How the 48-Hour Rule Can Help You Avoid Debt

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Waiting 48 hours before making a large purchase is a great way to make sure you really need the item. Here's how to use the 48-hour rule to avoid debt.

Do you ever regret purchases you’ve made? Then you need to start living the 48-hour rule. Whether it is a pair of shoes; an expensive shelf for your garage that turned out to be too small; or even a bad restaurant dinner, many of us make impulse purchasing decisions that we later regret.

Sure, often times you can return said item; but sometimes you can’t return it, or, worse, you put off returning it until you outlive the store’s grace period for returns and then find yourself stuck with an item that you not only regret purchasing, but can’t use. The 48-hour rule can help you avoid this situation and the ever-growing debt that often accompanies a habit of impulse shopping.

Some people say you should always wait three days before buying something you weren’t planning on purchasing in the first place. Personally, I can’t remember what I ate three days ago let alone wanted to buy so I don’t think we need to wait that long to develop smart shopping habits. Two days, or 48 hours is more than enough time to figure out whether or not you really want to buy (or should buy) an item.

This rule is great for when you want to control your spending and I’d argue that it could even help you avoid getting into debt. With smaller purchases, two days is fine but with larger purchases or even if you’re considering taking out a loan, you may need more time.

Here are some ways the 48-hour rule will help you avoid debt.

Use Time to Create a Bigger Wedge Between Wants and Needs


Spending money is unavoidable. Often, it involves urgency. Marketers, retailers and salespeople etc. all use the same lingo to promote urgency so you’ll buy quickly without taking the time to think about whether or not you really need the item you want.

You might feel that sense of pressure when you’re checking out in the store and the person behind you is loading up their things on the conveyor belt and literally breathing down your neck in anticipation for you to finish.

I’m guilty of wanting to get my purchase out of the way as quickly as possible so the next person can step up. Sometimes, I don’t even take the time to look at my receipt and review what I actually bought or put my debit card back in my wallet so I just toss it in my purse and head out the door.

The common habit of spending money daily and letting urgency influence your purchasing decisions leaves little room to truly separate your wants from your needs.

With the 48-hour rule, you’ll have enough time to lay out all the pros and cons of making a particular purchase and will be able to identify if it’s a need or a want.

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing based on wants since we all do it. However, some wants tend to be lower on the priority list because we have other plans for our money. Instead of acting on impulse, taking a step back and assessing the situation can remind you of things you really planned to do with your money instead like buy groceries, pay bills, register your child for soccer, save up for a vacation, etc.

The more money you spend on things that don’t align with your values or aren’t on your priority list, the further you get away from reaching your goals and the closer you get to accumulating debt.

Identify Alternative Solutions


Taking 48 hours to assess your decision to make a purchase not only allows you time to think about how important it is and whether the item is a want or need, it also allows you the time to research alternative solutions that might be better for your budget.

Let’s say you need to buy a car. Ideally, you’ll shop around online and test drive different vehicles. You may really like a car, but you can’t always pounce on the offer.

When I was car hunting, I fell in love with several different vehicles and imagined myself driving off into the sunset with my dream car. Again, I was faced with overcoming the urgency factor since I didn’t want someone else to come into the lot and take my favorite car.

Yet and still, I’m happy I waited for at least 48 hours in some cases because I had the chance to explore other options that were more affordable and provided a better quality car.

The 48-hour rule would also be great to use if you are making a tough decision like choosing whether or not you should take out a payday loan. Payday loans are horrible options, but if you really need the money and won’t qualify for a 0% APR credit card or any better options, you may feel tempted to move forward with your decision.

In this case, exploring alternative options for two days before you pull the trigger on a costly decision would allow you to the opportunity to see if you could earn extra money by doing odd jobs; talk to your creditors and bill collectors to ask for an extension; identify resources in your community that might be able to help; and so on.

Waiting 48 hours before making a large purchase is a great way to make sure you really need the item. Here's how to use the 48-hour rule to avoid debt.

Let It Cool Down


Essentially, using the 48-hour rule as a minimum when you’re considering spending money allows you to let all that impulse and urgency cool down. I’ve never carried a huge credit card balance from month-to-month, but my husband has and when we looked at some of the purchases that had been made, we both agreed it would’ve been best to wait and delay gratification for a few days.

It’s too easy to pull your credit card out; sign a student loan promissory note; take out a loan; or finance a car or vacation without thinking twice about it. We live in an ‘I want it now’ society that perpetuates debt accumulation. To put an end to it, you need to regain control by giving yourself time to think about your actions and spend consciously. That way, you’ll have less debt and fewer regrets.


Do you ever put off purchases for a few days in an effort to save money or avoid debt? Have you ever made any hasty purchases that you regret and knew you truly couldn’t afford? What mental tricks do you use to help keep you from spending money you shouldn’t?

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Choncé is a freelance writer who’s obsessed with frugality and passionate about helping others increase their savings rate, eliminate debt, and work toward financial stability. She chronicles her journey with balancing motherhood, work, and finances on her blog, MyDebt


  • Rachel @ The Latte Budget says:

    Yes! This method works wonders when you’re out shopping. I have realized lately though that it is challenging to wait when you’re online shopping because once I view an item, it keeps popping up in any sidebar ads while I’m browsing the internet! Talk abut temptation! But you’re right, waiting to purchase really lets you think about how much you need an item. I’ve had many impulsive purchases that I have regretted. Great post!

    • Chonce says:

      I used to be really bad with making online impulse purchases…so bad that I had my debit card number memorized. Sometimes the temptation can seem strong, but you can also just get off the computer for a bit to make sure you’re in the right mindset.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    This is definitely something I do. More often than not, after that cooling off period, I realize I don’t really need or want whatever it was that I was thinking about buying. So true what Rachel said though…they want to make it so you don’t forget!

    • Chonce says:

      Yes, same here. I tend not to dwell on things so giving myself enough time to clear my mind and decide if I really need to make the purchase does wonders.

  • Leah | A Relaxed Gal says:

    Great post.

    When it comes to big purchases I do my analysis upfront of whether I can afford it or what I may need to do to earn additional money to pay for it.

    When it comes to smaller purchases like clothing or home decor I’ll sometimes apply the 48 hr method. I’ve found that when I wait 48 hrs I tend to not buy the item if I have to go back to the physical store.

    • Chonce says:

      That’s a good point about not wanting to go back to the store. Sales used to be tempting for me but nowadays I realize that there’s always some type of sale or promotion so buying on impulse usually isn’t worth it especially if it’s going to take me away from my financial goals.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I’ve used this method and it really has worked for me. Sometimes you realize you don’t need something YET, too. For example I am going to wall mount my TV. But I know it will take a while to get all the cords and adjust everything so it makes no sense to buy any of the materials until I know I’m going to do it.

    • Chonce says:

      That makes sense. I’m deciding whether I want to wall mount or get a T.V. stand. Right now I have neither. I’d like to get something for my T.V. in the future, but I want to pay for it in cash and not buy on impulse and so I’m just waiting until I prioritize spending the money.

  • Benjamin Davis says:

    Great post. I actually use a complementary method: I cash out at the beginning of the month, and I force myself to live off whatever I cashed out.

    Either way, great method.

    • Chonce says:

      I do something similar. Since I freelance and most of my clients pay me once a month, I pay myself at the beginning of the month and budget off that money so I know how much I have to spend.

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