The Waiting Game: Deciding Where To Spend Our Money

Frederick Johnston
Nov 13, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

In our last post, we discussed money, the importance of budgeting, and taking control of where your money goes. Your proactive budget gives every dollar a name and does not allow your money to continue to slip through your fingers mindlessly. Keep in mind: the points that follow are addressing discretionary spending habits. I’m assuming that you have already done the following:

  1. Prioritized your money to understand what you want your money to do in your life.
  2. You have met your basic needs in that budget.
  3. You have accurately classified “a need” versus “a want.”

Let’s look at how we can hang onto our money, spending it effectively and deliberately, while avoiding the forces that are perpetually trying to separate it from us.

Building Defenses

Marketing is an aggressive endeavor, and the marketing world has gotten more sophisticated as the world has become more interconnected. No longer is there limited options for items or devices; we can order materials from half a world away with a click of a computer mouse, and have them show up at our doorstep in a matter of days or even hours.

There are a lot of options, and the marketing pundits have gotten more sophisticated as the competitive noise level for our attention and dollars has increased. For much of the world, marketing has moved beyond basic needs. No one needs convincing that they need food, clothing, shelter, and security. With those needs met, we are now into the realm of desires, whimsical wants, and comfort.

Unless you live in a sealed bunker with the lights off and no contact with the outside world, you’re not going to escape the constant attempts of the marketing wizards to separate you from your money. Avoidance is not an option if you want to have a life and interact with the real world. You need to focus on building defenses instead.

The Waiting Game

One of the primary defenses for my dollars and a decision-making tool I use for discretionary spending is playing a waiting game. Our homes, garages, and lives are full of materials and things that we bought on impulse. The basis of the advertising and marketing that surrounds us each day is the belief that we only need to be convinced that our life would be so much better if we had (X) in it. This waiting list tactic could take different forms; the three I have found to be the most successful are:

  1. Writing it down.
  2. A time limit for a decision.
  3. Giving ourselves a reason.

Write It Down

When our family was getting out of debt and had put the screws to every dollar, every month, we would daydream about the things we would purchase when we were no longer dumping nearly all our extra money towards paying off debt. We wrote all those daydreams down, and the list of items and ideas continued to grow and grow.

This helped in two ways:

  • Writing it down got it out of our heads, so the thought or impulse stopped bothering us.
  • It satisfied (in part) our purchasing impulse because we promised ourselves that in the future, we would possess (x).

So we wrote it all down, every last item, regardless of whether it was a new knife or a new car. We continued to plow through our debt and became debt-free (rah-rah, much rejoicing). And then we promptly forgot about our list.

By the time we rediscovered the list, it was weeks after becoming debt-free and at the end of a year-long process of prioritizing our money and life. Even in just a short span of a few weeks, most of the items we had written for a future purchase, which seemed so important at the moment, such “ must-haves! “ now appeared to be somewhat useless or even downright silly. (I don’t hunt, and I’m not ten years old, why do I need a bow and arrow?) We still employ this same tactic of writing it down and delaying gratification.

Wait 48 Hours

Another tactic: the time limit. If the purchase is over $100, wait at least 48 hours and then decide if you still want the item. It’s restraining the buying impulse at the moment, controlling our approach to a potential purchase, and then directing our money after a period of reflection. We’re not saying “ No.” to purchasing (a response that our minds hate to hear), but we’re saying, “ Not right now, let’s consider this.”

$100 was our threshold for a long time. It’s fluctuated as incomes have fluctuated over the years, but generally, when we get to triple digits on a potential expense, we take a pause and set the time clock. This simple tactic has avoided scores of unnecessary and unsatisfactory purchases. A lot of the marketing content slants toward creating the illusion of scarcity. Marketers want to instill in us a sense of urgency and fear of missing out.

It’s a BOGO offer! (Today, not tomorrow.)

No money down and 0% financing! (It’s the holiday deal; it won’t be available next month.)

Those slogans and pitches should all sound familiar because they are familiar. They are deals which are always available; there’s nothing special about them. Modern societies do not struggle overall with scarcity; we are overflowing with abundance. Keep in mind, sales and opportunities will always be there. And if they are not available, you’ll still be okay. It was a discretionary purchase anyways.

Give Yourself A Reason

The last tactic that I’ll share for fending off unnecessary purchases is to respond to my consumerist impulses with a knee-jerk declaration: I don’t need that. When I think of buying something discretionary, beyond necessary items such as electricity, food, or gas for the car, my default reply to myself is, “ You don’t need that. That’s not worth your money.”

Instead of trying to convince myself why I need something (rationalizing benefits, joy, or the pleasure that the purchase will bring), I give myself a reason not to buy it. You don’t have to search very far; “ I don’t need that “ is universally applicable to most of our discretionary spending. It’s flipping the narrative in our brain: I have to convince myself why this is a good use of my money, not why this thing would be fun or cool.

Don’t Make It Easy

Delay the gratification. Wait to see: did you truly want the item, or did you want the fleeting thrill of buying something? Once that money is gone, it’s gone. But there will always be other future opportunities to purchase stuff. You traded time, talent, and energy for your money. Develop a mindset and tactics that make it difficult for that same money to leave your care.

Moving forward:

Do you struggle with purchasing things on impulse?

Do you have any helpful tactics or habits to combat that tendency?

Originally published at on November 13, 2019.


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