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The 30-Day Return-It Method to get unimaginably great results in 4 weeks

Ramit Sethi

In college, I had a credit card that allowed me to get tons of miles for every dollar I spent and every mile flown.

So when it was holiday time and my friends were flying home, I would offer to buy their tickets and they could pay me back. “Hey dude,” I would say, “can I buy your ticket? I get a bunch of miles and you can just pay me back the same amount.”

I thought it was a no-brainer.

Yet fully 100% of the people I pitched — my friends! — refused.


Because they believed there was some “weird scam” going on…or that, somehow, I was getting an edge that they weren’t. When I offered to throw in an extra $20 or pay for dinner, they became even more adamant about not doing the deal. The idea was, “I don’t understand what’s going on here…but something is, and I don’t understand it, and I don’t like it. So no.”

It was a pivotal moment for me, because I learned that free is not enough. In a world of infinite information, “free” is a commodity that’s available everywhere. Indeed, you have to actively market free to show people why it’s valuable.

People are skeptical. And reasonably so — they’ve seen countless “get rich quick” products, or books that claim to deliver the world, but truly suck.

Yet skepticism is not a strategy.

For example, look at this quick chat I had on Twitter yesterday.

@ramit Can you shed some light on Large Group Awareness Training. Several people at work attended a Psi BASIC class and want me to attend.Tue Jun 21 18:52:38 via Silver Birdsigep311

@sigep311 Why don’t you just go and see how it is?Tue Jun 21 18:56:19 via Tweet ButtonRamit Sethi

@ramit Mostly due to the $600 price tag, but I see your point. Have you attended LGA Training in the past for personal growth?Tue Jun 21 19:04:35 via websigep311

@sigep311 No. They have a guarantee. Take them up on it if you don’t find valueTue Jun 21 19:05:56 via Tweet ButtonRamit Sethi

Too many of us believe that when we purchase something, we have to keep it forever — and that it’s almost un-American to return something. That’s complete nonsense. I buy over $50,000 of self-development course, books, ebooks, and conferences every year. And if something isn’t absolutely top-notch, I request a refund.

What’s going on here?

Two things.

1. Taking the risk to try new things and focusing on VALUE, not COST. Too many idiots focus on saving money on everything, only to realize that it’s pointless to spend $5 on something that doesn’t work if you could spend $10 on something that does.

As a very insightful Hacker News commenter said, “Groupon is amazing, and not very cheap marketing that WORKS, unlike a lot of other not very cheap marketing that does not work.”

2. Being relentless about results. Once you internalize that you’re willing to take risks on products and services that can improve your life, the other side of the equation is that in exchange for your money, they had better deliver results — or you’ll ask for a refund.

And this is where it gets interesting.

To get results, you have to KNOW what you want. For example, if you join my Earn1K program, you know precisely what you should expect: 3 paying clients by the end of the course. If not, request a refund within 60 days — the full length of the course — and I’ll happily send all your money back to you.

However, many people don’t even think about results. They see something shiny with a nice cover, or a great sales page, and say, “I need it!” They don’t connect the product/service with SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE outcomes. As a result, how could they ever request a refund if they don’t even know what the desired results are?

The result is people like the twitter person above, who are afraid to even try things because they can’t fathom requesting a refund…when they don’t even know what they really want.

A truly skilled consumer will have a concrete, specific list of outcomes they want from a product/service. If they don’t achieve them, they know to examine if they actually did what the product/service said (at least 90% of people don’t). If not, DO THEM. If they actually did the required actions and didn’t get the results, request a refund.

One wrinkle: If you find yourself refunding more than 2-3 products/year, it’s probably you, not the products. Your loving American parents won’t tell you that you suck, but I will. Stop buying products/services to solve your problems, and focus on your own beliefs, which usually include (1) limiting beliefs, and (2) lack of discipline/follow through. No product is going to solve your glaring personality flaws. When I find people who think my courses are going to be a magic bullet without putting in any effort, I refund their money, kick them out of my program, and add them to my DNS (“Do Not Sell”) list. GTFO, losers.

But there’s a twist: Using the 30-Day Return-It Method, I buy things and occasionally return them, or cancel my subscription, if they’re not working for me. Of course, I would rather get the results (value) than get a refund (cost).

Why Businesses Offer Insane Guarantees

When I’m buying something expensive, I take a couple minutes to look for the return policy. (This is why I tend to default towards retailers I’ve shopped with before — like Amazon or Zappos — because I know they’ll honor returns.)

Understand this: Businesses WANT to offer guarantees because it reduces purchase risk and encourages more sales. They are happy to honor returns if their product is good because they come in so infrequently.

Note the part in italics carefully. The reason I can afford to offer guarantees like I do is that my products are very good. I measure return rates carefully, including studying why each and every cancellation request happens.

Think about that. I’ve heard people say, “That’s crazy. You shouldn’t return something unless it’s seriously defective.” Unless you’re systematically taking advantage of companies, I know this isn’t true. Why? Well…as someone who offers one, I know that I WANT people to take me up on it. In sales parlance, this is called “risk reversal,” which takes the risk off the consumer and puts it squarely on me — which it should be. If my product is great, I have no issues. If it sucks, I go out of business — exactly as it should be.

More than that, I offer a money-back guarantees because I believe in my products and I stand behind them. The guarantee is my way of letting customers how confident I am that my Earn1K course, for example, will help you earn money on the side.

Again: most companies make far more in customer revenue from offering a money-back guarantee than any “loss” they incur in refunding people.

Note that before you start with a new product like this, you should do a few important things:

  • Identify products or services that can save or help you earn more time or money. This isn’t intended for jeans and shoes. This technique is for products that help you with time or money.
  • Make a SHORT list of things you want to accomplish after 25 days. For example, “I want all my data inside the app” or “I want to have everything set up and be generating 5 invoices/month using it.” Set an alarm on your calendar to do a 20-day check-in. If your 25-day calendar reminder pops up and you haven’t done any of the goals, chances are you’re just not going to do it. Cancel it and move on. If you do this twice in 12 months, stop buying these things and take a hard look in the mirror.

My challenge to you: try 3 things THIS WEEK

I know there are books, courses, or technology you’ve been wanting to try. And I know that 9 times out of 10, those things come with very generous guarantees. So this week, I want you to try THREE of them. Again, this can be anything that will make a positive difference in your life:

  • A book about something you’re interested in
  • A training course on a skill you want to acquire
  • Technology (whether it’s tools, software, etc.) that saves you time or money

You know what these things are. I’d love for you to try three of them this week and set up a system to determine what specific results you want.

Leave a comment to let me know AT LEAST ONE thing you will be trying this week — books, courses, whatever — and what results you want to achieve. Include the cost and why you didn’t try it before now.

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  1. avatar

    My problem in the past has been the theory that you’ve mentioned here before many times. It’s the idea that there really is enough information out there. You just need to use this information properly. This is why I signed up for the Earn1k course last year. I wanted to have the best information on making money available at my disposal. My side income ended up increasing and I have great audio/documents available to me when I need to look into something.

    One thing that I want to try is playing around with a new laptop. My current laptop is getting a bit old and I need something to increase my “productivity.” My only concern is that this is just an excuse to buy some fancy laptop. Do I really need this new technology to be more productive?

  2. avatar
    Nenad Ristic

    I am really going to start applying the idea of desired outcomes to my purchases from now on. I have been going through my list of things that I want to buy, and realized that I really have no reason to buy any of them (other than: “Oooh! Shiny!” which is not exactly measurable).

  3. avatar

    You don’t need a new laptop to be productive. I have a completely knackered, old beat up Dell XPS; its slow, it runs to hot, the screens fading in places and the battery lasts about 5 minutes – I still use it for work because it works.

    I nearly bought a new laptop but felt I’d spend to long messing about on it to actually be productive. So I purchased a tablet instead, to mess about on.

    Now I’ve got distinction in my devices – one for work – one for play. It stops me getting distracted.

  4. avatar

    If you’re really concerned, buy a laptop from a site like the Dell Outlet (good stuff in my experience). You can even order over the phone using a guide. I got my girlfriend a $1000+ laptop for $700 this way, a nice studio XPS.

    Anyway, if you use the outlet, these are pre-returned laptops, so YOUR return will have no restocking fee (that’s the important thing) and the full 30 days to try it out. Do what you normally do on both machines and see which one helps you finish faster. If there’s a noticeable improvement, then maybe it’s worth the investment (or, if not, maybe return it and buy another laptop, they’ll send you a discount code for 10 or 15% off another outlet purchase via e-mail and you can get something better at a discount…).

    I’m horrible with (parentheses).

  5. avatar

    I read an article (in Fast Company or Baseline?) about Hyundai using this strategy. At the time, the idea of buying a Korean car was a joke on par with buying Korean toys only to find that they required assembly & batteries, and fell apart in a few days. The exec. said that by offering a 10yr/100k-mile warranty, they obviated those fears, making the company’s sales shoot up. I now use that in other dealerships: “Hyundai can offer me 10 years of peace-of-mind, why can’t you? Will your car leave me stranded when I hit 6yrs/60k-miles?”

    Granted, this only works if your product really can provide such a life-expectancy/satisfaction.

  6. avatar

    Interesting article, but could you address the issue of opportunity cost? For everything we do in life, we are giving up something else–and that is an implicit cost.

    For someone who has reasonable credit card debt, the option of getting a minimum wage part-time job guarantees $8/hr–which, if invested into paying off debt, could save (which in this case would be a return on investment) 15% or more.

    Contrast that with a course like yours–invest up front, with an uncertain likelihood of return. While a money-back guarantee on the retail cost of the course, there is no refund on the opportunity cost. Some could take advantage of your 1K course with little opportunity cost. But if looking at starting a side job, these opportunity costs seem large–and while it is difficult to quantify the risk, are the expected (in the statistical sense) gains greater than the gains from the minimum wage job situation described above? Greater enough to justify the risk? Does a money-back guarantee change that?

  7. avatar

    I have had a review copy of a basic ‘How to Learn Calculus’ book on my harddrive for the past week, and you just gave me the drive to power through it. In addition, I’m going to be picking up more books on skills I try to use, and raise my ratio of “eeeeehhh” to “hell yeah” when it comes to new tasks. I think this is only my second comment here, but I really can’t thank you enough for what you do, Ramit!

  8. avatar

    @Jerry — ’tis a good thing to think about, but your example is a bit flawed.

    You are correct in that the opportunity cost is something you can’t get a return on — if you buy a fancy new widget and try it for 30 days and it doesn’t meet your goals, you don’t get those 30 days back, just the money you spent on the widget. So opportunity cost must be factored in to your purchasing decisions.

    For the specific example you mentioned — an $8/hr minimum wage job vs Earn1k — you’re leaving out some key costs. First, with taxes you won’t make $8/hr — so you’re losing anywhere from 15-25% off the top, which means your real ROI is less than your credit card interest rate. (And yes, this is true with any money you make as a result of Earn1k as well).

    Second, unless you have some special opportunity, working a minimum-wage job is not going to increase your skills or networking in meaningful ways (= opportunity cost of taking the min wage job) There is a reasonable assumption that by taking the Earn1k course you will learn meaningful & useful skills that you will keep for the rest of your life.

    Third, with all of the testimonials Ramit has posted, it is reasonable to assume that, if the course works for you, you can earn $25-$125+/hr — far greater than your min wage job — enough to pay back the original cost of the course + pay off credit card debt faster than working for minimum wage.

    Of course, all this is a bit moot since if you’ve racked up credit card debt and haven’t paid it off, Ramit doesn’t want you in his course anyway 🙂 You need to get your financial house in order first.

  9. avatar

    Electric toothbrush.

    Results I want: cleaner teeth. My dentist recommended this maybe 2 years ago because I have lazy brushing habits but I didn’t because I thought it was too expensive ($30-$120 with ongoing cost of heads vs my $.60 manual toothbrushes from the discount bin). But, I’ve had more cavities recently and the electric toothbrush comes with with vibration prompts and an LCD display that will remind me how to brush properly. I figured this is easier “automation” of good habits vs the willpower of timing myself and trying to remember the right pressure, etc.

  10. avatar


    I agree with the majority of points you made; I figured the $8/hr would be a reasonable lower bound for the opportunity cost. As you pointed out, minimum wage jobs not giving useful skills is a cost I hadn’t considered.

    Though, your third point is where I am interested–the anecdotal (though plentiful) evidence. For certain people, implementing some of his strategies will be far easier, or at least have far less cost–esp. sales, freelancers. I believe the 1k skills are useful for everyone, and likely you can earn the monetary cost of the course back (easily) from within your own workplace (ask for a raise, be a better performer, have more free time by focusing your efforts)–and perhaps that’s enough to make back the opportunity costs as well, and assuming that the 1k course is an efficient way to learn these skills, it is a great value.

    But, the course is often pitched toward self-earners and people interested in increasing their income by working on the side, trading work you do like and are skilled at for work you don’t. If you hadn’t considered becoming an entrepreneur before the course, I would argue that the course, and following its advice, could have a far higher opportunity cost than the retail value of the course alone–of course, two months of elevated workload isn’t exactly world-shattering, even if it doesn’t pan out!

  11. avatar

    Eva: Do it! 🙂

    Yes, the initial up-front cost is a bit off-putting, but I’ve been using a SonicCare tooth brush for probably 9 years now. I replaced my original model once a few years ago, so assume you’ll get 5+ years out of the toothbrush itself. And heads — $30-$40/year, maybe.

    For me, the big benefits were:
    * Guaranteed 2 minutes brushing (get one that has the timer) — my girlfriend uses a manual toothbrush and she is “done” brushing after 1 minute, max. In fact, she can usually brush her teeth and wash her face before I’m done with my 2 minutes of brushing. So unless you are using a stopwatch today, you are not brushing long enough with a manual toothbrush.

    * Guaranteed 30 seconds per quadrant of my mouth — helps to ensure I’m brushing all my teeth, equally. I used to have problems wearing down the gums on my upper right side, because I’d spend too much time brushing there (and/or brushing too hard), when I was brushing manually. No more.

    $120 electric toothbrush is cheaper than the cost of dental work.

  12. avatar

    Jerry — that’s true, if its not the right model for you, then you might lose out on some opportunity cost figuring that out. But, in my opinion, that’s mitigated by two things:
    * You probably don’t know if its right for you until you’ve tried it — fear holds a lot of people back from trying new things, when sometimes that new thing may be just what you need.
    * One of the key points of the course (as someone who purchased it) — is “failing fast” — so you can quickly figure out what’s not working, and dump it instead of continuing to pour time & energy into it. Implementing that mindset (which is challenging to do), helps immensely with mitigating opportunity cost risk.

    Of course, all this is hinged upon “best case scenario” — ie actually doing the stuff that Ramit talks about. The best course in the world won’t change your life if you don’t take action. And that’s the hardest part of any course — actually getting over your fears/insecurities and DOING it.

  13. avatar

    Items to try: “Secrets of Power Negotiating” by Roger Dawson and “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by You.

    Specific, measurable results I want: At the end of my review period in July, I want a promotion (even though I technically would need another 4 months of employment to be eligible) and a double-digit percentage increase in salary (hoping for 15%, but would take 10%).

    Ambitious? Yup. But this would be a HUGE win, and between the preparation I’ve already done recording specific examples of all the exceptional work I’ve done during past year and what I will be doing over the next month reading these books and practicing with a family friend who’s a hiring manager, I think I can make it happen.

  14. avatar
    Ankit Patel

    Good post – – I think this risk-free strategy is very often over looked by most people. But you got the Indian genes in you 😉 . I often even take advantage of this for everyday things – – If I am not satisfied with it, I will return it and get my money back. However, even knowing this, many people now a days tend to keep whatever service/product they buy.

    Do you think people feel a psychological instinct that if they return something after trying it, it’s considered being “cheap” or “unethical”? (even after being dissatisfied with the product). I tend to think people have the mindset, which I don’t necessarily agree with.

  15. avatar

    Speaking as one who took a chance with the Earn 1k program earlier this year, I will vouch that Ramit and his team really do honor their guarantee in a very painless and professional way. Somehow, I get the feeling most people selling development courses online are slimeballs. Not Ramit!

    The course was very thoughtfully prepared, and the content is smart and will be valuable for many, but ultimately it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. If you aren’t sure – you should really go for it.

  16. avatar

    In my experience, most people to not like to take a company up on their 100% satisfaction guarantee, simply because they do not like confrontation. It’s the same reason people shy away from haggling and from negotiation their salaries. It’s not comfortable. However, if you only enter into a venture looking to back out and de-commit at the first sign of something you don’t like and without putting any real effort into making it work, then you are no better off than the person who hates negotiating.

  17. avatar
    R.T. Brown

    I’m purchasing a book on eBook Writing. There’s a LOT of other content available, but a writer I follow suggested it, and so I’m game. It has strong Amazon reviews as well. I usually sift around on the internet and find something else to busy myself with, instead of just having the specific content I need.

    Here’s the book:

    My goal is to get this book, read it, and have a large draft written for a writer’s group in two weeks.

  18. avatar

    I’ve been putting off buying a CFA prep book, so i think i will go home and order it tonight 🙂

  19. avatar

    Money back guarantee is great when you’re dealing with a reputable vendor.
    But there are not-so-great vendors who make the return/cancellation process very difficult.

    I always keep that in mind when buying from a new vendor.

    Of course, purchasing with a credit card comes with some protection. But I’ve never had to use it, so I don’t know if it’s easy or a hassle.

  20. avatar

    I’m creating a sales funnel and doing all the background research for the clients whether or not they hire me. I’m starting with the small ones and building up to the clients I really want!

  21. avatar

    “Free is not enough” resonates with me today – my boss is holding a networking function and we are having trouble getting people there; free or not. Maybe we need to refine our funnel and value offering ~ thanks, Ramit!

  22. avatar
    Ray Johnson

    I would like to actually purchase a theme skin for my blog because it will save me time . Its about $24 . I did not think to purchase it until now. Purchasing it would probably save me 10 -20 hours of time trying to do the development on my own

  23. avatar

    I must say: this is a great article. Very usefull information! thnx alot!

  24. avatar

    I’m going to get a programming Java book from the library. I want to learn a basic language to help in my wife’s start up. I haven’t done it yet because I’ve been over complicating things.

    I expect that it will take quite a bit of time to learn how to program Java but I will help get my wife’s tutoring business online.

    Of course, it’s free, so I don’t have to worry about refunds or guarantees.

    Good old library.

  25. avatar

    Will start the Rosetta Stone Brazilian Portuguese this week.

  26. avatar

    Alright, here’s two of the things I’m trying this week:

    1. The book “The Power of Eye Contact” – because I am terrible at eye contact and feel like it would improve all areas of my life. This week I want to complete the first few exercises (look into the eyes of a friend for 3 minutes, make friendly eye contact with strangers). By the end of the 30 days I want to be comfortable with making eye contact with strangers and get two total strangers to smile at me before I say a word.
    It’s $11 and I guess I treated it as just another book to read for pleasure so it got lost in the shuffle. Also, the concept scares me a lot since I’m pretty introverted and not comfortable in social gatherings with a lot of strangers.
    2. The book “Android Application Development for Dummies” – because I’d like to learn how to create an entire application with a UI. This week I just want to have a simple hello world style application with a menu working. By the end of the 30 days I want to have an application I can use at a board game event that keeps track of everyone’s wins and losses.
    It’s about $26. What normally happens is I look at a ton of different things online, and get overwhelmed because I don’t have a focus. Hopefully just going through a single book will help me focus and see progress happen.

  27. avatar


    Not following for what you asked at all….but I’m wondering. What lists are you on that you’re buying $50k worth of personal development stuff a year? Not mocking you, especially with the return policy. I”m on a ton of lists that include sales, marketing, etc. but none really development and mindset?

  28. avatar
    Eddy Azar

    Last week I bought “$ Hour Body” & “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” Off amazon. There on their way here and I CANT WAIT. These are magic bullets, it just takes loads of effort to get them flying.

    Sexy, Healthy, and Funded is the next step up.

  29. avatar
    Colin Reay

    You’re spot on, I’ve been looking for “magic bullet” courses to get my ass in gear, so instead I’m going to get my own ass in gear rather than make excuses for it cuz I’ve been putting off action for a lot of things lately.

    So this is what I’m going to do the rest of this weekend: finish my landing page of my website (and check it by 3 people for feedback), and get started on the rest of the pages for the site (topics, SEO, and rough draft)

    Thanks Ramit