You’ve gone to a store to buy something specific and then something you had no intention of buying catches your eye. Or, you’re online, and read about something that sounds useful. Maybe you’re talking to some friends, and they recommend books they’ve just read. What do you do?
Here’s what I do. Sometimes, the item under consideration is something I can tell immediately I need or love, and it fits within my budget. That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I just make the purchase right then.
But more often, I make a note of the item — by writing a reminder or taking a photo — and add it to my Possible Purchases file when I get home.
I actually have three Possible Purchases files. Right now, I have a physical file for things I’ve clipped out of the few catalogs I get, a collection of online bookmarks (also called favorites, depending on what browser you use), and a list of books at Amazon.com. I may buy the books elsewhere, if I ever wind up buying them, but it’s easy to quickly note them in an Amazon.com wish list.
There are many other ways to collect such information, too. For example, some people would choose to use Evernote and some might use Pinterest. Various sites, not just Amazon.com, provide wish list capabilities.
What kinds of things make it into my Possible Purchases file? Lots of cat-related stuff, for starters. I also have gift ideas, t-shirts, towels, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and whimsical stuff like a Lava Lite night light.
My Possible Purchases file fits well with the approach, recommended by many people, of creating some sort of mandatory waiting period before buying anything except your standard purchases of groceries and necessities.
Whenever I’m considering making a purchase of any kind, I simply stop for ten seconds and ask myself whether this is really a worthwhile purchase. … I don’t watch the clock on this or anything – I just do it for roughly ten seconds or so.
At the end of those ten seconds, if I’m still convinced that making this purchase is the best idea, then I’ll go ahead and buy it without guilt or remorse. However, I’ve come to find that the ten-second rule frees me from making a lot of unnecessary purchases.
On the Psychology Today website, Kelly McGonigal mentioned the benefits of a somewhat longer pause:
Neuroscientists have found that having to wait even ten minutes for a reward dramatically reduces the brain’s response to it. If you can walk out of a store, or switch to a different website, for just 10 minutes, you’ll see the “value” of that purchase more clearly.
And over on Mint.com, Mary Hiers recommended an even longer waiting period:
If you see an item that captures your interest, sleep on it. Make it a rule that if you see something you want that you didn’t specifically go shopping for, you’ll wait 48 hours before buying it.
For a slightly different approach, Dustin Senos quoted Larry Wall: “Don’t buy something until you’ve wanted it 3 times.”
Different strategies will work for different people — but finding one that works for you will save you money and help minimize clutter.