If I gave you a sheet of paper and asked you to list all the things you really wanted right now, how many could you come up with? Five? Ten? None? Chances are there are quite a few things on your spending radar. Some of the things you need, but most of them you want. It’s OK; you’re human.
We all sort of walk around with an idea of things we like to replace, or upgrade, or add to our lives. If these things add value to our lives then planning for their purchase is not necessarily a bad thing. It is the impulse purchases of stuff that get us into trouble.
Secrets To Curbing Your Appetite For Stuff
1. Unsubscribe to catalogs. A friend of mine in college griped incessantly about being broke. He also subscribed to every catalog under the sun. In any given week I bet he received 10 catalogs on sportswear, hunting and fishing gear, golfing equipment, etc. And then he would salivate over the things he saw in the catalog. Easy fix; cancel the stupid catalogs.
2. Get a TiVo and skip the commercials. When I bought my TiVo a couple years ago I felt a twinge of guilt over the purchase – after all, DVR is still kind of a luxury. But now I’m convinced it has actually saved me time and money. Not only can we motor through a half-hour show in twenty minutes, but we can skip all the commercials, too.
3. Ignore unreal media examples. While on the subject of television, ignore examples in the media of entertainers living lavish lifestyles without putting in an ounce of real work. I’m always amused by soap operas where the main character is depicted as a policeman or detective and lives in a multi-million dollar home. I have family members in law enforcement, and I can tell you that they are grossly underpaid for the work they do, and there is no way they could afford such a lifestyle.
4. Don’t hang out with materialistic people. Friends influence purchasing decisions more than any amount of corporate advertising ever could. For this reason, avoid hanging out with people wrapped up in their clothes, their cars and their expensive homes, or you will start to feel the need to keep up with them. Better to let the “Jones” keep up with themselves.
5. Sleep on it. Before making a major purchase, give yourself some time to decide whether or not you really need it. My garage is full of crap that I just had to have, but later found out I didn’t really need. I’ve slowly been purging this stuff from my life, and it feels great. I only wish it was as easy to get rid of the associated debt, too.
6. Convert the cost of items to hours worked. This idea comes from my all-time favorite personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life. In the book, the authors advocate calculating your real hourly wage as the total amount of time you spend getting ready for, commuting to, and being present at, paid employment. So if you work eight hours a day, but commute thirty minutes both ways and take half an hour to get ready in the morning then working actually costs you 9.5 hours of life energy each day. Divide your earnings by this amount, and then decide if that new toy is worth x amount of working hours.
7. Beware of coupons. Coupons can save you a ton of money off the retail price, but they can also cause you to spend more money, overall, than you normally would. I’ve fallen into this trap while playing The Grocery Game, which publishes a list of “rock-bottom” priced goods at your favorite store. I see the item is 60% off, flip through my folder of coupon fliers and I’m off to the store to buy it. The problem is, I don’t even like Raisin Bran cereal, and I wouldn’t have normally bought it. That’s exactly what the manufacturers are counting on. They’re hoping I’ll like their cereal and give up my usual fast-breaking bowl of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. Not likely.
8. Set boundaries with well-intentioned family members. This one gets a little touchy. Parents often want the best for their kids, but sometimes they advocate the wrong ways of acquiring it. The classic example is the meddling parents who try to convince newlyweds to buy a house instead of renting. They think they are helping, but don’t realize that in six months the couple might be fighting over money every night because they are drowning in debt and have a mortgage they can barely afford. Buy things on your terms, not your family’s.
9. Be content with what you already have. How many times have we rushed out to replace something just because a new model is out? Could be a car, or a game system, or a computer, or a cell phone. If the current model you own is meeting your needs, why upgrade? Unless a case can be made for serious productivity increases, chances are you will never recoup the costs of upgrading. Be content with what you have, and resist the temptation to upgrade.
10. Quit worrying about what other people think. This is the number one indicator of financial maturity. Think of the amount of money wasted each day by people attempting to impress strangers. From luxury cars to expensive jewelry, the examples of ostentatious buying are never-ending. Entire industries have been created around the idea of making people look better off. From tanning beds to plastic surgery, from one-day luxury rental car companies to glamor photographers, we spend an insane amount of money trying to be something we aren’t.
Be happy with yourself. Be content with what you have. Look for fulfillment and self-worth in things other than material possessions. Volunteer your time. Be a good parent. Love your neighbor. These are the things that make a lasting impression, and leave a lasting legacy when you, and all your stuff, is finally gone.