Delay Gratification With the 72 Hour Rule

Posted on Posted in Budgets, Personal Finance

Impulsive spending.  This may be the one thing that blows up people’s financial life more than anything else.  You see something or something pops in you head that triggers a response of needing that thing right now.  We have all fallen victim, some more than others.  Whenever you find yourself in this situation, it is important to know how to deal with the urge to spend, especially if it isn’t something you truly need.  That is why I try to follow the 72 hour rule to help curb impulsive spending.

What is the 72 Hour Rule?

The idea behind the 72 hour rule is simple: when you get that urge to buy something that you didn’t realize you needed until that moment, stop and wait a period of time (typically 24072 hours) to see if you still actually want it after the moment of impulse passes.

Unfortunately, while the idea is simple in theory, for many, it is incredibly difficult to implement.  We live in a society focused on instant gratification, whether they can afford it or not.  Sites like Amazon make it incredibly easy to click a button and purchase something and receive it within two days.

So why is it important to utilize the 72 hour rule?

Because you can be better than everyone else.  The fact that you reach out and read blogs like this one shows that you want to improve your financial life and one of the best ways to do that is to learn to delay gratification.

The Marshmallow Study

In the 1960’s, Stanford researchers conducted a study that many believe revealed one of the most important characteristics in being successful in life.

Nicknamed “The Marshmallow Study”, researchers offered hundreds of kids (mainly age 4-5) a marshmallow, placed on the table in front of them.  They were told that if they were able to wait 15 minutes before eating it, they would be rewarded a second.  However, if they were unable to wait 15 minutes before eating it, they would not receive the second.

As you can expect, some kids inhaled the marshmallow as soon as the researcher left the room.  Others did just about everything possible, from smelling it to jumping up and down, to keep themselves from eating it.

The interesting part of the study came years later during follow up studies with the grown up kids.  Researchers found that the kids who were able to delay gratification and waited for that second marshmallow ended up with better social skills, higher SAT scores, lower likelihood of obesity, and even better responses to stress.

Why it is Important to Delay Gratification?

The ability to delay gratification is incredibly important to our overall lives as was discovered from the Marshmallow Study and it is just as important to our financial lives.  The ability to delay gratification leads to less debt, less stuff, and less desire to keep up with Jones’ around you.  We free up our time and abilities to accomplish great things in our lives; whether it is traveling the world, spending more time with our families, or working on something you are truly passionate about.


Step back and think about the purchases you’ve made over the last year, or even look at your order history on Amazon.  How many of these items are you still using?  Were any of them purchased on an impulse and barely used within a short time of receiving them?  If not, you are in the minority of Americans.  If so, the 72 Hour Rule may be a benefit to you to help increase your ability to delay gratification.  If you find yourself purchasing something on an impulse, stop and think if you truly need it.  Wait 24-72 hours to make sure you truly want the item.  I will guess that more times than not, you will find you never truly wanted it in the first place.

Instead of needing something in the moment, pause and see if you still need it after you have time to think more about it or you give yourself time to save up for it.  Delaying gratification is not the silver bullet to creating a better life.  But it can help get you there quicker.

Do you use something the 72 Hour Rule to cut back impulse spending?  What are other ways for people to learn to delay gratification?

Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and The Yachtless

32 thoughts on “Delay Gratification With the 72 Hour Rule

  1. Nice post Thias. I am fortunate that my father taught me this concept to me as a child. I make essentially no impulsive purchases, because I’ve trained myself to only buy what I need. On larger purchases (vacations, cars, etc) I wait a week, to see if I still want them. On smaller purchases more like 3 days. The funny thing is, after practicing this idea for more than 20 years, I know almost instantly whether or not a purchase will make the cut. Thereby eliminating the waiting period for most purchases.

    I hope you guys are having a great week. Take care buddy
    Income Surfer recently posted…Humble InvestingMy Profile

    1. Thanks bud! It is such a hard habit to learn so being taught it early can only help. Not a lot of people learn it growing up so nice job to you dad!

    1. But why wait when I can have something I just thought of now? 😉 You nailed it. Sacrifice and patience can lead to big things!

  2. Thanks for the article! The ability to delay gratification also allows us to patiently wait for our investments and dividends to grow over time. One question I ask myself before purchasing something is, “Does this add real value to my life?”

    1. That is a great idea Norman. If it doesn’t add value, why buy it? I think we could all benefit from stopping for a second and asking ourselves that.

  3. I’ve always heard it as 48 hours. That’s what my mom always taught me.

    It’s harder to argue this with my husband because his ADD is so severe. He will honestly forget something that really IS important to him. So the compromise is wish lists and/or my asking him about it a couple of days later.

    Of course, now that he has some fun money of his own, I can argue less. It’s just, “Do you really want it? Don’t you want to think about it for awhile? No? Okay, your money!”

    1. I guess in the grand scheme of things, the hour total doesn’t necessarily matter. As for your husband, all you really can do is at least raise the question. Before my wife and I buy things, we will frequently ask the other if we really need it. More times than not, we end up not purchasing it after thinking more about it.

  4. I like to consider the opportunity cost of a purchase. Sure, I can get it, but what CAN’T I get if I spend the money on this? This helps me determine the highest value use of limited dollars and helps curb my impulse buying.

    Great post. Thanks!

    John recently posted…What were you thinking?My Profile

  5. I found I was getting really bad about making impulse Kindle buys, so now I make myself wait 2 weeks. That gives me time to see if I can’t find the book at the library, or get interested in something else.
    I’m also trying to instill it in my daughter by paying her “interest” on her allowance if she doesn’t spend it right away. That is having so-so results, but she is getting better at deciding the things she really wants as opposed to blowing her money on silly things each week. I don’t necessarily make her wait, but I do remind her what she’s giving up when she’s spending. So now she’s more likely to save for a new toy than buy a bunch of in-app purchases for her Kindle.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…Everything in Moderation, including Moderation: Beyond Discipline and IndulgenceMy Profile

    1. I like the idea of paying interest to your daughter to try and keep her from spending it right away. It is a great value to try and teach kids early so they can incorporate it throughout their lives.

  6. I’ll say this much: I’m 100% confident that if I followed this strategy I would start spending less. It does force a little inconvenience, though. If I know I need something and I’m already at Target, it might mean making a return trip. I may value my time too much to take this approach.

    1. I agree – if you try and use the rule for every purchase, the benefit starts to get lost due to losing the value of your time. Luckily it can be customized to work with your situation. Maybe you only need it for things over a certain dollar amount or for purchases that you didn’t know you needed until you saw it in the moment. You need to find the system that works best for you. Thanks for commenting DC!

  7. This is SUCH good advice! I for sure still fall prey to impulse buys occasionally, but have been getting better. I have a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to hit “checkout” the same day I put something in my online shopping cart. And usually, I completely forget about it after I’ve slept on it. I’ll often put things on a wishlist instead of in the cart, and find that after several weeks, I no longer want that thing. But I suspect this will always be a struggle. 🙂
    Our Next Life recently posted…Then January Happened // The Joy of Fluid GoalsMy Profile

  8. I had read about the ‘Marshmallow Study’ years ago … good to be reminded of it. The following says a lot:

    “The interesting part of the study came years later during follow up studies with the grown up kids. Researchers found that the kids who were able to delay gratification and waited for that second marshmallow ended up with better social skills, higher SAT scores, lower likelihood of obesity, and even better responses to stress.”

    And I would guess they also found better financial/investing success.
    James recently posted…UK Over-50s Yearning to be More Adventurous in Retirement if the Funds LastMy Profile

  9. I actually have a Pinterest board that items I really want go on – that way if I want to find them again, I can, but they are mostly out of sight. It’s worked really well to keep me from making any impulse buys. Sometimes it turns out I really do want the item and other times an item will languish on that board for years, so I was clearly better off not purchasing it.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #129My Profile

    1. That is a good idea Mel! That is what I use Wish Lists for. I can’t see them all the time but if I want to go back and see the item, I can easily pull it up.

  10. I was taught a different form of delayed gratification as a kid, but I did not know what the message was until later in life.

    As a youth, I worked at a fruit stand and the elderly man would always tell me not to spend all your money at once.

    I did not know how could I only spend a small amount at a time. I know see the lesson as delaying my gratification because he meant if I could not afford to buy it then wait another day.
    Michael Belk recently posted…New Albany, MS Tanglefoot Trail; Ready To Expand.My Profile

    1. That is a great story. I remember being told that as a child as well but I never really put it all together until you just pointed it out!

  11. I’ve never heard of the marshmellow study. That is fascinating!

    I’ve tried to incorporate at least a 24 hour rule for all my purchases. The other rule I’ve had is to just buy the darn thing on credit card and make sure I return it before the return date! Stores love that. Just kidding.

    I don’t buy much any more. I’ve got to get rid of more stuff as I downsized to a smaller house.

    Financial Samurai recently posted…The Father Of All Ponzi Schemes Will Cause The Mother Of All Financial MeltdownsMy Profile

  12. Thanks for the article. Delayed gratification can be difficult to do sometimes. With everything so accessible in our finger tips, it can be challenging. I like th 72 hour rule. It takes a lot of resisting but I have found ir helpful before. Nice post.

    1. Thanks Pamela! The idea of delaying satisfaction is even more important given that we can buy anything we want at any moment these days. Thanks for reading!

  13. The marshmallow study is really interesting! Sounds like it’s important to teach our kids delayed gratification when they are still young.

    I agree with the commenter on shopping in Target. Of course, when I recognize this it just makes me stay out of Target unless I seriously need something.

  14. Great article! Impulse shopping on Amazon used to be a bit of an issue for me (it really is too easy to make purchases…). I found that forcing myself to let the item sit in my shopping cart while I considered whether I actually needed it was a good way to limit knee-jerk buying. Often it took less than 24 hours for me to either lose interest in the item or forget about it entirely.

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