Updated on 11.21.06

The Ten Second Rule

Trent Hamm

A few times in the past, The Simple Dollar has mentioned some reference to a “ten second rule” or a “count to ten rule” without explaining this incredibly powerful tool in detail.

In short, the “ten second rule” says that any time you are about to spend any money at all, count to ten slowly and spend that time considering whether or not you should actually spend the money. It’s quite simple, isn’t it? It’s something that anyone can do, but it’s something that most of us never even consider doing as we’re writing a check or handing items to the checkout clerk.

Why do this? The point of purchase is the point of no return – it is that exact point in which our money becomes a distinct item that we may or may not need. If we take a few seconds to really look at that item and ask ourselves whether we really need it or not, it becomes much easier to separate the necessary spending from the unnecessary spending.

I use this every time I purchase anything, from writing a check for rent to buying gasoline to buying groceries. It makes me really think about what I’m spending and what I can do to reduce that spending, thus increasing the amount of money I have to follow my big dreams instead of regularly spending it on little stuff I don’t need.

Here are some specific examples to inspire you:

Count to ten as you’re standing in the checkout line at the grocery store while looking in your cart. Do you really need that bag of cookies or that six pack of Sam Adams? Maybe they’re vital comforts for you, but for many of us, these expenses are ones that are wasteful.

Count to ten as you’re paying your bills. You’re thinking about buying a new car, but your old one isn’t paid off yet. Do you really need that extra expenditure each month, or is your current car good enough to last for another year or two?

Count to ten at the clothing store. This one gets my wife every time. As she heads off, credit card in hand, to buy some clothes, I whisper in her ear, “Count to ten, honey.” She stands there for a bit looking at what she’s about to buy and then several of the items usually find their way back to the rack.

Count to ten at the bookstore. Look at the books and magazines cradled in your arm. Couldn’t you just read them at the library or check them out there? What about the unread books at home?

The ten second rule is incredibly powerful at helping you to get off of the consumerist treadmill and get on track with building your personal savings.

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  1. I find the buddy system works well for big ticket purchases. Find a friend, a “spending buddy”, that you run all your big spending by. This works really well if you have a salesman trying to talk you into a big purchase.

    Getting your “spending buddy” on the phone or bringing them into the store gives you an objective perspective when the salesman is working their magic.

  2. Golbguru says:

    Nice :) …some people like me might need something like a 30 second rule :) some impulses last longer you know :)

  3. Vince says:

    I try not to carry my wallet/cash when I go window shopping or to a hooby show (my greatest weakness). I figure if I really want something I would have to take the time to go get the money/card.

  4. Eric says:

    Anything over $50 that is not a necessity/emergency item I like to sleep on. It’s amazing how many items I have forgotten by the time the morning rolled around.

    The other nice side effect is cleaning the house… the more I don’t buy and get rid of the easier it is to clean the house!

  5. dhughes says:

    For me 10 seconds isn’t enough I find that I have to wait a day, then laziness kicks in since I can’t be bothered to buy whatever it was I was going to buy.

  6. Lenore says:

    As a shopping addict, I’ve had to give myself permission to leave any merchandise I pick up ANYWHERE in the store if I decide I don’t really need it. I used to feel compelled to take things back to the shelves or racks I got them from, but that meant I’d hold on to things I could live without simply because I didn’t want to walk back through the store again (and face yet more temptation). I know it’s best to talk myself out of things when I first see them or not touch them in the first place, but sometimes it’s easier to fill my cart and eliminate frivolous items before checkout. It also helps to add up approximately how much everything is going to cost in my head before buying it, with CA$H of course. Knowing how much is about to leave my wallet protects me against cashier errors and gives me a resounding reality check before I part with limited funds.

  7. elena says:

    I trick that I find very useful is to take the price of the item or service i’m considering purchasing and determine how many hours I would have to work to pay for that item.

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