Impulse spending is one of the hardest habits to curb. But there’s one powerful practice that can help you make smarter purchases and save money: the 30-day rule.
It’s simple in theory and you’re not denying yourself anything, but what the 30-day rule teaches you can ripple across your financial life so you’re making more responsible choices overall.
We’ve all been in situations when the 30-day rule would prevent impulse spending, and you’ll find yourself there again and again. So the next time you’re there, try the 30-day rule and see what happens.
What is the 30 Day Rule? | Take Control of Impulse Spending
What is the 30-day rule?
The 30-day rule is a way to control impulse spending by giving yourself time to evaluate whether or not you really need or want to make a purchase.
Here’s how it works:
- When you’re about to splurge on something, force yourself to stop and put the item back. This is honestly the hardest part.
- Make a note of what it is you wanted to buy, and note the date, and price – you can use your phone’s reminder or notes app. You can also write it down on a calendar, in a notebook, or on a post-it.
- Let 30 days pass. You can use this time to save up for the item, research it, or forget about it (what happens to most people).
- Once you hit the 30-day mark, you can buy the item if you have the money and still want it. Having the money means you aren’t taking on debt to “afford” it.
Pretty simple, right? And like I said, the hardest part is preventing yourself from making the purchase in the first place.
On the surface, the 30-day rule looks like one of several methods of saving money, but you might not realize the powerful psychology behind it…
Why the 30-day rule works
This practice works for one major reason: delayed gratification. You haven’t denied yourself anything; you’ve just said, “not now.”
Delayed gratification is the practice of learning how to resist the desire for instant satisfaction at the moment in exchange for greater satisfaction later on. It improves your self-control and helps you achieve long-term goals.
Studies like The Marshmallow Experiment have shown that delayed gratification is one of the most effective personality traits in successful people. If you aren’t familiar with the marshmallow test, researchers gave kids a choice between one marshmallow now or two later, and then left the room. Once the adult was out of the room, the kids had to restrain themselves or give in.
Researchers checked in on the kids for the next 40 years, and the fascinating part was how wildly different the experiences were for kids who ate one marshmallow right away or were able to wait for the second marshmallow. The kids who could wait for two treats had higher SAT scores, healthier responses to stress, and went on to achieve greater levels of professional success.
Back to the 30-day rule…
Delayed gratification is a good skill to develop. In the short-term, it might help you say no to some impulse spending, but in the long-term, it’s a mindset that allows you to reach major financial goals.
You begin to see how spending your money on wants affects your ability to destroy your debt or save for retirement.
You’re saying “no” now because you realize that financial independence – whatever that means to you – is the ultimate reward.
Applying the 30-day rule
Here’s an example of the 30-day rule in practice: I love golf, and over the past few months I’ve really been trying to up my game. A few weeks ago I was in the pro shop and saw something that could help – the Callaway Mavrik. It’s basically a fancy new driver.
So I’m looking at this driver, and I want it. It has to make my game better, right?
But I tell myself to wait. I take a picture of the driver, save it on my phone, and set a reminder for 30 days.
Two weeks ago, my phone reminded me about the driver. I was honestly really confused at first because I have bird-brain and had completely forgotten about the Mavrik. That was the real sign that I didn’t need it. The space in between seeing the Mavrik for the first time and when my phone reminded me about it allowed me to realize that it wouldn’t help me hit the ball any better. It would just look cool.
I saved myself a $450 purchase, which is especially good because we have a baby on the way.
You can use the 30-day rule to delay (or prevent) spending your money on all kinds of things – a new flat-screen TV, the next new iPhone, a new pair of running shoes, dinner out at a new restaurant, etc.
With the 30 days, you can spend that time:
- Researching the product to make sure it’s the right model and brand, and to make sure it has all the features you want
- Comparing prices with similar products
- Shopping around at different stores so you get the best price possible
- Looking for coupon codes or seeing if there’s a sale coming up
- Thinking about similar items you’ve purchased and whether or not they have been worth it
- Checking to see if there are options to buy it used
- Saving up to buy the item
Most of the time you’ll forget you wanted to splurge in the first place. And if you don’t forget, you go in with a clear head knowing whether or not this is something you truly want and can afford.
For practical reasons, the 30-day rule puts an entire paycheck between the day you want to buy something, and when you allow yourself to buy it. That way, you’ll be reminded of all of your regular bills and other financial obligations before you consider your new purchase again.
Wait 24 to 72 hours
If you think that it would take too much willpower to wait 30 days, try waiting 24 to 72 hours. The effect is the same: you take a stimulus and delay the response. Instead of immediately reacting and buying the item, you create space for yourself to choose a better response.
Wow, what a powerful thing – you are in control.
I promise you that the hardest part is putting whatever it is you want to buy down and walking away. That’s real self-control. Honestly, if you’re looking for tips on saving money, it doesn’t get any more effective than delayed gratification and choosing your response.
Use sinking funds to prepare for impulse spending
Sinking funds are a strategic way to save money for upcoming purchases. They can be used for major purchases like a new washer and dryer, TV, new car, etc. But you can also use sinking funds to save for things that can be classified as impulse spending.
The idea is that you know there are things you’ll want to spend money on, and you can prepare for those wants by setting money aside that’s allocated specifically for those kinds of purchases.
A sinking fund for “fun money” means that you’re giving yourself permission to buy what you want. You don’t have to think twice about what else you could be spending money on. You’ve created space in your budget while also making sure you’re taking care of your financial obligations.
Sinking funds give you the freedom to spend money without stressing about it.
The final word on the 30-day rule
One of the things I’ve been thinking about while writing this article is one of my all-time favorite money savings tips: you have food at home.
That’s the truth 99.9% of the time. There is food at home. Food that you’ve already purchased and is just sitting there in the kitchen.
Maybe it doesn’t taste as good as the chimichanga you want to order from your favorite Mexican place. BUT, it doesn’t leave you with an aftertaste of regret.