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Buy Nothing?

Posted by on Sep. 24, 2012 at 2:16 PM
  • 3 Replies

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.

Edit Steps

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    Examine 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 spending.

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    • 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 reward.
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    Stay 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 real shopping.
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    Leave 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.
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    Avoid 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.
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    Buy 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.
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    Pay 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.
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    Make 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 hobbies.
    • 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.
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    Make 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.
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    Ask 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.
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    Repair, 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.
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    Try 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.
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    Oh, my! This would look nice in the bathroom.
    Oh, my! This would look nice in the bathroom.
    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.
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    Use 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.
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    Avoid 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.
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    Buy 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.
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    Buy 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.
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    Use 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.
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    Make 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.
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    Tax 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.
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    Grow your own food. If you have even a small garden, it's easy to grow your own food.
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    Ask 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.
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    Try 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.
by on Sep. 24, 2012 at 2:16 PM
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Replies (1-3):
by Jen on Sep. 24, 2012 at 2:26 PM
Great tips
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
by Ruby Member on Sep. 24, 2012 at 2:45 PM
Great tips, thanks!
by on Sep. 24, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Thank you!!!

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