In O. Henry's classic Christmas story The Gift of the Magi,
Della Young sells her most prized possession, her long, beautiful hair,
in order to buy her husband, Jim, a Christmas present. The present she
chooses is a chain for Jim's heirloom pocket watch, the only valuable
thing he owns. When she presents her gift to Jim, she discovers that he
has sold his watch
in order to buy a set of ornate combs for her beautiful hair. Is there a
lesson in here for us? The lesson is you don't have to buy anything to be happy. Here's how to resist the urge to splurge.
1Examine your spending habits.
Are your buying decisions motivated by your own values or by
advertisements? Don't be influenced by consumerism and an obsession with
- Break down why you shop and ask yourself what real needs are
satisfied by shopping trips. Are you doing it out of habit because
that's what all your friends do and get bored easily? Finding other
shared experiences like sports, hobbies and special interest clubs can
help break that cycle. Are you enjoying the shopping experience because
you have choices and get treated with respect by salespeople? You can
get the same good treatment or better shopping at flea markets and
thrift shops. Are you rewarding yourself for small achievements? That's a
good pattern but you can look closer at what type of rewards motivate
you best and ask yourself if time doing something fun is a better
2Stay home. If you don't need to shop, don't go shopping
simply because you are bored. Don't use shopping as a recreation or
amusement. Find other amusements and hobbies, if it's lonely then invite
people over or organize a group to play games together. Games are a
good alternative to socialize and in roleplaying games, "Shopping" for
equipment with pretend money won on quests can be more satisfying than
3Leave the money at home.
The easiest way to not buy anything is simply not to take any cash,
checks, debit cards, or credit cards with you when you go out. At most,
take a small amount of cash with you for emergencies.
4Avoid plastic. Try
putting your credit card in a container with some water and freezing it.
That way you have it for holidays and emergencies but not just to go
buy stuff. Or, better yet, give it to a relative you can trust.
5Buy used. If you
really need something and haven't been able to beg, borrow, or
dumpster-dive it, go to a thrift shop and get one for pennies on the
dollar. Online auctions and yard sales are also good, although there is
still the temptation to buy "stuff" you don't really need.
6Pay cash. Studies
show the average person spends less when paying with cash and much more
when paying with credit, possibly because when you use a credit card it
feels as though you are not parting with "real" money.
7Make a budget and stick to it.
Don't treat your budget like a New Year's resolution. While creating
and sticking to a budget requires self-control, it's a really good way
to get your finances under control and avoid accumulating a pile of
crippling debts and a bunch of worthless crap in the process of
destroying your self-respect.
- Choose something you really enjoy and budget it in as a reward for
sticking to your budget. When you stay under budget, split the
difference between savings and pocket money, then spend the pocket money
on experiences, digital goods or good permanent tools for constructive
- Always include an entertainment budget in any sustainable budget.
It's there to make life worth living and eliminate the "boom and bust"
cycle of feeling deprived all the time, working hard without reward.
It's also a small emergency reserve. You're less likely to tap savings
for minor emergencies if you have a reasonable entertainment budget.
Savings should at least equal it.
8Make a list and stick to it.
Make purchasing decisions at home, where your needs are apparent,
instead of in stores where shelves full of other products will distract
and entice you. A list can also help you postpone and consider purchases
and consolidate trips out.
9Ask yourself some questions.
Will I use this every day? Will I use it enough for it to be worth
buying? How many hours did I have to work to pay for this? Employ the
3-month forecast. Ask yourself if you'll still be using the product
regularly in 3 months. If you have lived this long without it, do you
really need it? If you move frequently, contemplate whether this
purchase is really worth hauling around each time you move. If you
don't, ask yourself if it's worth sacrificing some of your precious
living space to own it.
10Repair, don't replace.
If you shopped carefully and got good service out of something, don't
assume you have to replace it when it breaks. A good repair shop might
be able to restore it to "near-new" condition for less than the cost of a
replacement, and you won't be adding to the landfill problem.
11Try to get things you need or want for free. In a surprising number of cases you can get whatever you need without spending a dime.
- Check local "free sales". Visit websites such as freecycle, Freesharing or Sharing is Giving.
These sites are so useful precisely because so many people buy things
they don't need or replace perfectly good things with similar but newer
things. You can decide to be smarter than that.
- Borrow. If you need a product for just a short time, why not borrow
someone else's? There's no shame in borrowing as long as you are willing
to reciprocate when someone needs to borrow something of yours.
- Try bartering. Your past extravagances have probably left you with a
lot of things you no longer need, but which other people may want.
Experience some of the gains from trade that economists are always talking about.
Avoid shopping malls, if possible. If you need
to purchase something, go to a store that sells that thing. Don't
automatically head for the mall, where you'll likely get lured into
buying things you don't need. Also, mall stores tend to be high-priced
since the rent is high for those spaces. If you go to the mall just to
hang out with your friends, consider finding new hobbies, or new
friends. If you have to walk through a shopping mall to get to a
restaurant or a movie theater, keep yourself engrossed in conversation
(either with yourself or your companions) so that you don't focus on
your surroundings. Concentrate on where you are going, but pay no
attention to the stores along the way.
Oh, my! This would look nice in the bathroom.
13Use the buddy system.
If you go out with friends, you may find that you enjoy yourselves so
much that you don't even feel like buying anything. You could all make a
pact to prevent purchases. It's kind of like a 12-step program to
escape the consumer culture.
14Avoid unnecessary upgrades.
Yes, that new toaster has a little chime and can toast eight slices at
once, but seriously, how often do you need eight slices of toast at
once? Our consumer culture pressures people to replace perfectly good
products with newer products for silly reasons, like fashion. Remember,
an avocado-colored oven works just as well as one that's mango-colored.
15Buy for durability.
If you decide to purchase something, choose something that won't wear
out, or won't wear out quickly. Also avoid purchasing items that will go
out of fashion. Think through how you will use the item and how your
choice will meet your needs for as long as possible. Thinking in the
long term, a more durable item costing 30% more up front will still save
you money if you can use it twice as long.
16Buy for easy compatibility.
If you really like an item, think carefully about how well it will work
with what you have already. Maybe a clothing item is fresh and
flattering, but if it doesn't coordinate well with at least two or three
pieces you own, you'll either get limited use out of it, or worse, you
may 'need' to buy more to use it at all.
17Use the "Rule of 7."
If something you want is over 7 dollars, wait 7 days and ask 7 trusted
people whether this is a good purchase. Then buy it if you still think
it is a good idea. This rule will curtail impulse buying. As you get
more financially secure and have a larger disposable income, you can
gradually increase the threshold upward from 7 dollars.
18Make gifts for people.
Use your own skills (or learn a new skill) to make gifts that people
will remember long after they've forgotten store-bought presents. Don't
forget that gifts needn't be wrapped. You can make a gift of time or
skills, too. Remember the lesson of The Gift of the Magi: it really is the thought that counts. Money can't buy you happiness or self-respect or any friends worth having.
19Tax yourself. Every
time you make a purchase over $10 (or $50 or whatever limit you
choose), take 10% of the price and put it into your savings or your
investments. This way, you discourage yourself from buying something
just because the item is "marked down" or "a bargain" and boost your
financial security every time you make a significant purchase. If you
use a debit card or a credit card, try using one that has a savings
program, American Express offers a card with a savings account and Bank
of America offers their "Keep The Change" program to automatically
transfer money into your savings account.
- If you use a credit union for your banking needs, keep your money in
your "Share" savings account until the day your bills are due. Not only
will you gain a little interest on it but you'll also have the
satisfaction of knowing it's invested locally in other members' homes,
cars and businesses.
- Debit cards don't charge interest. Credit card debt does. It's
easier to avoid debt using a debit card and save your line of credit for
major emergencies like medical co-payments. Buy down your debt as fast
as you can, that's as good as savings and puts that emergency resource
back in your hands.
20Grow your own food. If you have even a small garden, it's easy to grow your own food.
21Ask Yourself the 3 Questions - want, need and afford.
Can I afford it? Do I Need it? and Do I Want it? If your answer is YES
to all the 3 questions then you can buy it. Most likely, the the most
difficult question to get by will be the question of needing it.
Understanding survival needs vs. social needs vs. emotional needs can
help you find other ways to fulfill your needs without cramming your
house with stuff.
- Ask if something is cost effective in the long run. The eight slice
toaster may be cost effective if you have a lot of people in the house,
if it uses less electricity than four free two-slice toasters and is
used that heavily every morning. Energy Star appliances can lower your
power bill and pay for themselves in savings. Plan that sort of purchase
carefully and save up for it rather than buying on credit. You may find
that it will greatly limit the things you buy, but you will be thankful
when you have more money and less junk laying around.
22Try to be a smart shopper.
If you want to buy something for someone's birthday, buy something that
looks more expensive than the price you bought it for. Also remember
that something personal and meaningful can have much more impact than
something expensive or trendy. Digital goods and experiences like dining
out, concerts, movies can be a special gift that doesn't leave them
obligated to keep and display it forever.
on Sep. 24, 2012 at 2:16 PM