“Should I buy this?”
If you’re asking yourself this, it’s a good sign.
It’s hard to resist the allure of that sleek new car, or of the fancy gadget that everyone seems to have. The ads make it look so appealing – not just the object being promoted, but the whole lifestyle of the person shown using it. We are tempted hundreds of times a day by the same message: “you need to buy this, and you need to do it now!”
Most people give in easily, and often. This is not surprising, considering the society in which we live in.
We live in a world obsessed with spending more, buying more and owning more. From an early age, we are conditioned to believe that you can never have enough stuff. We are trained to remember that everything has a price, and that anything can be acquired with money.
Naturally, we become expert shoppers. We know where to hunt for deals, find coupons and how to borrow money on credit (for the big ticket items). Many are willing to go into massive personal debt just to keep up with the purchases necessary to preserve status, be it real or perceived.
To make ourselves feel better, we convince ourselves that we’re actually saving money wherever we can. Instead of the most expensive smartphone, we may settle for one with slightly less features. A large latte may turn into a medium. The “Platinum” level gym membership is downgraded to merely “Silver,” as we proudly calculate how many dollars we thus save per year.
This is delusional.
To really save money, you must learn to stop buying unnecessary things altogether.
You must be able to convince yourself that you already have enough. That you do not need anything extra to live a simple life. That every purchase carries with it the additional burden of having to store, maintain and protect yet another item.
This requires a change in mindset. You must learn to be wary of buying anything new.
Every time you are presented with the chance to buy something, take a moment to honestly answer these three questions first:
Question #1: Why do I have an urge to buy it?
In other words, how did this strong desire to buy something come about?
Was it the allure of an item on sale? People often get sucked into buying something just because it’s discounted from the “original” price. This ties into our tendency to avoid loss – we feel that we are letting an opportunity slip away by “missing out” on the deal. Instead, ask yourself why that item needs to go on sale in the first place – could it be that it’s of low quality and poor design?
Perhaps you were tempted by seeing others using it, and felt the need to keep up – or else. Realize that blindly following the herd is usually not a smart move, and that endlessly trying to have the latest thing is tiring (and expensive). Keep in mind that many products today are designed to be obsolete or out of fashion in just a few months. This is a game that is simply not worth playing.
Always try to pick apart your real motivations for wanting to buy something, especially if you feel the need to acquire it as soon as possible. Chances are, you are not being entirely honest with yourself.
Question #2: Will it actually improve my life?
If you are seriously considering buying something, make sure you need it in the first place.
There’s a big difference between want and need. An object you merely want is something you will probably use just a few times – it has no long term value. On the other hand, an item you need is likely to make your life much more pleasant. Products (and services) you need often save you considerable amounts of time, money or effort. Alternatively, they open up new possibilities by allowing you to do things you otherwise couldn’t.
Make sure you don’t already have it. If you already have a great smartphone with many useful features, for example, there’s probably no need to buy the latest model (with only minor improvements over the previous generation). Marketers are great at coming up with long lists of new changes and improvements for a new item – you must decide for yourself whether the latest one will actually have any significant impact on your life.
Question #3: Is there a way I can borrow, rent or buy it for less?
If you absolutely must have it, find a way to get it for less.
Do you know someone who already has it? Ask a friend to see if you can borrow it and see what it’s like. Many will be more than happy to let you have it for a few days – not only will this help them justify their original purchase, but will make them feel better about helping someone out.
Is it available for rent? If you only need something for a few days (or a few hours), there are plenty of services out there that with allow you to rent it for much less. Whether you are borrowing an expensive camera, a sports car or even a luxury house, renting gives you a preview into what life would be like with the new object. Aside from saving you a lot of money, renting gives you the power to change your mind.
Finally, is there a way to save? Check different stores or websites to see if one is offering it for less – if it is, you may be able to have your favorite store price match it. Look around for cheaper versions of the same item, with the same basic functionality but with less “nice to have” features. Used or refurbished items are often significantly cheaper, and in some cases barely distinguishable from brand new.
Don’t forget to consider price trends: many items (e.g. cars, seasonal sports equipment, airline tickets) are cheaper at certain times of the year. And if you know there’s a newer version of the same item coming out, prepare for price drops for the current one.
Ask yourself these three questions every time you get an urge to pull out your wallet.
Important: before making any major purchase, wait at least a day and see if you change your mind. Fast forward 24 hours, and you may find that you are not nearly as excited about buying something.