The "3-month rule" – The secret to buying (just about) anything you want…regardless of your budget!

One of the best parts about being a Fun Cheap or Free Queen is the fact that with patience, a little practice, and some mad frugalista skills, 
you can have just about anything you want. 
For realzies.
A gross misconception about “frugal people” is that we don’t spend money; that we pinch every penny,  never buy anything expensive, only shop at Good Will, and live a miserly, boring, and overall “cheap” life. While some of that is true (there is nothing wrong with shopping at thrift stores!), the overall misconception is…well…a misconception!
(Remember my differentiation between “cheap” and “frugal” HERE?)
I am living, breathing proof that you CAN be frugal, live reasonably, practice self-control and delayed gratification, follow a tight budget, be thrifty in every sense of the word…and still have, do, and own just about anything you want.
(“Just about” being the keyword. We’ve got to be reasonable here, folks!)
As FCF Queens in training (if you will), you all know how to:
1) set and track a monthly budget (see HERE), and
2) organize your money into 7 bank accounts to stay on top of your finances (see HERE).
But…

…what happens when you want to buy something that doesn’t fit in your standard monthly budget?

Go without?
I’ll give that a big HECK NO!
My hubby and I live by a simple rule that allows us to buy the bigger, more costly items(that you’re inevitably bound to need in your life – furniture, appliances, new carpet, whatever it is), while STILL following a tight budget. 
(As well as respecting our tight finances, practicing self-control, enjoying delayed gratification, and spending wisely. Wheew! That’s a lot of awesomeness!)

I now introduce to you…

You’re going to be blown away by how simple this is.

 

Whenever you want/need to buy something that doesn’t fit within your standard monthly budget…

WAIT. THREE. MONTHS.
It’s that simple!

  • It gives you time to set money aside. 
    • How to set money aside? Find out how much money you need for the item, divide it by 3 months (or longer if needed), and set that amount aside each month.
    • The money you set aside should be money leftover at the end of the month after paying all your bills and debt.
    • If you don’t have any money left over (living paycheck to paycheck) then the money needs to be cut from somewhere else. Cut down your eating out, entertainment, or “fun money” budget for example, and set that aside.
    • This money then goes into your “Family Regular Savings” account (see HERE).
    • If it takes you longer than 3 months to set the money aside (for extra large purchases, or if you simply need to space out the setting aside because of a tight budget) then change the title of “the 3 month rule” to “the 6 month rule” or “the 12 month rule” and all the same rules will apply.
We used this rule to buy our entertainment center for our new house. We had a furniture budget when we moved in for couches, a bedroom set, and entertainment center. We had been setting aside money the entire 18 months we were house-hunting. However, once we moved in we still abided by the 3-month rule even though we had the money set aside, because of all the other benefits listed below. Because we waited for a few more months before actually buying any furniture (hard to do when you have the money sitting in a bank account!!) we found great deals on our furniture, and ended up having money leftover for a few accent chairs for our formal living room (see picture below)…an unexpected benefit!
 
Waiting 3 months…
Allows for holidays and season changes.
    • Holidays = holiday sales. Season changes = new inventory, making “old inventory” cheaper!
    • Taking your time will give you a chance to anticipate upcoming holidays and take advantage of the holiday sales.
    • Also, the 3 months might fall on Christmas, your birthday, or anniversary. This will give you an opportunity to ask for cash instead of gifts, pool the money, and use it to help buy your item. (Like I did with my favorite Roomba vacuum seen HERE.)
We used “the rule” to buy our play set, but we had to set money aside for longer than 3 months. After doing our research, we saw the perfect playset at Costco for a little over $1000. We took time to price-compare online and at other stores, and found that it was by far the best value. We didn’t buy right away though, we told ourselves we’d wait another few months, just to be sure. This is scary because things at Costco don’t stay long…but we learned that patience pays off. A few weeks later I went to Costco and the play set had dropped to $799! We jumped on the deal, bought it with the money we had set aside (putting the purchase on my AMEX to get the rewards cash, see HERE), and saved even more money by assembling it ourselves. We felt great when we went back to Costco a few weeks later and it was back up to $1000. 
 
Waiting 3 months…
Eliminates impulse-buys.
    • By setting the “3 month rule” as a hard-fast rule, it WILL eliminate impulse buys!
    • This will not only save your family THOUSANDS in the long run, but will ensure you’re buying the perfect item for you, and not just the best of what’s available right then.
Our living room is in desperate need of a chair. I have wanted one since we moved in (over 1 year ago) but other needs have taken priority. Once in a while I see “the perfect chair!” (like the one above) and call my husband begging for it (I’m definitely the weak one in our relationship when it comes to home decor). Because of “the rule” he doesn’t have to be the “bad cop” – he simply reminds me of the rule and brings me back to earth. Once home, we had a conversation about it. Together we decided that if it was really that important to have a chair, that we should move it to the top of our priority list and start setting money aside for it and researching what kind we want. After a day or two I realized that it really ISN’T top priority and is at least 4th or 5th on the list, so I’ll wait. BUT…I know exactly what kind of chair I want when the time comes (the one in the picture), and I even know where to find it now! 
 
Waiting 3 months…
Ensures the perfect product for you.
    • Waiting 3 months forces you to slow down, take a breath, and do your research! You know you can’t have it right now, so it gives you time to ask around, shop around, and research.
    • Research what? The best brand, size, type, color, style, price, look, and functionality for YOU.
      • If it’s a couch, go to 10 different furniture stores before deciding. Bring a swatch of fabric home and see what it looks like with your decor…the lighting in your house…your paint color…see if it stains easily.
      • If it’s a new stroller, ask every mom you know what they love/hate about theirs. Borrow theirs. Take it for a spin around your neighborhood. See if it fits in your car. Test the wheels.
      • Whatever it is, this timeframe will give you time to do proper research to make sure you’ll be 100% happy with your purchase, and that it will accomplish all your needs.
We used this rule to buy our double stroller. We shopped around like crazy, found the best type for us, located the best deal available, and have loved it ever since. We plan to not need to buy another stroller…ever…and are still (years later) 100% happy with our purchase.
Waiting 3 months…

It gives you time to find the best deal.

  • Along the same lines of avoiding impulse-buys, finding the BEST deal is key.
  • It’s not always about bottom-line price, either! Finding the best deal needs to include return policy, warranty/repair, delivery/set-up, brand, make/model, and if it’s used, wear and tear.
    • Here’s an example: When my son was born in 2010, it was time to buy a DSLR camera. We had been setting money aside for MONTHS (if you remember HERE, our finances were a MESS back then). We didn’t have any extra money to spare so we pooled our Christmas, birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s gift money (from each other as well as other family members) for a year. He was due in January, so we started shopping for the camera a few months in advance. We looked at stores, online, Costco, you name it. Because we took our time before buying, we learned that if we were patient, then we could take advantage of an additional rebate AFTER Christmas at Costco. We almost purchased the camera elsewhere because we calculated that the price would still be higher at Costco. But upon further research we learned that the Costco camera included a bag, second lens, and a killer repair policy. Their RETURN policy has been shortened, but because we bought the camera with our American Express credit card then Costco and AMEX would repair the camera for years. And guess what? Over 1 year later I broke the camera, and they fixed it…for free! We are so glad we took our time to find the best deal.
  • It gives time for you to find coupons that will help with your purchase.
  • It also gives you time to search for cheaper versions of the item through classifieds, yard sales, thrift stores, and even DIY.
As mentioned above, we had money leftover for accent chairs for our formal living room when we moved in. We had $300 set aside, and after searching for months the only chairs we liked were at least $400+ each…and we wanted two chairs! We almost cracked and bought one expensive chair (rather than two), but decided to…(can you guess?)…wait. We found the perfect chair (pictured) for the perfect $150 price on Overstock.com. However, they were out of stock and they didn’t know if or when they’d get any more in. Discouraged, we almost went back to the expensive chair but decided to…everyone say it with me…wait! Less than 1 week later I got an email from Overstock that they had more of the perfect $150 chairs in. We ordered two, and got both lovely chairs for $300 including delivery!

Waiting 3 months…
Gives you time to change your mind.
    • If you’re anything like me, you get an idea about something you want, you lock your mind onto it, and hardly sleep until you have it. BUT…if you’re anything like me, you also change your mind as quickly as you set it!
    • If you simply wait before buying that thing that you “just HAVE to have!”…you’ll find that after a few weeks you might just not want it any more! See? Just saved yourself mucho dinero. Doesn’t that feel good? :)
These are the couches we bought when we moved in. Originally we went to the furniture stores saying, “we FOR SURE want leather” and wouldn’t budge. Our budget was $1000. We wanted 2 couches, but said we’d just see how far it got us and understood that we might only be able to get one couch now and one in a year or so. We were seconds away from buying a leather couch, but decided to wait a little longer. We went to one last store and stopped dead in our tracks when we saw these upholstered couches. We slept on it for a few days, then bought them. We paid an extra $80 for scotch-guard and a 5 year cleaning warranty, and were able to get both couches for $1000 with a coupon, holiday sale, and negotiating skills. We are so glad that we changed our minds and didn’t get leather. We LOVE our couches…and so does our dog. 
Waiting 3 months…
Teaches delayed gratification.
    • Look at it this way…the longer you wait, the more time you have to look forward to having it, which will make you appreciate it all the more. Fabulous, eh?!
    • This practice will benefit you in many other areas of your life, not just in purchasing products. It will make you a stronger person, a wiser shopper, and will give you patience.
    • Plus, these are the types of skills we should be teaching our children to stop the “entitlement generation” trend that we have created. Teaching our families that it takes patience and hard-work to get everything we want in life is a priceless lesson they will learn, that will benefit your family for generations. Can you imagine what our economy would be like today if everyone just took a deep breath and had some patience before buying something?
We are currently tossing around the idea of redoing our kitchen cabinets in white. It was a slightly impulsive thought, but we figured there was no harm in getting bids. During our first bid we learned that the project will take longer than we thought and the fumes might not be safe for our new baby. We are going out of town soon and thought, “well shoot, that’s the perfect time to get it done” and were close to pulling the trigger. But then we decided to follow “the rule” and wait. We don’t have the money saved up, haven’t gotten enough bids yet, aren’t entirely sure what we want. Though the timing is perfect, we wouldn’t be doing ourselves any favors by jumping into the decision. Once we have all our ducks in a row we will love our kitchen all the more for waiting!
As you can see, it IS possible to be frugal, live on a budget, and still be able to buy things – nice, quality, and even BIG things! – responsibly.
This rule is REEEEEEEEALLY simple. Almost embarrassingly simple. BUT, it works!
Just. Wait. 
That’s all I can say.
Keep the big picture in mind, take a step back, take a breath, and simply wait. The actual time-frame is not as important (though, certainly wait at least 3 months for best results). What’s key is the art of looking before jumping.
So there you go! When it’s time to purchase something “big” that doesnt fit within your standard monthly budget, wait 3 months!
You’ll be happy you did…
just wait and see :)

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Photo source for title graphic found HERE

Comments

  1. says

    Jordan,

    Thanks so much for this idea!! I really love it. It is simple and it’s perfect. I will def. keep this in mind and start using the 3 month rule. I also love your spending priority list.! That is SO helpful. I look forward to sharing your tips.

    -Jessica Jecker (Aloha, Oregon)

  2. Jennifer says

    Great post! I am going to put the 3 (or 6 or 12) month rule into practice. Also I think your cabinets would look AMAZING white!

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