10 Secrets To Curbing Your Appetite For Stuff

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.


  1. Great advice on avoiding getting caught up in materialism. Another think I do is think about all the stuff I have that I don’t use anymore. It helps cool my ardor for spending money on more things I don’t need.

  2. I think my biggest one right now is to learn how to fix the things I already have. This is huge. If I can fix something instead of going into “I need a new one” mode, that’ll save me a bunch of anxiety over spending money on something I don’t need to get.

  3. All of these ideas have merit in that they disconnect you from the Marketing Assault on the Senses that has taken over the world in recent decades. I see a downside, however.

    In moderation, marketing serves a good purpose. When you cut yourself off from commercials and catalogs and so on, you cut yourself off from learning about new products and services, some of which offer strong value propositions.

    My preference is to develop a strong desire for the benefits of saving (by saving for goals re which I care intensely). Then I am able to hear the marketing pitches and not be pulled in by them.

    That said, I still think there is a need to take some of the steps outlined in the blog entry to reduce the number of marketing pitches that are able to reach me.


  4. This is a great list. #6 has by far had the biggest impact on my personal life. Once you start converting how much things really cost, it brings purchases into a whole another light.

    This won’t stop you from making essential purchase, however it can go a long way to fighting impulse buys. Great read!

  5. I’d also suggest just getting rid of the TV. We almost never miss ours (and can rent things on DVD if we want to watch something) and never get exposed to commercials at all. We also find it is useful to limit magazines with a lot of ads.

  6. I have found that not killing time by window shopping has been a huge help. I never did a lot of it but frequently if I was waiting for an appointment or meeting a friend, I would wander through nearby stores. You just don’t know what you are missing if you don’t see it. As for coupons, I have rarely found that they have coupons for the things we use.

  7. I used to be very into designer shoes/bags, etc (I never bought retail – always in used clothing stores/ebay, etc). But, I was able to make a shift into being able to appreciate the stuff, but not feeling like I have to possess it.

    That was huge for me. (Being a shrink helped.)

  8. Great post! I’ve been following your blog for some time, and i love it! Thank you for all the wonderful advice, and suggestions!

    As for the coupons, i also follow a few other blogs about using coupons to find deals. It hasn’t quite worked out for me yet, partly because i’m a poor college student, but mostly, i think because of you reason, i just don’t need the stuff!

    However, if i were to ever find something, where using the coupons made the item only a few cents or something (I’m not that good yet), i’d probably get it even if i didn’t need it. I saw a suggestion that you can always donate the items that you wouldn’t use to some kind of food closet or charity! I think it’s a great idea, not only because it feels great to give, but (correct me if i’m wrong) you can also count it on you taxes!

    *sigh* Maybe one day when i’m out of school and i have time to study that game.

    Thanks again for all you do!

  9. 6. Convert the cost of items to hours worked.

    This one worked great for me. I would always say to myself, work an hour just to buy such and such a meal/item? Don’t think so.

    Great realistic list. You should also mention that readers should unsubscribe from emails from clothing companies that always advertise sales.

  10. Hi any spare money in recent times has been slowly eaten away with the rising cost of living here in England even with me making food from scratch, this was something I liked to do for my family but now it has become a necessity. As for any goods I want new settee for example I have had to look to freecycle to satisfy things of that nature. I shop in thrift stores for most things and try and make what I can. A T.V licence is becoming a luxury and I am seriously considering ditching the telly and buying a large computer screen and watching what I can online but this is fraught with trying to convince the authorities that I am unable to receive TV signals. Makes me wonder if is really cheep entertainment

  11. @Steven: Thanks for sharing the link to your post on calculating a “real wage.” Excellent write-up!

    @Cindys: Yes, window shopping is a dangerous game, isn’t it? I remember growing up my mom used to like to “walk the mall” for exercise as a safe, cool alternative to the extreme summer heat. The problem is she rarely got out of there without buying something she saw in a passing store display!

  12. I think #4 is the best advice – avoid materialistic people!
    All they do is talk about the stuff they’ve bought and they try to suck you into it.
    They also ridicule you if you’re not into buying the same things. So stupid.

  13. I have adopted several of your suggestions including un-subscribing from catalogues / online sites. I used to receive a daily email from a site which had 3 specials each day. Never anything I needed but, wow the amount of items I purchased simply because the price was good was mind-blowing!

    I think I am well and truly over buying “stuff” I don’t need. Certainly having a cool-down period is a great idea.

    I particularly like your last paragraph! This is how I have decided to live my life.

  14. Learn to enjoy the simpler (free) things in life.

    Unplugging the TV helps as does not having it at all !

    There is really only one thing on my list….Time – more time with the special people in my life 🙂

  15. Hi Again
    Love the feed back this blog gets, but I would love some ideas on how ot make an extra buck quickly as here I have run out of ideas and of steem,

  16. Another thing which encourages people to spend on things which they dont really need is credit card. It is a psychological thing. WHile paying on card , we dont really feel the pinch of spending as against the inch we feel while paying in hard cash. So my suggestion would be to never use credit card for buying stuff. Us eit only for dire emergencies and on NOTHING else.

  17. Great list!

    My wants right now are actually practical and needed-new paint on the house, etc. Since we have tuition coming up I guess it will have to wait!

  18. Coupons can definitely be a trap! You need to be careful when using them. Only buy what you need and make sure you will actually save money!