Run Like a Rabbit, Spend Like a Turtle: Profitable Procrastination

Changing ingrained habits is hard. But in order to change the amount you spend, you have to change the way you spend.

One key change you can make is to simply lengthen the time it takes to buy. In the last post, I listed ten examples of how intentional delays saved me big bucks—more than $1,000 over the past year alone. As promised, this post lists specific techniques that help you cultivate the profitable habit of procrastination.

Before we get to the list, however, please allow me the time to explain why procrastination is so important.

A fundamental fact escapes the notice of most consumers: buyers have almost complete control over the timing of their purchases (except in rare cases of unanticipated emergencies). Think about it. The seller can’t hold a gun to your head and force you to buy its product. The choice of when to pull the trigger is actually yours. Until the moment you buy, you hold the power. After that, of course, the money is out of your pocket and into the seller’s. But if you’re patient enough, it’s easy to leverage your timing of purchases into huge benefits—here are three of them.

Lower Prices. If you simply wait to buy, you invariably save. Why? It’s because the extra time allows you more time to find better deals from sales, model closeouts, coupons, rebates, group discounts, loyalty rewards, and more. And if you’re negotiating for a big ticket item, your apparent reluctance to buy also influences sellers to make lower offers.

Better Decisions. Waiting to buy also helps you reach better decisions. Why? It’s because you gain the luxury of conducting more in-depth research on products, manufacturers, and retailers. Better information inevitably yields better results on your transactions.

Better Choices. By waiting to buy you allow the marketplace time to mature. This gives you greater choices. An example of this appeared in my last post. If I had bought the Adirondack chairs back in 2011 when I first saw them, then I would have missed a major enhancement—lumbar support—that wasn’t introduced until 2013. While I dithered, the product improved and the purchase was more to my backside’s liking.

So now to our list. Consider these several techniques to cultivate the habit of procrastination. Review them all and try whichever ones seem most enticing. Everybody’s different, so what works for others might not work for you. Experiment.

1.  View Buying as a Chore
You’re already an expert at procrastination. As you read this, nagging at your subconscious are overdue errands you should have finished last week. You don’t immediately tackle these tasks because they seem like too much work. So they simmer away on the back burner of your brain. Now here’s my point: if you can make shopping seem just as onerous, you can become just as expert at delaying purchases. Take the familiar feeling of lethargy that yard work gives you and extend it into your spending.

2.  Post a Picture and Wait
Tape a photo to your fridge. Download a .jpeg file and set it as your screensaver. Post a picture on Pinterest (use the site to display what potentially disinterests you). The familiarity of seeing your object of desire every day often breeds contempt for spending money on it. And it’s much cheaper to experience that contempt before you buy rather than afterwards.

3.  Seek a Gift
Your birthday and the holiday season arrives twice each year (unless you’re unlucky enough to have been born in December). If loved ones shower you with gifts and welcome hints, wait for the proper season to arrive and hint away. If it’s a costly item, ask everyone for gift cards that you can combine to make a major purchase. While you wait for the gifting season, you may find you no longer want the product.  Or you may decide upon something else. The extra time gives you a better chance to get exactly what you want or need.

4.  Set a Cooling Off Period
For example, you might decide that for any products over $50, you won’t buy until at least 30 days have passed. If you have the type of personality that can make such hard line rules and stick to them, this technique will soon turn into a valuable routine. If not, well, many other techniques remain available.

5.  Pick an Improbably Low Price Point
Let’s say that Amazon sells your latest widget of choice for $99.99. Try this. Hold off buying until the price plummets to $29.99. When this technique works, it delivers an incredible consumer high. Why? Because for once you get to put the squeeze on a monolithic manufacturer. The top 1% makes a little less and you keep a little more.

6.  Open a File
This works well with big ticket items. Here’s an example. I saw my first HDTV in the early 2000s. It was a Sony 42″ gas plasma miracle. As the screen displayed mountain peaks in winter, I could see individual snow crystals shimmering like diamonds. I was enthralled, but I didn’t buy because the $15,000 asking price seemed far too steep (mountainous, even). Instead, I opened a file—a physical, plain manila file. After that, whenever I saw a price drop or upgrade, I filed it with the growing paperwork. Years passed. Prices fell. Screens grew. LED models appeared. Sony quit making TVs. I didn’t close the file until Black Friday, 2010, when I ordered the top-ranked Vizio LED that I had been following for almost a year. It cost less (I paid $1,489), featured a bigger screen (55″ not 42″), and used less electricity (saving about $30 per year).

7.  Use Temporary Substitutes
For example, instead of spending for a new bread maker, I bought one for $5 at a garage sale. I still haven’t bought a retail machine (so I guess I’ve made bread in more than one sense). Here’s another example. One of my favorite films, especially as St. Patrick’s Day nears, is the Irish tale of The Quiet Man. The Blu-Ray version was released in January, 2013 but I waited several months to buy. In the meantime, I made do with the DVD. (By the way, for this particular title the Blu-Ray format provides a huge boost in picture quality. If you wait until after March 17, you’ll probably snag a lower price.)

8.  Tap Into Your Inner Hamlet
Deliberate deliberately. To buy or not to buy: that is the question. What are my motivations with the purchase? Is this something I can truly use, or am I showing off to neighbors. On a scale of 1 to 10, what is my level of need for this? Can I live without? If not, then how have I managed to live without it so far? Deliberations like these take time and provide the space for procrastination to work its magic. Sometimes, answering these many questions even produces a savvier consumer.

9.  Focus on the Process
At last we arrive at my personal favorite. Time passes quickly when you concentrate on the buying process itself instead of your ultimate objective. You can review your alternatives to making a purchase (renting, borrowing, etc.). You can consider other technologies or models. You can research prices, products, and sellers. You can even create a detailed checklist that systemizes all of your shopping for products. Such a list gives you plenty to chew on while new acquisitions hang in abeyance. And to avoid reinventing the wheel, you can use the same products buying checklist that I use. It appears as Appendix 1 in Spend Less Now!—A Checklist Program for the Decidedly Unfrugal. In Kindle format, the e-book sells for just $0.99. But please don’t rush into this purchase. Procrastinate by reading a lengthy sample. To view it on Amazon, click here.

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Those who spend fast like hares may turn up their noses at those of us who spend slow like turtles. But if you’ve read to this point, you already know the moral of the story: when it comes to getting the best deals, rabbits lose and turtles win. So consider slowing down a bit. Take your time. Give procrastination a try—and if you know some dilatory techniques that I’ve missed listing above, please leave a comment below.

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5 Responses to Run Like a Rabbit, Spend Like a Turtle: Profitable Procrastination

  1. Mark Ross @moneysavingdude March 14, 2014 at 7:59 AM #

    This is a great post. I used to buy anything I want in an instant, but now I have changed. I think before I buy, and I wait at least a month before I buy something to see if I really want it that much.

  2. J. Money March 14, 2014 at 9:02 AM #

    Agreed – great list! The only thing that I’d watch for is when you need/really want something and it’s currently on sale for a brief amount of time (say, because someone else may buy it before you go back, or the deal’s over in a day or two). This mostly relates to clothes, but possibly other areas too.

    All in all though, yes – big fan of waiting and holding on to that cash power as long as possible!

  3. Kenneth March 14, 2014 at 12:35 PM #

    Good thoughts. I like the 30 day cooling off period.
    BTW I googled 55 Vizio and got this – your TV, doubtless improved, is now $699 at Best Buy.
    I bought my first LCD TV, 32 inches for $800 from Walmart.
    With technology, the longer you can wait, the better off you are. But sometimes you just gotta have a flat screen tv, cost be darned.

    VIZIO – E-Series – 55″ Class (54-5/8″ Diag.) – LED – 1080p – 120Hz – Smart – HDTV
    Model: E550I-B2 SKU: 3320006 Customer Rating:
    3.5 (2 customer reviews)
    Add to Cart
    $699.99
    ON SALE
    Regular Price: $729.99
    You Save: $30.00
    FREE DELIVERY

  4. Free To Pursue April 17, 2014 at 7:22 AM #

    Love it! These tactics are part of the way I keep my “lizard brain” in check. Wanting something or seeing a sale is NOT A CRISIS! Emotions are a personal finance killer. At a minimum, I “sleep on it” for smaller purchases or wait up to a year or two for major ones.

    Nice post Noonan.

  5. Cost Cutter May 1, 2014 at 10:23 AM #

    You should have waited another decade to buy that TV. It’d be selling for less than the price of a hamburger. You’d have to wait longer but the gratification would be well worth it.

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