on “sale.” Avoid the temptation, avoid the impulse buy. 🙂

  4. Kasi Erwin says:

    Delayed gratification definitely works. As someone who loves, I have put it to practice many times recently before hitting the “proceed to checkout” button. But perhaps more importantly Travis, please explain the no-contract AT&T approach. I would love to see that kind of savings. Thanks in advance!

  5. I think waiting periods definitely work. Like Brian, I don’t shop much, so I’m not tempted by ‘offers I can’t refuse.’ If you read up on a phenomenon called ‘hedonic adaptation’ you’ll learn that the rush we get from buying something quickly wears off. I think the waiting period sort of allows that to happen, but the advantage is we didn’t spend money on the item and aren’t accumulating a lot of clutter!

    • Travis says:

      That sounds like interesting reading, Kurt….I think I know what you’re talking about, though, having experienced it many times. LOL. To tell you the truth, the thought of NOT buying something and keeping my home clutter free is a big PLUS for me. 🙂 thanks for your thoughts!

  6. Kim says:

    Waiting periods certainly work. That saved us from buying a new couch recently. I do believe there is some sort of endorphin or other chemical process that starts up when we consider buying something new. If you wait for it to pass, it almost always ends your desire for the purchase. If it doesn’t, then it’s probably a worthwhile thing to buy.

    • Travis says:

      Maybe it’s kind of like that “going grocery shopping thing when you’re hungry,” huh Kim? You get that rush initially – but if you let the “hunger” go away then you can decide whether you really want it or not. Great to hear to made the right decision for you on the couch!

  7. I really do think this works in a large majority of the cases I’ve seen, personally speaking at least. 🙂 We’re not perfect, so it can be possible to still give in to the desire of having whatever said item is. That said, if you’re able to make it by just fine without the thing in question then it’s usually fairly simple to just move on without buying it.

    • Travis says:

      Exactly, John…although there’s a lot of things in life we could technically live without. I’m certainly a big advocate of having cool things that make life more fun or easier – if you can afford them, and if they bring the appropriate amount of value to your life. In this case we certainly could afford the new phone, but would the new phone bring any additional value to her life? Very debatable! thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. LOL. Good strategy! I guess if we wait long enough, we either forget about what we “wanted”, or we don’t “want” it anymore. This strategy seems to work on my 3.5 year-old extremely well!

    • Travis says:

      I like the analogy, David…I remember doing the same thing when my kids were younger – if you can distract them or refocus them, they forget about what had been SO important just a few moments before. 🙂 Great to hear from you!

  9. I think it is an excellent way to avoid a purchase. I know it has helped me. I can list a few things I was thinking of buying but because I waited and analyzed the situation I decided they really weren’t things I wanted. I was tempted to upgrade to the iphone 5s as well but after realizing that my 4s works perfectly fine I didn’t upgrade and now I’m saving over $80/month.

    • Travis says:

      I really like the idea of a waiting period, Raquel. Specifically on the topic of cell phones….I just don’t see why people will dump their phones they’ve had for a year for the latest model (for an additional cost of $600+) when there’s so little difference between the phones. Like I always say, my favorite app is the one where I can push numbers and talk to people. LOL. Thanks for reading!

  10. My dad taught us to use a waiting period. I can definitely say it works for me, and I remember my regrets vividly when I haven’t use the method!

    • Travis says:

      Your Dad is a wise man, Sherrian…..wouldn’t it be fun if we could add up the value of all the things we bought impulsively but regretted? Oh, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good idea…. 🙂

  11. Waiting works. Often I am too busy to get to the store, and by the time I get there, I don’t need the product.

    • Travis says:

      That’s one I haven’t heard before, No Nonsense Landlord…I’m usually tempted by things I see while at the store, but I can see your point. Sometimes those TV ads can be very persuasive! Thanks for sharing!!!

  12. We were looking at cars almost two years but decided to wait until my Saturn absolutely couldn’t go any further. It was a great choice because we had zero car payments those two years and my Saturn only had minor repairs done. Definitely glad we didn’t make an impulse buy!

    • Travis says:

      Cars can definitely suck you into an impulse buy……the good news is the whole process does take a little bit. We bought our last van (recently) in less than 24 hours. It all seemed like a great idea until we got to the finance guy….by then I was thinking “I’m not so sure about this……” but we went ahead. So far so good…..hopefully my opinion won’t change. 🙂

      • JMK says:

        I try never to make an on the spot shopping purchase but it occasionally happens. I absulutely don’t shop for recreation – why put all those temptations in front of yourself? The fewer stores I go into the less likely I am to be tempted by something I didn’t know I “needed” 2 minutes earlier.

        In most cases I try to decide when I expect an item to need replacing, so in my mind no new version will even get considered because what I have isn’t “due for replacement yet”. Rather than opening yourself up to every new shiney thing and then having to repeatedly talk yourself out of things, I try to ignore everything (not always possible, I know) until I actually NEED to replace something and at that point then I start shopping and doing research to see what is currently on the market that meets the need. At the moment my old flip phone refuses to die. By the time it does I’m sure smart phones will have moved on several more generations, all of which I am currently ignoring.

        I recently replaced my car. I have the expectation it will last a minimum of 12 years. Therefore, I won’t be paying any attention to car ads or consumer reports for at least 9 years. The 2023 models will be three yrs old in 2026 when I may be ready to look for my next vehicle. I’ll pay attention to the 2023’s and follow their progress to make sure my prefered make/model isn’t a lemon, and when those are 3yrs old I’ll start shopping for a low milage new to me car.

        I definitely avoid a lot of need vs want analysis by completely ignoring most retail offerings but it’s not a flawless approach. While most of what’s on offer at any store doesn’t really interest me, travel certainly does. I have the mindset that we’ll be taking a trip every year, so I’m constantly on the watch for places we may want to go, watching travel programs, researching possible destinations and prices online. The real restraint for me comes not in talking myself out of the trip, but to figure out the most cost effective way to allocate the funds to the activities and experiences that we’ll value most and getting the absulute best deals to keep the overall cost down.

        • Travis says:

          I’m glad you brought up the subject of “retail therapy” or shopping for recreation. I’ve never understood that….you go shopping…just for fun? Why would I even enter a store if I didn’t already know exactly what I was looking for???

  13. Crystal says:

    It sort of works for me. If it gets into my brain, I start obsessing until I buy it anyway. But if it was just sort of wanted, the wait generally gives me time for my brain to move on to other stuff. Generally, my strategy is to ask myself if I rather have x or put the money towards a current goal that is important to me. If I truly want x more, I buy it.

    • Travis says:

      That’s a great perspective, Crystal…..I think your line of thinking is a lot like mine. I think of how much value “shiny object X” will bring to me in comparison to putting the money away, or using it for something else. If “shiny object X” is cool enough to still seem like a better choice then I’m buying it (assuming I can afford it). Thanks for stopping by!

      • JMK says:

        Travel is about the only non-essential spending we make room for in our budget. If I’m occasionally tempted to purchase something that wasn’t in the plan, but would just be nice or fun to have, I always weigh the enjoyment I’ll get from it against a travel experience of the same cost. Restaurant meal vs admission to a gallery or museum in Rome. Designer handbag or shoes vs hot air balloon ride over the French countryside, and so on. For some people restaurant meals and designer duds are the things they covet and they’d give up other things to have them. And that’s excellent for them. It’s just not what makes my heart sing. I don’t begrudge anyone buying anything that they really love. I just think everyone needs to actually pause and figure out where there priorities are. Most people can’t afford to have everything and certainly not all at once, so we all have to figure out what we truly want and what we’re willing to skip to have it.

  14. This strategy works. I’ve done this before. Great post, by the way.

  15. I find the waiting period to be totally effective. If I’m really still thinking about something a month later (which rarely happens), then I’ll go ahead and figure out how to make it happen.

  16. For the most part, I think the waiting period definitely works! Giving myself even a minute to think about a purchase makes such a difference.

    • Travis says:

      Sometimes I need a minute, sometimes a day, sometimes a week. I wish I could zero in on a “magic” time period that would help me get rid of all bad impulse purchases. 🙂

  17. My wife and I always use a waiting period for big purchases.

    One rule that we follow for every big purchase is that we “sleep on it”. This is very helpful when dealing with aggressive salesmen.

    We tell the salesman/dealer/whoever that we won’t be making a purchase that day. Of course, they never believe us, but it makes for a great phrase to keep falling back on when they try to guilt us.

    We always just say “I already told you we had to sleep on it, why do you keep asking if we want to buy today”. lol It helps a lot and it helps us make a wise choice.

    • Travis says:

      I love that you stick to your guns, Kalen….I’d love to see the look on a salesperson’s face when after talking with him for a long time you tell him, “Well, we’ll sleep on it and get back to you tomorrow.” 🙂

  18. Great post! I wrote about this awhile back and absolutely believe it works. I’ve seen it too many times in my own life. Spending is very emotional. When we think about buying something we get excited. That excitement pushes us to spend. If we can check that emotion at the door we have a great chance of not purchasing an item. This concept is especially critical on the big purchases…always sleep on it at least 24-hrs.

    • Travis says:

      “Spending is very emotional” <------ Yes, this! I hadn't thought of it this way, but it's true, Brian. The waiting period helps take that emotion out of the purchase and lets logic prevail (hopefully). Thanks for sharing!

  19. When the Samsung S3 launched, I really wanted to have it, but it was soooo expensive! So I just forget the idea about getting that phone. Last year, I didn’t expect that my hubs would give me S3 because he knew it that I really love that mobile but he knows how frugal I am. I was shocked because I know that was expensive, but he told me he bought it for less 50% because of the holiday promo.

  20. Wait-before-purchasing is a great strategy – and it goes against the grain in our culture of instant gratification. I was recently looking at new glasses after I’d had my eyes tested, and my money-wise daughter was with me. My prescription hadn’t changed, but I felt pretty convinced that I would buy a new pair. My old ones were getting dated, and the sales rep had referred to them as “old lady glasses.” (I’m 50, so that hurts!) My daughter said, “Just wait. Buy them later.” Well, later never came. I didn’t need them – so what was I doing? Trying to be hip? I’m sticking with the “old lady glasses” : )

    • Travis says:

      Good for you, Prudence… did what I like to do – ask yourself the question of how much value the new glasses would bring to you. None? Then why spend the money? Great to hear from you!

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