The Power of a Purchase Pause


I left my sweatshirt on a plane while traveling in March. I wore it frequently, and it was a staple of my tiny wardrobe. I called the airline, searched lost and found, and when I couldn’t find it, I wanted to replace it immediately.

Instead, I decided to implement a purchase pause. Even though I really wanted an alternative for my lost item, I knew I didn’t need it. ย Fast forward almost a month, and while there have been a few times that I wanted to wear a sweatshirt, I didn’t think about it much. It didn’t prevent me from enjoying life or doing the things I normally do.

The power of a purchase pause allows you to …

  • save money
  • limit impulse buying
  • consider your purchases
  • avoid buyer’s remorse
  • bypass emotional shopping
  • create time (once you declare a purchase pause, you can stop searching sales and spend less time in the dressing room)
  • gracefully bow out of trips to the mall (sorry, can’t make it … I’m in the middle of a purchase pause)

I used to buy whatever I wanted, even if I didn’t have the money. I also bought a bunch of stuff I thought I wanted, but lost interest after a few weeks or days. I shopped because “I deserved it” or because “it would make me feel better” or because “that new gadget would make me be a better ________.”

I always had what sounded like a reasonable excuse to buy. I also had a pile of debt, a garage and shed full of stuff that I didn’t use, and all of the side effects that come with that including discontent and stress.

Shopping never fixed anything.

The Power of a Purchase Pause

1. Fake the purchase. Before you buy one more thing, imagine buying it. For example, if you want to buy a new pair of roller blades because you saw some people at the park having fun on skates, fake the purchase. Go through each step of the process. Imagine walking into the store, handing over cash or card, and bringing your new roller blades home. Are you so excited that you put them on and take them for a spin, or do you have to go back to work or clean your house first? Maybe you wait to try them until the weekend. Then it rains on Saturday, so you have to put your outing off a week. When you do get out, do you love roller blading and start using them every day or once a week, or after time do they work their way to the back of the closet while you look for something else?

When you finally give up on the roller blades, are you still paying for them? Roller blades might not be your thing, but whatever the item, fake your next purchase and think through the first 30-60 days with your new purchase. Still interested?

2. Buy it on paper. Declare a shopping fast for the next 30 days. Instead of buying it with paper or plastic, buy it on paper. Write down everything you think about buying along with the price. Keep track of the items you want and the money you would have spent buying them.

At the end of 30 days, look at the total amount of money you saved and ask yourself if you want to spend it on the items you listed or use it for something else. It’s easier to justify one purchase at a time, but when you total your expenses and realize how much you are spending each month, the individual purchases may seem less important. If your monthly total is $800, would you go out and buy everything on the list or use the $800 differently?

3. Define need vs. want. Get honest with yourself about your purchases. What percentage of your purchases are needs versus wants? Buying something you want isn’t a bad thing, but call it what it is.

4. Know what matters most. Use what matters the most to leverage your shopping decisions. If you don’t know what matters, buying things may be your way of searching for meaning.

Instead, identify a few things that really mean something to you. It will be different for everyone, but some examples might include:

  • school tuition
  • paying off debt
  • travel
  • quitting your job
  • donating money to a cause you care about

Maybe there is a physical item that you really want like a new computer to grow your business, or a bicycle so you can ride to work. Whatever it is, identify it and whenever you are considering a purchase, ask yourself what you want more, Roller blades or a trip to Spain?

5. Make rules. Challenge yourself to stick with a few shopping rules so you can fully embrace the power of a purchase pause. Before purchasing, wait 30 days for anything less than $100 and 60 days for everything that costs more than $100.

You don’t have to be a shopaholic to benefit from a purchase pause. Most of us have purchased things we don’t need or want and later regret the decision to buy. With a small time out, we can fully consider our purchases and make informed decisions about what really makes us happy.


  1. says

    These are great tips and I really like number 5! I always try to implement number 3 and probably 99% of the time, the item is a want. If it’s a want, I make myself find multiple ways to use the item and use the 1 in 1 out rule.

  2. Marilyn Maranto says

    Dear Courtney,

    I have been following your blog for about a year. I am a natural-born minimalist, and my preferences were only reinforced by a childhood spent with hoarders; however, in my twenties and early thirties, I strayed from my natural tendencies due to personal problems. Over the past year, I have been inspired by your blog to reduce and release many items from my home. I feel so much better, so much lighter and less anxious. I had also slowly minimized my shopping, but this January I made a commitment to purchase only those things that I need or have to replace. In addition, my husband and I both agreed to simplify our diet (mostly vegetarian) and to eat out less. The change in our bank account is remarkable! I had already reaped the emotional benefits of simplifying, but the financial benefits (and the freedom that come with them) are astonishing. Thank you!


  3. says

    Hi Courtney! Yesterday I was feeling that I “might need a brighter colored t-shirt” (I tend to wear grey, black, green, or brown). I went into my closet and counted the number of summer shirts I have that I wear. I counted 10. Guess who didn’t go to the store?

  4. Kim says

    Hi! Just found your blog about 10 days ago! Love it! This is OT but could you tell me if when you count your 100 personal items, does that include the 33 one project 333? Does that even make sense? I think I may be more minimalistic than I first thought. So excited to delve further into it!!!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Kim, When I was participating in the 100 thing challenge, I did include my 33 items.

  5. says

    Thank you for the reinforcement. So reassuring in a consumer driven culture to know that opting out on rote buying can mean opting in on choice. And I choose Spain, headed there in December. :)

  6. Melodee says

    I am currently on what I call a no-spending spree (sounds more fun than a “fast”). For me it is easier to decide that I am just going to stop spending. Then there is nothing to consider because I am simply not spending. And I really don’t miss anything because I really do have more than enough (trying to get to just enough)!

  7. says

    I totally get this. While I only have a few sweatshirts (only hoodies because they are the type that I love!), I would miss one terribly. But I, too, have learned to pause before I purchase. I like to reuse something in my house (recycling at it’s best!) if I can.

    In the end, I’d probably have to go buy a new sweatshirt. We live in Michigan and I wear them 9-10 months a year. But a tank top or shorts? Nah…..I could live without those! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. says

    My aunt has a different way of filling her “need” for shopping clothes. She goes to the store, picks out clothes she likes, tries them on, carries them around while looking at more things. Then she hangs everything back and goes home!

    • Jazzy says

      That’s exactly what I do – and I just love the feeling of money in my pocket and not in a bag…..

      • Caroline Wilson says

        Thats just what i have been doing for years its amazing to think how many clothes especially jumpers that I have ” owned ” for a very short period of time usually in Marks and Spencers and then put them back again on the rail I even put them back on the proper rail ( see my halo sparkling) happy to have spent sometime on the consumer train before having to pay the price for the pleasure.My mum died in November and clearing out her belongings has been enough to put me off shopping for a very long time . I now have to find a way of reducing all the family ornaments which were precious to her that foolishly i promised I would look after . The charity shops in my home town have had a bonanza of things over the last few months .
        PAUSE ,its great advice

  9. says

    I love doing purchase pauses. :-) Right now I’m doing one because I decided to create a month reserve in my budget (in addition to my emergency fund) so that I can budget on last month’s income. It’s amazing how easy it is to NOT spend when you have a plan!

  10. Mary C says

    I’ve also found it useful to look it up online before I buy anything. A lot of times the online reviews convince me that I don’t need or want the item.

  11. Pam says

    Thanks so much for this. It’s exactly what I need right now as I try to slow down/stop shopping and get out debt. Between this blog and Dave Ramsey radio, I feel supported. Thank you, Thank You, Thank You!!

  12. says

    I started off 2014 with a three month spending fast. I’m happy to say that I didn’t purchase anything other than pay our regular monthly expenses. It’s not the first time I’ve taken on that kind of challenge and it’s great to be at a point where I don’t need to buy things in order to feel better. I have learned to function with a lot less by choice and still feel abundance.

  13. says

    I love the buy it on paper idea! I’ve been itching to buy new clothes but I will try that first, I know I would rather spend the lump sum on something else instead. Thanks so much for posting, it was very helpful that I read this today.

  14. says

    I tend to be a sucker for online sales, especially if it’s for an item I’ve been watching/coveting. Thankfully over half the time I don’t follow through and buy it, but I think these tips will help strengthen my will power! Many thanks!

  15. says

    So true Courtney!

    Over a month ago I wrote about a need to replace a t-shirt and shoes but weeks have passed and so has the “need”. I never got around to replacing them and I’m still alive and thriving ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Love this perspective.

  16. Kerry says

    Hi Courtney
    I’ve followed your blog for over a year but I have to say today’s message really hit home. Just clear, easy steps to follow when I have the urge to spend. I especially liked no. 4, know what matters most. Just a simple step before spending money to stop and think, do I want this shirt/pants/shoes etc more than I want to be debt free. The answer will always be No and that’s pretty powerful. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. Susan says

    I love tip 4. I forget about what i really want, which is to travel, when i see items i think i want. I think actually i have a defeatist attitude because in the back of my mind i believe I’ll never have the money to travel so why not purchase this item? Maybe i should put the money i would have spent into a savings account to make my dreams come true!

  18. Toni says

    Thanks so much for this advice. I also like to read reviews online before buying and I WANTED a YONANA. However, after reading the reviews, I just decided that I can use my Vita Mix to make banana ice cream. I love the idea to just PAUSE before buying. I have saved quite a bit of money since becoming a minimalist.
    Thank you.

  19. says

    Hi Courtney, it was so cool meeting you in Boise two weekends ago, with my other favorite bloggers, Josh and Ryan. I read through the project 333 (still on my laptop;), loved the ideas but had just finished a month long minimalist project. And before that from the book “7”, wearing only 7 items for four weeks. So this afternoon, packing for a quick mission trip to a 99 degree Mexican village, I was suddenly hit with the idea of doing my 33 items for this new season. So much fun!! I’m ready to roll through spring and summer and my side of the closet looks awesome!! Thank you for the inspiration, you rock!

  20. Nicole says

    I (used to) do a lot of online shopping. This is very similar to your ‘paper’ idea, but one thing that works well for me is the Amazon shopping list. I still get the satisfaction of clicking and adding something to a ‘cart’, but instead of checking out when I’m finished shopping, I just close my browser. Nine times out of ten when I revisit my shopping list later in the week/month, I find that I no longer ‘need’ the items I’d put in there previously. It’s saved me many times!

    • Lynn says

      I do this with the Kohl’s website. I add many things to my bag over a period of time. When I receive a 30% off coupon, I go back and check my bag. Many times, several of the items have been sold out. I also go back through my bag and see if I still want any of the items. If I do want them, I purchase them at that time.

  21. says

    Funny! Over the past several months I’ve been finding myself taking these pauses when I was tempted to rush out and buy or replace something. I hadn’t labeled them as anything other than buyer’s remorse avoidance. Since January, the next step in my minimalism (fueled by preparing for P333, ongoing downsizing plus a desire to not waste time shopping – or the feeling of desperation I seem to feel when hunting for something) has been to avoid consumption in all its forms – stores, ads, sale flyers and so on. As a result I’ve noticed an increasing desire to avoid shopping. When closing out my winter wardrobe I found a hole in one of my favorite sweaters. I was really bummed and went online in a *desperate* search. I couldn’t find it. So I decided to re-think if I really NEEDED it. I decided to wait and see next fall/winter if I really missed it. Now I know what to call this! Love the “Pause”!

  22. says

    I seriously love this article. I’ve been reading here for a few weeks & have loved everything I’ve read thus far. I just wanted to say thank you for the great tip about writing it down (tip #2). I am totally going to be using that! Thank you!

  23. Pradeep says

    This was a great post I could connect with. A purchase pause would be THE greatest way to declutter than to think of ways to get rid of them AFTER you buy them. I wish I had done this a year back before buying that motorcycle I loved. I still love it but I’ve hardly used it. Thinking through for the first 60 days would have been the best way AND saved me over 2000 dollars!!

    Thanks for a great post. You’ve got a new fan from today :)

  24. says

    These are great tips! I almost made an impulse purchase last night (because I received some coupons in the mail), but the thing that stopped me was I decided to google other images of the product to get a better idea of what it looked like and suddenly, it lost its appeal.

    It’s easy to fall for a product when its shown in its best light, but when I saw the slightly wrinkled version of the dress on ebay I realized that was what it would actually look like in my closet and I really didn’t need it after all.

  25. Rajesh Valluri says

    Do you realise you are signalling the end of western capitalism as we know it? The blood of poor corporations is on your hand woman. :-)

    But in all seriousness, I have been following something like this for a while and realized that it actually helps you with your sense of self-worth too. You are no longer in need of buying stuff to feel good about yourself. And the obvious bonus of financial benefits and lighter credit card bills at the end of the month, is really priceless.

    Well done, and keep it up. Needless materialism has never helped anyone.